How Dogs React to Pregnant Women
Why pups' behavior may change when you’re expecting.
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Sniffing your belly. Backing away from you when you walk. Being more responsive to your cues. Being less responsive to your cues. Staying right near you all the time. Growling at you. All of these are possible reactions pups could have to a pregnant pet parent.
I’m not aware of any research that directly addresses the question of whether dogs know that their human mom is expecting, but it would be very surprising if dogs didn’t at least pick up on some of the accompanying changes and react to them. Dogs can obtain an amazing amount of information about other dogs just from smelling each other or even each other’s urine (e.g., Male or female? Intact or spayed/neutered? In heat? Young or old? Familiar or a stranger?). Given what we know they are able to perceive with their nose — they can even “smell time” —, it’s a bit hard to imagine that they can’t detect at least some of the many hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy in a human living in their house.
Once a pregnancy is far along, women change their movements too, partly because of the natural loosening of the joints, and partly because carrying another person in your abdomen is cumbersome, to say the least. Dogs are very sensitive to movement and posture of the most subtle form in other individuals. That pregnant kangaroo stance and that waddling gait are far from subtle, and cannot be hidden, especially from pups.
Pregnancy is also often accompanied by behavioral changes, and these can extend beyond the woman expecting to other members of the household. With more doctor appointments for example, the pup’s schedule may change with less time for walks and runs. Furniture may be rearranged in anticipation of the baby’s arrival (never on a pup’s list of relaxing things happening around the house!). Most dogs are going to pick up on at least some of the changes associated with pregnancy, and these can certainly have an influence on their behavior. And that’s before the baby even arrives! For some advice on what to do once you welcome a new human family member, check out these tips for making the introduction to your dog successful.
The creative multi-hyphenate and dog rescue advocate is mom to three big mushes and one tiny human.
Without turning your home into a circus.
Karen B. London, PhD
Karen B. London, Ph.D., is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. She writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.