Build New Routines
Well behaved dogs have routines to follow and know what you expect of them. A new baby can easily be a disruption. Preparing your dog ahead of time with new routines is crucial to a happy transition. A few months before your due date, start introducing new habits to your dog. For example, if you plan on taking your baby for walks in the stroller at a different time than you would normally walk the dog, consider beginning a new dog walking schedule before the baby arrives.
Teach Your Dog Tricks
If you haven’t already, teach your dog some basic commands that can help with interactions such as when he tries to play with the baby’s toys or jump in their space.
Helpful commands may include:
- “Go to” cue (telling your dog to go to a certain spot, like a bed)
- Leave it
- Drop it
Start setting boundaries for your dog before the baby arrives. Reward them for not jumping on the couch in order to prepare them for when the baby may be on the couch. It’s not recommended to ever leave your dog unsupervised with the baby. Teach your dog which spaces in the house that are off limits or need to be invited into.
If you haven’t, now is a great time to start crate training the dog. As you will eventually set boundaries for the baby as well, this will become a haven for the dog where you have taught the soon-to-be toddler not to go.
Let the Dog Explore
As you prepare for the baby, begin by bringing new sights and smells into the environment to expose your dog to them. Let them sniff the new items such as strollers, highchairs, and car seats to get used to them. Once the dog seems comfortable around the still objects, introduce them to their movements. Practice walking with an empty stroller if you plan to walk the dog and baby together.
Let your dog get comfortable with all the new smells and sounds such as noisy toys and lotions or powders you plan to use with the baby. Playing baby noises from the internet at low volumes is a great way to introduce their sounds and can help avoid startling the dog once the baby is home.
Once the baby is born, bring home a blanket the baby was wrapped in for the dog to sniff and explore. Give your dog treats to create positive associations with the smells. There is a drastic difference between a dog sniffing a new scent and revisiting a familiar scent.
Don’t Force the Introduction
There is no rush to introduce your dog the minute the baby comes home. Whether you need to focus exclusively on the baby or if you want your dog to get used to the scent and sounds of the baby, it’s ok to keep them separated for a few days or longer.
Since dogs have a better sense of smell than us, they don’t need to directly sniff the baby. If you hold the baby, the dog will be able to smell the scent on you. You can use this to your advantage by associating the desired calm with the baby’s scent by practicing calm behavior when they are smelling you. Associate this calm behavior with positive reinforcers like treats. This helps positively reinforce calm behavior around the baby.
A Tired Dog is a Good Dog
Say Hello To Your Pet Without the Baby
Whenever you are away from your dog, you know they’ve missed you. Even if someone had taken them to exercise, it is a real possibility that the dog will still bark or jump out of excitement.
First, enter the house without the baby to avoid having to correct your dog and to let them calm down. Have your partner or support system wait outside with the baby. Then swap spaces so the dog can say hello to them too.
Claim Your Space
Be aware of the space around you as you want to be in an area where physical separation is easy. Be sure that you invite the dog into the baby’s space to ensure they don’t jump onto you and the baby. Consider having your dog on a leash in case of unwanted behaviors so they can easily be redirected.
Keep Your Environment Pest Free
Since your dog and baby are going to be living together, it is important to keep your dog protected from pests and internal parasites that could possibly affect your home and baby. Talk to your vet about monthly parasite protection for your dog to help protect them from fleas and ticks.
Help Your Dog Love the Baby
It may be tempting to give your dog attention only when the baby is asleep or elsewhere. However, you still want to give your dog attention such as petting, treats, and playing when the baby is present. When you feed the baby, consider feeding the dog at the same time. When you take the baby for a stroll, take the dog as well. This helps your dog associate positive reinforcement with your baby. Only do things with them together if you think it’s safe for you to handle. Start doing activities with another adult until you are comfortable predicting how your dog will behave.
Teach Your Baby to Be Gentle
Always Supervise Them
The truth is your pet could accidentally harm the baby. Infant behaviors such as squealing or quick movements may irritate or startle your dog. Look for signs that your dog may be uncomfortable with the baby such as:
- • Pacing
- • Unusual Eye Contact
- • Growling
- • Turning their head away, followed by a full turning of the body
- • Tucked tail
- • Ears back
- • Wide eyes (showing the whites of their eyes)
- • Tight facial expressions
- • Lip licking
If you notice these signs, separate them immediately. The dog should be encouraged to relax in a safe and quiet place such as their kennel. It’s not beneficial to punish the dog for showing anxious behaviors around the baby. The punishment may increase their concern of bad things associated with the baby being around.
Need Extra Help?
If you are having trouble acclimating your dog to a baby or just want professional advice prior to introducing them, seek out a licensed trainer with experience in dog and baby/toddler dynamics.
One resource is the Family Paws website and licensed Family Paws Educators.