Introducing Your Dog To Your Baby
Updated: May 10, 2020
You have a great little family with your partner already. You have each other and your dog(s). But now you are going to be introducing a new baby into your lives. This is an exciting time for any couple. You may also be feeling nervous too. Well, you are not the only one. Even during pregnancy, your dog will see changes that they have not seen or experienced before. When the baby arrives, it can be completely overwhelming, confusing and frightening for your dog.
Put yourself into your dog’s position for a while. A little baby arrives at home; it seems to be a human, but it smells, sounds, and moves like nothing your dog has ever seen before. Suddenly this strange, loud creature is taking up all of his owners’ time and attention. Not to mention all of this new baby stuff in the house.
Many parents dismiss the requirement to prepare a dog for young children. They assume that since the dog loves them, so will it love the baby. And many parents get lucky and their dog bonds with the baby immediately, but even some dogs who are extremely well behaved with young children and babies are deeply uncomfortable. Those who are obviously unhappy being around babies and children are frequently given up for the safety of the child rather than seeking the knowledge and putting in the effort to prepare their dog.
With this in mind, we know that preparing your dog can not only keep your baby a lot safer but it may also save your dog’s life.
Dogs can be eager learners, but they can also exhibit jealousy because they are no longer the centre of attention.
But by planning ahead and taking the right steps towards preparing your dog can help create a bond between your new addition and their four-legged older sibling.
Getting your dog ready with fine tuning basic obedience is highly beneficial. This is to make sure your dog has basic manners and does not put you or your baby at risk with general disobedience. These basic manners consist of:
- Sit, Stay, Lie Down, Wait: These skills can help your dog learn to control impulses, and they’ll prove useful in many situations. You can teach your dog to lie down and stay whenever you sit in your nursing chair.
- Leave it and drop it: These two behaviours can help you teach your dog to leave the baby’s things alone.
No one wants to be running after a dog with a ‘blankie’ while the baby cries the house down.
- Greet people politely: A jumping dog can be irritating at best and dangerous at worst. Imaging holding the baby while your dog jumps up to tell you they love you.
- Calm in a designated area: Being able to send your dog away to their own area is a huge plus when you have a baby. Whether it is an appropriate crate (previously crate trained), a dog bed or basket, having a designated area for your dog means you’ll know where your dog is, that they are safe when you can’t supervise them, and that they have a cosy place of her own to relax when things get hectic.
- A strong recall: Coming to you when called makes life a lot easier in general, let alone when you have a baby with you.
- Hand targeting: If your dog is nervous or timid, teaching a hand target where your dog’s nose will touch your hand when presented will give your dog something to do when around the baby, which might mean the difference between your dog feeling uncomfortable and feeling comfortable and confident.
- Gentle fetch: You may have to teach your dog from scratch or they may be a fetch expert. Either way gentle fetch is a great way to teach your dog to have a safe interaction with your baby.
Routine & Environmental Changes
Getting this is almost contrary to what you did when your dog was first brought into your house hold. But life with a baby can be unpredictable, so it is important to make sure this does not disrupt to the point of changing your dog’s behaviour.
- A less consistent daily schedule: Try varying the time you feed your dog. For example, if breakfast every morning is given at 7am sharp, start feeding at random times between 6am – 10am. Do the same for your dog’s walks; change the timing gradually to get them used to this potential inconsistency. You may consider hiring a dog walker to take over the responsibility of exercising your dog, at least for the first few weeks after the baby arrives. If you decide to do this, find a walker in advance so that your dog gets used to leaving your house without you but with the walker.
- Time away from home: The likelihood of you being able to get to the dog-park the way you used to before having a baby is quite slim. So, if your dog enjoys playing with other dogs, consider doggie day-care once or twice a week after the baby comes. As with the dog walker explore your options now, and have your dog spend time at the day-care so this activity isn’t new when there is also a new baby.
- Getting used to the baby’s routine: Start going through a baby routine before the arrival of the baby. You can practise getting up in the middle of the night and teaching your dog to settle quietly in an area where you plan to nurse the baby. Include changing, feeding, rocking and walking with an empty stroller. You may get some funny looks but it will be very much worth it when your dog is fully prepared for your baby’s arrival.
- Less attention: As tempting as it is, you do not want to lavish your dog with affection just before the baby comes, only to have it stop when your attention is being drawn elsewhere. This is where ‘Calm in a designated area’ is essential. Spend less time giving your dog attention for a few weeks before the baby’s arrival.
- Baby Noises: Similarly to how we desensitise a dog who is anxious with fireworks or other loud noises, we will do the same for baby noises. Play various baby sounds in your house, baby TV or baby noises on YouTube. Start quietly and for a short time, and gradually increase the volume and duration so your dog can adjust to the new sounds before you bring the baby home.
- Baby Stuff: It’s common to walk into a home with a baby and see toys all over the living room, a bouncer in the corner and diapers on the counter. However, these common baby items aren’t nearly as familiar to your dog. Set up your crib, changing station and have everything you need for your baby well in advance so your dog gets used to all of this.
- Baby Smells: Acclimate your dog to baby smell prior to your baby’s arrival. Include baby lotion, powder, nappies/ diapers etc.
- Baby-Proofing:Get your home ready for a crawling or walking baby in advance of your baby doing so. If there are areas that will soon be off limits to your dog, make sure you set up gates or barriers before your baby’s arrival.
- Boundaries: When the baby comes home, some of your dog’s privileges will likely change. It will be easier for you and your dog to institute new rules in advance. If you don’t want your dog on the furniture or the bed after the baby arrives, introduce that restriction now. If your dog is used to sleeping in your bed and you want that to change with the baby’s arrival, it’s time to get a comfortable dog bed. If necessary, you can place the new bed in an exercise pen or a crate to prevent your dog from jumping during the night. Likewise, if you want your dog to sleep in another room when the baby arrives, establish this habit well in advance.
Baby Touch & Movement
In an ideal world, both baby and dog will be gentle with each other at all times. The dog will not be startled by the movement of the baby. And the baby will not do anything rough with the dog. However, baby’s will need to learn to respect their dog’s space and wishes over time. This means you have to prepare your dog for the touching, pulling, grabbing and moving that the baby will do before reaching the stage that they learn.
- Handling: As soon as you are able to, you should teach your child to respect your dog. But, not knowing any better, young babies often grab dogs’ fur, ears, tails and anything else within reach. To prepare your dog for this inevitability, accustom it to the types of touching you can expect from your baby, including grabbing, poking, pushing and pulling. If you teach your dog that good things happen when being poked and prodded, those potentially uncomfortable interactions with the baby will be better tolerated. Do this by gently poking/ grabbing/ pinching etc… your dog and then give it a treat. At the same time using a happy tone, say something like “Oh, what was that?” each time. With repetition, your dog will start to anticipate tasty treats and simply associate these actions as positives.
- Movement:Some dogs have never seen a human crawl, so it can be an intimidating experience, especially because crawling is right at their eye level. With this in mind it’s a good idea to help your dog get used to crawling before your baby starts to become mobile. Doing this is as easy as it can be fun! Crawl toward your dog. As soon as your dog lifts their head to look at you, pet and give treats. Eventually, the association with a crawling human is a positive one. Everyone in the family should participate in this exercise. When your baby comes and your dog is completely comfortable with this new game, bring the baby into the game, too. Have your baby sit on your back, supported by your partner, when you crawl. Remember to cuddle your dog and give treats so that your dog continues to enjoy this strange, new human behaviour.
The Baby’s Arrival
First impressions are important. Your dog should have pleasant experiences with your baby right from the start.
- First Thing: Once the baby is born, bring an article of the baby’s clothing or a baby blanket home ahead of time if possible so your dog can get used to the new scent.
- Getting Home: When you arrive home with the new born, first greet your dog alone before sending everyone else in to greet your dog ahead of your baby. This is done so your dog doesn’t get excited and jump on the baby. (At this stage you should already have fine-tuned your dog’s manners) It’s crucial to stay calm and relaxed when you and your baby enter the house. If you seem nervous and jumpy, your dog will pick up on this and may become nervous as well, thinking that the bundle in your arms is something to worry about. Instead, speak to your dog in a soft but happy voice as you walk into the house. Have whoever is helping you distract your dog with plenty of treats so that her attention is divided between them, your baby and the other people present. The same helper can redirect your dog’s attention with obedience cues, like sit and down, using the treats to reward her polite behaviour. Praise your dog for any calm interest in the baby. Avoid scolding your dog. Remember, you want her to associate the baby with good things, not your displeasure.
- First Few Days: If you have an anxious dog allow your dog to adjust to the smell, sight and sound of your baby for a few days before introducing them in closer proximity.
- The Introduction: The introduction between your dog and baby must be planned and conducted carefully. Choose a quiet room and sit down with the baby in your arms. Have your partner leash your dog (unless your dog is leash reactive, in which case this should have been addressed prior to your baby’s arrival) and bring your dog into the room. As before, avoid nervous or agitated behaviour. Talk to your dog in a calm, happy voice as you invite your dog to approach. This is done to convince your dog that meeting and interacting with the newest family member is fun, not stressful. If your dog’s body language is relaxed and friendly, have your friend walk her toward you and the baby, keeping the leash short but loose. If she wants to, let your dog sniff the baby as you continue to speak softly to her. Praise her warmly for gentle investigation. Even if your dog seems curious and calm, you may feel a little nervous about letting them get too close. That’s normal for new parents and is perfectly reasonable. Initially, you might feel most comfortable allowing only brief interactions. Let your dog sniff your baby’s feet for a couple of seconds. Then gently interrupt the investigation by praising your dog and asking them to sit or lie down. Reward for complying with a few small, tasty treats. (Your partner can hand them to you or deliver the rewards to your dog). Repeat this sequence a few times. Then have your partner distract your dog with a new chew bone or a food puzzle toy.
What Not To Do
Having looked at the many do’s when it comes to preparation and introduction of your dog to your baby, there are some big DON’Ts that must be highlighted.
- Don’t Ignore Your Dog: Give your dog plenty of attention when your baby is around. You don’t want your dog thinking that good things only happen when the baby isn’t around.
- Toys Are Toys: Never scold your dog for picking up the baby’s toys. You don’t want the smell of the baby being associated with anything negative. Simply replace the child’s toy with the dog’s toy.
- Never force your dog to interact with your baby: Let your dog approach your baby on their own. If your dog seems nervous, speak softly and praise it for bravely investigating.
- Never leave even the most trusted dog alone with a baby or small child!
What To Do
If you are in any doubt or are unsure of any of the information detailed above, get help from a canine behaviourist. Most behaviourists are more than happy to assist, advise and accompany you with the preparation, home coming and introduction of your dog and baby.
Most importantly, remember that your family has grown and you should do everything within your power to keep family happy and together. If this article is relevant to you I want to end by congratulating you on the imminent arrival of your newest family member.