Congratulations on your newest addition to your family! Welcoming a baby is a very exciting time for many families. But like most people, I am sure you’re thinking of every possible way to prepare for the moment you bring your baby home, which includes introducing your baby to your dog!
Even the most well-trained dog will be curious when a new baby comes into the home. With proper preparation, we can anticipate and help control the excitement when the two first meet. Below are some tips I have put together to help with the preparation for this new chapter of your family’s life!
When You Know You Are Expecting
While there are a number of extremely useful commands for your dog to know, there are two commands I would recommend teaching before the baby comes home — Leave it & Place to create a safer environment.
Leave it means “ignore”. When your dog is reacting to something, you will want to use the leave it command to say “ignore that”. A great example of this would be when your dog is barking after someone rings the doorbell while the baby is sleeping.
‘Place’ is the “art of doing nothing” and the use-cases are endless! Place teaches your dog to stay in a specific spot until you release them. Some of my favorite examples of when to use this command would be:
- When you are making or eating a meal. A dog that really knows ‘place’ will stay even when kids throw food!
- Guests come over – instead of charging the door and your guests, the dog will stay in their designated ‘place’.
- The baby needs tummy time and you need space
- When you are nursing and need space
- You are carrying things in and out of the house and need the door open
Honestly, there are so many other moments you could use the place command for.
While there are other useful commands to teach your dog, I would prioritize the above commands to prepare for your baby’s arrival to make your life more cohesive.
Six Months Prior
While you can never start training too soon, this is truly your time to get serious! We want to make sure your dog has the opportunity to learn any new commands at their pace and time to perfect the command around real-life distractions.
Practice place while mocking out real-life scenarios such as changing a baby or sitting in your new rocking chair. Practice proper heeling alongside the stroller so your dog gets use to the new equipment. Work on the leave it command with items such as baby socks or pacifiers. If you don’t want your dog in the nursery, begin teaching them boundaries at certain thresholds.
If your dog isn’t use to being around kids focusing on proper socialization and desensitization will be essential. I would recommend reaching out to a professional to help assist.
Three Months Prior
There is a lot of “new” that comes into your home when preparing for a baby and when the baby comes home. This is why we want to gradually introduce your dog to new routines, sounds, and smells that will be associated with the baby. This helps your dog acclimate to the changes over time. Play recordings of baby sounds (crying, babbling, etc.) and use baby-related products (lotions, powders) to familiarize your dog with the new scents and noises associated with a baby. Make sure to also add a positive associations for calm and appropriate behavior around baby-related items.
Changes in your dogs routine and environment such as scent changes or additional stress and anxiety can cause a dog to begin marking inside the home when they typically wouldn’t. Taking the above steps will help your dog adjust to the changes and avoid this behavior.
When You Are Coming Home
Now let’s talk about the exciting day when the baby comes home and it’s time to introduce the two. While every dog is different, here are general things to keep in mind.
While you are staying at the hospital, If someone such as your husband or a family member goes back to your house, have them take a baby blanket or bodysuit that has the baby’s scent on it for them to smell. However, just bringing a baby blanket home beforehand to get your dog used to the scent won’t be enough.
When you come home from the hospital, know your dog will be excited to see you and want to jump or lick. Have one parent wait outside with the baby and allow the other to come inside to greet your dog alone. This will allow the dog to get all of their excitement and enthusiastic greeting out while also getting ALL of the new smells. Once your dog starts to settle down, switch spots. Have the other parent go greet your pup while the other waits outside with the baby. Once the dog calms down again the parent outside may come in with the baby.
Sit down with your baby and let your dog sniff them to get acquainted. Start by allowing your dog to sniff just the baby’s feet and build from there. If your dog is too excited, put them on a leash to have more control over them. Have one person hold the baby at a little bit of a distance while the other gives the dogs treats for being calm. As you continue to work, move close to the dog with the baby until they can calmly get acquainted.
If you have multiple dogs, start with one dog at a time and then bring them together. Once they are good, put your dog in “place” while you get settled in.
Don’t Forget About the Pup(s)
During all the excitement of the newborn, don’t forget to exercise your dog — mentally and physically. If you have a day that does not allow you to get them out for that walk, allow them time to play with a mental game such as a wobble kong or snuffle mat.
If your dog is not getting enough exercise or given a job to do, they will find their own task. Unfortunately, this will likely be in undesirable behaviors such as raiding the garbage or digging in the backyard.
Once Your Baby Grows Up
Just as you teach your dog to respect your baby, you want to teach your baby to respect your dog. Once your child begins to explore more, it is important to supervise all interactions between them and the dog. It will become crucial to teach your child not to bother the dog while eating or chewing a bone, no pulling tails, no following them into the crate, no riding them like a pony, etc.
Honestly, these lessons on mutual respect cannot begin soon enough. I often see children who have provoked an otherwise peaceful dog, simply because they were unsupervised or had not been given proper instruction. If you can not supervise your baby and dog utilize gates to help give each of them space. Any dog (and any breed) can be pushed to a limit where they may feel threatened or overwhelmed and any dog is capable of biting. We need to make sure to teach both parties how to coexist with the other respectably. All of the responsibility can not be on the dog or the child.
Any major life change requires an adjustment period — and this is no different. Allow time for your dog to learn the new normal, always provide the space they may need to decompress when needed and remember to utilize your training to make your new life less hectic.
Remember, each dog is unique, and the adjustment period may vary. Seeking guidance from a professional dog trainer or behaviorist experienced in working with families and dogs during this transition can be extremely beneficial.