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When you have a dog, bringing a new baby home can represent some pretty major changes in your pet’s life.
A baby will impact your dog’s schedule, the attention it receives from you, and its sense of place and belonging in the home.
Help prepare your dog in advance by introducing them to new sounds, smells, and routines before the baby arrives.
Work with them on mastering basic commands, and help them adjust to new patterns of attention.
Then, when your baby arrives, introduce them slowly and calmly to your dog.
Preparing Your Dog
Start training early.
Make sure that the dog understands basic commands such as “No,” “Sit,” “Stay,” and “Quiet.” These commands will help you better control interactions between your dog and your child, so be sure to start training well before the baby arrives.
Consider enrolling in a training course with your dog.
Basic training courses can teach your dog simple commands and self-discipline, and are often offered through pet stores, animal shelters, and private trainers.
If you do not have the time or ability to take your dog in for training, you may also be able to send them to a private trainer.
This generally comes at a greater cost, but some trainers will work with your dog directly instead of requiring you to take a class.
Create a safe space for your dog.
Give your dog a place inside the house that is completely dedicated to them.
It should be somewhere outside of areas dedicated to the baby, but close enough to the family that your dog still feels included, such as a large crate or a corner of the kitchen or living room.
Place your dog’s bed, food, and water dishes in their designated area, along with comfort objects such as toys, blankets, and pillows.
When your dog acts nervous or rambunctious about changes around the home or your new routine, gently escort them to their safe area and help them get calm and comfortable.
Set strict boundaries inside your home.
If you do not want your dog to enter a specific room such as the baby’s room, teach them that it is a restricted area.
Gently block entryways with your body and provide a firm but not angry command such as “No,” or “Wrong.”
A good alternative is to set up a baby gate in the door of the baby’s room. This allows your dog to see what’s happening without entering the room.
Baby gates are easily purchased at most baby stores, pet stores, and department stores, as well as online.
Adjust your routine.
Bringing a new baby into the home will likely shift your schedule and your ability to pay attention to your dog.
Try varying your routine to help your dog become accustomed to a less-predictable schedule.
Try taking naps in the afternoon to mimic the irregular times you might sleep.
You can also create a more variable feeding schedule by switching the time you feed the dog by an hour or so each night.
Focus on providing longer periods of uninterrupted attention, such as walks or trips to the dog park, instead of small bursts of attention throughout the day.
Avoid the temptation to give your dog extra attention in the days before the baby arrives.
This may reinforce the concept that you are able to spend more time with your dog than you can reasonably give once the baby arrives.
Adjusting Your Dog's Senses
Practice with a doll.
One to three months before the due date, invest in a convincing baby doll that looks and sounds like a real baby.
Allow the dog to sniff the doll and teach them to stay back when you change it, bathe it or feed it.
Reward your dog with treats, praise, and physical affection for good behavior, but avoid punishing them for negative behavior.
If a dog reacts with negative behavior to a situation, give them a command such as “No,” or “Wrong,” and repeat the situation until your dog’s actions improve.
Don’t leave the doll lying around anywhere that the dog could grab it or chew it.
Treat the doll as you would a real baby, so the dog learns to respect it and knows that it is not a toy.
Introduce new forms of physical contact.
While your baby won’t touch the dog much early on, eventually they may grab at your dog.
To avoid a defensive reaction, introduce new forms of touch by gently petting the dog in places the baby is likely to grab such as the tail, paws, mouth area, ears, and inside the ears.
Try this multiple times a day for a few minutes at a time.
Practice these touches when your dog is engaged in their favorite activity, such as playing or eating, so that they learn to connect this type of touch with something pleasant.
Introduce new scents.
Before you bring the baby into the house, allow your dog to adjust to some of the new odors that will come with the baby.
Help your dog by wearing baby oil and baby powder on your skin, and by allowing your dog to sniff items such as the baby’s blanket or clothing.
Dogs are very sensitive to smells, and an unfamiliar smell can seem like a threat.
Helping them adjust to new scents will help them relax once the baby is home.
Consult a behaviorist.
If your dog is having trouble adjusting to a new routine, or if they have a history of less-than-ideal reactions to children, consider working with a board certified veterinary behaviorist to help your dog create lasting behavioral changes.
A board certified veterinary behaviorist goes beyond what a trainer can offer, and can help you work with your dog to create a safe and loving home for your baby.
If the dog cannot learn to behave in an obedient, safe manner around children, you will need to take more extreme measures, like keeping your dog in a penned off area, or considering rehoming them with a friend or family member.
At this point, the safety of your baby should be your top priority.
Introducing Your Baby
Make a grooming appointment.
Schedule a grooming appointment a week or so before the baby is due.
Have the groomer bathe and brush your dog’s coat, brush your dog’s teeth, and trim your dog’s nails.
Regular nail trims will become a necessity once the baby arrives.
Talk to your groomer about the best nail-trimming products for at-home use, and see if they would be willing to offer you a quick lesson on how to cut your dog’s nails safely at home.
If you or your partner are too busy to take the dogs in to visit the groomers, yourself, ask a friend or a family member to drop off and pick up your pup.
Set a vet appointment.
As best as you are able, try to schedule a vet appointment a week or so before the baby is due.
Work with the vet to ensure all of your dog’s shots are up to date and that your dog is in good physical health.
Making sure your dog is clean and healthy before the baby arrives will help keep your home environment safe for your baby.
It will also reduce the number of accidents your dog can cause when first interacting with your baby.
Prepare the dog before entry
Have someone that the dog knows and trusts, such as a spouse or friend, enter the house before the baby.
Allow them to greet and play with the new dog before bringing the baby into the house.
Put on your dog’s leash and harness or collar before bringing in the baby.
If your dog is used to wearing a head harness, it may also be beneficial at this time.
You may want to have someone take the dog out for a walk while you bring in the baby so that your dog is less territorial about letting something new into the house.
Carefully introduce your baby.
Start with a short interaction as the baby enters the house.
Have separate people holding the baby and the dog. Allow the dog to come close enough to the baby to sniff but not close enough to make contact.
Allow your dog to sniff the area around the baby for a few minutes, then have the dog go to their safe space while you get the baby into its room or crib.
Limit the amount the baby and the dog interact for the first few days.
A few minutes a few times a day will help your dog adjust without creating too much confusion.
Watch for negative behavior.
Watch your dog’s body language carefully for signs that they are uncomfortable or threatened.
Keep the baby far enough away that the dog cannot easily nip at them, and watch for signs including bristled fur, set-back ears, bearing teeth, tail between the legs, or their body going rigid.
If you notice that the dog is feeling threatened, have someone hold the dog in place while the baby is moved to their room. Once the baby is safe, guide the dog to their safe space and leave them alone to calm down.
Reward positive interactions with praise and treats, but do not punish confused or excited behavior, such as barking or jumping, as long it is not an immediate threat to the baby.
Encouraging a Good Relationship Between Them
Give the dog attention while the baby is awake.
While you will probably have the most time for your dog when the baby is asleep, it is also important to offer the dog attention while the baby is awake.
This keeps the dog active in your family life, and helps prevent jealousy or possessiveness.
If you feed your baby at a certain time, feed the dog at the same time, talk to the dog while carrying the baby around and bring the dog and the baby for a walk together.
Maintain the dog's usual schedule as much as possible.
The times at which you do things may change, but provide the dog with as much consistency as you can offer.
Make sure they get the same number of walks, bathroom breaks, and meals every day, even if they are not at exactly the same times.
If you are struggling to keep a basic schedule, consider hiring a dog walker to come over once a day to feed, walk, and provide a bathroom break for your pet.
You may also consider dropping your dog off at a doggie day care once or twice a week to allow them to run around and socialize with other dogs.
Create space for positive interactions
Teach the dog to give you space while you take care of the baby by keeping it out of the baby’s room or setting the dog up in its safe space.
Then, when both the baby and the dog’s needs have been cared for, allow time each day for the two of them to quietly and calmly interact.
Allow the dog to sit or sleep next to you while you hold the baby.
Keep interactions loving and calm initially so that the dog is reacting to the baby rather than new smells or sounds.
If the dog becomes too nervous or excited, send them to their safe space and try again later.
Reduce your dog’s fears.
The most common reason for a dog biting a baby is fear, so it is important to find ways to reduce your dog’s fear of your baby.
Simple things like providing your dog with a baby free space, playing recordings of baby sounds to get your dog used to them before he meets your baby, and praising your dog for his good behavior when he is around your baby can help your dog to feel more comfortable.