Clingy, needy and moody. It's Rachel who's expecting – but it's her dog who's gone all hormonal
08:23 GMT, 12 July 2012
Hormonal, needy, clingy, weepy and aggressive: pregnancy is blamed for much wild and unpredictable behaviour in the female of the species.
Ask any father-to-be, and he will tell you being around an expectant woman can be a bit like living with a 15-year-old adolescent in a constant state of PMT.
Pity my poor husband Tom, then.
Not only does he have me to contend with (aged 41 and 29 weeks pregnant with our first child), but it seems the sudden surge of hormones in the house is having a strange effect on our dog.
Rachel Rounds, who is 25 weeks pregnant, with her Labrador Maxi who has become extremely protective of her since her bump has grown
Maxi, a seven-year-old labrador who
has never had puppies of her own, has experienced a complete personality
change since my bump started to become more of a burgeoning presence in
all started a few weeks ago as I was putting my feet up on the sofa, on
doctor’s orders, and promptly dozed off. I was awoken by Maxi, who was
trying to sit on top of me.
This may sound perfectly normal behaviour for a dog, but Maxi weighs 5st and knows she is not allowed on the sofa.
Added to this, in the preceding seven months of my pregnancy, she has never behaved like this before.
And it didn’t stop there; before I had a chance to get up, she nuzzled her way under my T-shirt and started furiously licking my belly and frenetically sticking her nose into my belly button.
When I pushed her away, somewhat disgusted, she began whining, crying and gently ‘pawing’ at my stomach.
It was as if she somehow knew that there was something new in there that she desperately needed to investigate.
Many pet owners have reported a bizarre change in their dogs since sporting a baby bump
My husband refused point blank to believe me when I told him the story later that evening.
So, to prove the point, I bent down on the kitchen floor next to Maxi and lifted up my T-shirt.
Once again, she started whining,
licking my stomach, shaking her head, turning round in little circles
and finally, she pushed her paw onto my stomach.
At that point my sceptical, rational, husband burst out laughing and said: ‘OK, I stand corrected. She’s absolutely bonkers.’
then Maxi has become extremely clingy. She follows me everywhere I go
around the house, even to the loo, sitting outside until I reappear.
She is also extremely protective of
me and has gone from being a dog who rarely ever makes any noise, to
growling and barking at anyone who comes to the door.
has all come as a surprise, because although Maxi has always been the
kind of dog who loves being cuddled and I am definitely her favourite,
she’s never been clingy or protective of me.
'She nuzzled under my T-shirt and pawed my bump'
happy in her own company and when I take her for walks she never plays
with other dogs — or with me for that matter — she just potters along
in her own little world sniffing things.
She’s also incredibly placid and I have never seen her act in an aggressive manner towards either a human being or another dog.
Like any labrador, she also adores
food and, although I try very hard not to give her too many treats, she
knows she only has to look at me with those big brown eyes and the
biscuit is hers.
My husband, on the other hand, is ‘pack leader’ and the boss. He only has to look at her and she goes to her basket.
bemused then by this unnatural behaviour, I did what every woman with a
pregnancy query does: I went on the internet. What I read truly
are hundreds of comments on both pet and pregnancy forums from people
telling stories of their dogs’ unusual actions during their owners’
pregnancies, all of which are similar to Maxi: whining, nuzzling and the
licking of bellies.
One exasperated man even admitted that his dog had become aggressive and tried to bite him whenever he went near his wife.
So what’s behind this strange behaviour
dogs have highly developed senses, way beyond those of humans, which
explains their sensitivity to changes in their environment.
A canine’s sense of smell is said to be 1,000 times more sensitive than that of humans.
is because a dog has around 200 million scent glands in its nose, while
humans have only five million. This means a dog is able to discriminate
odours at concentrations many millions of times lower than humans.
of it this way: if a dog were human, it wouldn’t just smell a beef stew
cooking in your oven, it would be able to tell you not only the name of
every ingredient in your stew, but also every ingredient in a stew in
your neighbour’s oven.
So acute is a dog’s sense of smell they can be trained to detect medical conditions, including cancer and hypoglycemia.
Rachel Rounds said her dog Maxi will furiously lick her belly now she is pregnant. Picture posed by model
The dogs then stay with their owners for life under the care of the charity.
‘Dogs can smell the amount of sugar in the blood,’ says Claire Guest, the charity’s CEO.
‘Because their sense of smell is so acute, changes to both blood sugar levels and hormonal levels are the first things we train them to recognise.
‘Once they’ve learned to do this, we
train them to alert their owner or, if it is a sick child, the dog is
taught to warn their parents.’
Dogs can also be trained to visually recognise changes in people about to suffer epileptic seizures.
it’s no surprise to Dr Karen London, an animal behaviourist who holds a
doctorate in zoology from the University of Wisconsin, that Maxi has
sniffed out my pregnancy.
It would be far more shocking, she says, if she hadn’t picked up on it.
is no specific scientific research on dogs and pregnancy but we can
make some educated guesses based on scientific intuition,’ she says.
‘Dogs have an amazing sense of smell. They can clearly detect hormonal changes in other dogs.
They know when other dogs have been spayed, are on heat and the scent of individual urine.
So why wouldn’t they smell the hundreds of hormonal changes a pregnant woman is going through’
It’s not just smells that dogs pick up on, though, Dr London says.
‘They are also highly responsive to movement.
A pregnant woman’s balance is
different and dogs may feel their space is being invaded by an owner
with a “kangaroo stance” who cannot help but lean in towards the dog.’
addition, she argues, that because my bump is now very obvious, Maxi
will have also detected the changes in the way I walk, as my joints
loosen and thighs become more cumbersome.
Dr Karen London, an animal behaviourist, said visual signals tell a dog that there is something very different going on
‘These visual signals tell a dog that there is something very different going on,’ she says.
Dr London also suggests dogs respond to the heat and movement generated around the stomach area and, on some occasions, may be able to detect the actual heartbeat of the baby.
This, she speculates, may mean dogs do understand there is a living being inside a pregnant woman.
Deborah Begg, from the Canine Behaviour Centre in Cumbria, however, argues that dogs don’t know there is a baby on the way but are instead simply picking up on more obvious changes in their owner’s behaviour.
‘There is such a lot we simply just don’t know about dogs,’ she says.
‘But they are much more observant than we give them credit for and, because they don’t understand language, they pick up on other small changes in our behaviour, such as the increased attention they may be getting.
'There is so much we don't know about dogs'
‘Dogs are also great mimics and if their owner is showing signs of excitement, they will do too.’
There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that Maxi has picked up on the changes in me. I find it difficult to get up out of chairs and I have started to waddle.
I have also become much more affectionate towards her because I feel anxious about the pregnancy and have become emotionally needy without realising.
I am still not sure she understands there is a baby inside me but I like to think so.
My worry now is how the ‘baby’ of our house will react when we bring the real baby home.
Pippa Hutchison, a clinical animal behaviourist, from the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, advises new mums to be attuned to their dog’s feelings: ‘Your pet needs to know that the presence of the baby is a good sign.
‘Give your pet verbal praise, a stroke and perhaps a treat when it behaves well around the baby.
‘Don’t force interaction, let your pet interact at its own pace, but always supervise to ensure the pet behaves appropriately and gently. Never leave a baby alone with your pet, no matter how trustworthy you may think they are.’
Maybe it is time for us to allow Maxi to have puppies of her own.
She would make a lovely mum and I like to think when she does, I’ll show her the same love and affection she has shown me.