Dogs and Babies: How the Two Should Meet
Dogs and Babies: How the Two Should Meet
If you are expecting a new baby, there are plenty of things you can do to make the introduction to your dog easier on all parties involved. The best time to start working with your dog in preparation for a new baby is as soon as you find out you are expecting a new baby. Don’t wait until you are bringing home a newborn to consider your dog’s reaction and ability to cope. Babies bring a lot of changes for you, and a lot more for your dog. Remember that a dog is more sensitive to smells, sounds and changes in schedule and many dogs can be uncomfortable around unpredictable movements or people. Does any of this sound like a problem yet?
However, if you take just a few proactive steps to prepare your dog, you are far less likely to end up in the unhappy predicament of having to crate your dog more than necessary, or worst case scenario, re-home them. Start off by desensitizing your dog to sounds and smells. This means finding the most annoying videos of crying, laughing or shrieking babies on YouTube and exposing your dog to them at low level volume over time and rewarding your dog for ignoring them. You can also pair these sounds with a stationary behavior, such as “go to place” with a yummy Kong© or marrow bone. You don’t want to be worried about your dog being uncomfortable or reactive every time the baby cries or screams. You can also begin using any baby lotions or shampoos on your own skin so that your dog gets used to the new smells that will be around without feeling the need to investigate the actual infant. Try putting a little baby oil or powder on your forearm so your dog gets a good investigation of the new scent.
Visually, you can begin setting up your nursery or other baby areas early so that your dog is not overwhelmed by all the changes when the baby comes home. You can also practice carrying a baby doll and teaching your dog to avoid jumping up or sitting on you when you are holding the baby doll. This is also a good way for your dog to learn not to be underfoot when something is in your arms. If you and your dog are active together you may want to purchase items such as strollers and carriers early to get your dog comfortable walking alongside you. If your dog is a puller, this is a good time to overcome that behavior as it can be dangerous when combined with young children (see: http://perfect-pooch.com/what-the-leash-should-and-should-not-be-used-for/).
Although your dog may be great at meeting people while you are out and about, meeting someone in your own home is different. If you know your dog is not the best at greeting people or allowing them in your home, seek help right away. The last thing you want is to invite over friends and family to meet your new addition and have someone bitten by your dog. Keep in mind, most dog bites to children are not to the child living with the dog, but rather the child’s friends. Always keep an eye on your dog when people are around, especially children.
By disassociating many of these changes from your baby will bring and implementing them early, you can help your dog adjust slowly and hopefully not make any negative associations with the baby. This is also a good time to implement any schedule changes that you know will happen. For example, if someone will be home more, or if routine walk times will change. If you have an active dog or is your dog is used to a lot of attention and you know this may change, it is a good idea to hire a dog walker/runner or look into a daycare before you truly need it so that you and your dog can adjust to your new routine.
Now that you have prepared your dog as much as possible, it’s time to introduce your dog to your baby. Ideally someone can bring home a blanket or something that smells like new-milky-baby while you and the baby are still in the hospital. You may also want to clean your dog as best as possible to help limit any germs or dirt that you’d like to keep away from your newborn. If possible, each parent should enter and greet the dog individually. This means one of you should stay outside with baby as the other greets your dog and then trade off. Once your dog has gotten a chance to see you and get out the initial joy of being reunited, remember: you’ve been gone forever! You should leash them and bring in your baby.
The easiest way to facilitate a baby greeting is to sit on the couch holding your infant and allow your dog to approach at their own pace. Never force or coax a dog closer. Most likely your dog will give a few cursory sniffs and continue on with life until crying or feeding starts. Formula and milk smell naturally appeasing to dogs and they may get a little too close, so be ready with a good toy or treat the first few times and your dog should adjust to this new routine.
If at any time your dog seems stressed, raises their hackles, growls, or does any other behavior to indicate things are not going perfectly smoothly, remove them from the situation and contact a trainer immediately. Infants are non-threatening by nature so if your dog is already uncomfortable, it is important that you remedy the situation before your child reaches the hair-pulling-tail-grabbing-want-to-touch stage of toddlerhood. Never correct your dog for seeming uncomfortable or reacting negatively because they will associate any of those corrections with the child and become even more stressed. Even if they inhibit the growling that you punished, they will still bite, but this time without a warning growl. It is very important to prepare your dog and make this a fun and happy time for them too.
Head Trainer- Perfect Pooch
BA, CPDT-KA, AKC CGC Evaluator