I am a new grandmother and I’m happily focused on everything related to the new baby — the clothes, the food, the accessories, and helping the new family get adjusted to a completely new life. This includes their dogs — they have two Siberian Huskies who were/are their babies for the past few years. The biggest issue has been introducing the dogs to the new baby so that everyone will get along. The new parents’ greatest fear is that they will be unable to manage both the dogs and the new baby, and that they will have to give up their beloved dogs.
So how do you go about introducing dog and baby? Well, you start early, as soon as you find out that you’re pregnant (yes, I’m including the new dads in the pregnancy as well). You make this task more difficult the longer you wait. It’s not impossible, just more difficult.
What are the Concerns?
The obvious concern is that we want our first child – the fur baby – to interact well with our new baby human, and not hurt him. If that happens, we will be forced to find another home for our dog, or surrender him to a shelter. That is an impossible situation for most new parents.
We also do not want our dog to jump up on us while we are holding the baby as this could cause us to drop our newborn. Definitely not what anyone wants! This is a frightening possibility. Our dog needs to learn basic obedience skills.
We are fearful that our dog will behave aggressively towards our new child. If the dog behaves aggressively, we won’t be able to keep him around the new baby. This could create more anger and jealousy on the dog’s part and potentially more aggression. We need to prepare the dog for the inevitable changes that will occur in the household including the new smells, and changes in daily routine. We need to reassure our dog that they are still valued members even if we can’t spend as much time with them as before.
We want our dog to love our new baby as much as our dog loves us. We want them both to grow together to have the inseparable bond that you see in the movies between dogs and children. Our children need to learn to be good dog leaders.
Then as your child grows, we want our dog to behave around our child’s other friends as well-mannered and obedient even if these other children don’t know how to properly behave around the dog. Our children need to learn to teach their friends how to behave around the dog.
What can you do before the baby comes?
- Provide your dog with basic obedience training. The basic commands of Sit, Stay, and Down are important, as is the ability to have a good recall and not to jump on people. If you need professional help with the training, get it!
- Modify and vary the dog’s routines for several months before the baby comes so that the dog will not associate the changes with the new baby. These changes can include where the dog is fed, where the dog sleeps, and when the dog eats or is walked. Changing it up will help your dog adapt to the anticipated chaos before the new baby arrives and really disrupts everything.
- Lessen the amount of attention you give your dog for a couple of weeks before the baby is due. That way the attention you must lavish on the new baby won’t seem as if it is at the expense of your dog.
- Introduce the new smells of baby powder, diaper creams, and laundry so that your dog will get used to it when the baby comes homes.
- Play baby noises for several weeks so that the new baby’s sounds won’t seem so out of place to your dog.
- Teach your dog to go to “Go to Place”. This is a mat or bed or other defined area. You need to eventually teach your dog to go to the “Place” defined by where you point. The American Kennel Club has more on this particular command.
What can you do after the baby comes?
- Bring home something of the baby’s such as a blanket or piece of clothing to let your dog sniff and get used to the new baby’s scent.
- Before you bring the baby inside, greet your dog alone so that he doesn’t get excited and jump up on you while you are holding the new baby.
- Allow your dog to get used to the sight, smell, and sound of the baby.
- While the dog is on leash, allow her to approach and sniff the baby. Don’t force the baby on the dog as this might be threatening to your dog.
- After a few days when your dog is used to the baby’s smells, allow your dog to approach the baby off leash. Always look for signs that the dog might jump on the baby and keep an adult between the dog and baby.
- Provide lots of attention and praise on your dog while the baby is around so that your dog will associate good things with being around the baby. Conversely, get your dog to expect that things will get boring when the baby is not around.
- Provide a safe space for your dog if the noise and action become too much for her. Don’t let the child enter the dog’s safe space.
- As the baby gets older and moves into toddlerhood, don’t let him pull on the dog’s ears or tail or anything else. Dogs will growl and snap as a warning.
- Don’t prop your baby against your dog to get that cute photo — put the baby in an adult’s arms with the dog sitting next to them.
- NEVER, NEVER, NEVER let your dog be around your baby alone. This extends to toddlers as well.
- Put up a gate to the nursery so that the dog cannot enter it.
- If your dog becomes aggressive, seek professional help from a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, a board-certified veterinarian behaviorist, or a Certified Professional Dog Training.
What are the available resources?
You can seek help from your local animal shelter or veterinarian. Some online resources include:
- Cesar Milan’s site Cesar’s Way This site provides a brief overview of the process of introducing your dog to your new baby. He focuses on providing the leadership that your dog needs as early in the pregnancy as possible.
- The American Kennel Club (AKC) provides some good advice on introducing your dog to your baby.
- The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) provides an exceptionally detailed guide to introducing dogs to babies that goes through toddlerhood and teaching your child how to properly respect and act around your dog.
- The PetMD site provides some additional advice such as not expecting your babysitter to watch both the dog and your child.
- Family Paws provides two webinars for a nominal price that concern bringing a new baby home, and preparing for toddlerhood.
Love All of Your Children
You love your dog and you love your baby. It is only natural that you want your baby to love your dog and for your dog to love and protect your baby. You can achieve this, but it takes time and work on your part. The biggest thing that these sites address is to remember to provide praise to your dog while the baby is around so that your dog will associate good things with the appearance of the baby. The next thing is to provide a safe place for your dog to go when everything seems too overwhelming. The last is to teach your baby to treat the dog properly and not pull on his ears or tail, and never to play with the dog’s food, toys, or treats.