Introducing a Dog to a New Baby

Introducing a Dog to a New Baby
26 Dec 2016

You adore your dog, and now there’s another love in your life – a new baby: Where once the dog was center of attention, now he must take a back seat.

If you are a new or soon-to-be parent then think carefully about how to introduce your dog to a new baby so the transition goes smoothly for everyone, including the four-legged family member.

A good place to start is to consider events from a dog’s eye view:

Mum used to lavish me with praise, then she brought home this squalling, smelly, mini-alien and everything changed. When I tried to give the alien a friendly lick, Mum screeched and scolded me. Now I’m not allowed on the sofa, can’t go in rooms I used to, and dinner doesn’t happen on time. The only time Mum gives me attention is when the alien is asleep, and the fun stops as soon as it wakes. I haven’t changed but nothing I do is right: I’m so confused. 

Your dog cannot be expected to understand the sudden change in his circumstances, which is why it’s essential to prepare him beforehand. It’s all a matter of managing expectations so that introducing a dog to a new baby is a happy event.

Dog and Baby

Prepare your Pooch

  • Attention Span: Babies are time consuming. For the dog to go from lavishly loved to invisibility status, is bound to confound and confuse. So acknowledge the inevitable and prepare him in advance of the baby’s arrival.

Withdraw some of your attention and set new boundaries. This doesn’t mean ignoring the dog completely, but instead make him work for rewards. Spend your one-to-one time training (see: Cue Commands) and instead of the dog instigating attention, ignore his advances and only fuss on your terms.

  • Shake up the Schedule: Dogs are creatures of habit, but a baby shakes things up. Prepare your dog for the new arrival by varying the time of his meals and walks. Make small adjustments are first: five or ten minutes here or there, with the aim of making dinner a moveable feast. This decreases the dog’s stress when things don’t happen on time when it does come time to introduce your dog to a new baby in the house.
  • Gear Up Slowly: The home is your dog’s territory and all this new baby equipment appears out of nowhere, could make him anxious or possessive. Give your dog time to adjust by staging the arrival of cribs, baby baths, strollers, and other baby-centric paraphernalia. Let your dog sniff each new item and give him time to accept the changes in his territory.
  • Smells Familiar: Remember your dog’s superior sense of smell and use it to help him accept the new arrival. Use baby oil, lotion, and powder yourself, so that he builds an association between these new scents and something he understands.
  • Parent a Doll: In the final trimester of the pregnancy, try nursing a doll and pay it the same attention you would do a baby. This gets the dog used to the loss of your divided attention and highlight any areas of his training that need special attention whilst there’s still time to address them.
  • Cue Commands: Basic training is a great way to make the dog feel secure. Use the time to reinforce a strong, “Sit”, and “Stay”, and also commands such as “Shoo” to help keep the dog from under your feet when carrying the baby.

Teach the “Shoo” command by showing a treat, tossing it away and saying “Shoo”. Repeat this at least ten times. The next step is to say “Shoo” and point away from you, as he looks for the treat say “Yes,” and toss the treat. Repeat until he’s obeying the command and moving right away before getting a treat.

  • Time Out: Believe it or not, your dog’s likely to find a screaming baby stressful! Provide the dog with a sanctuary where he can escape and feel safe. Take time to crate train him, so that when you both need more space he doesn’t feel he’s being punished.

Introducing a Dog to a Baby

That First Introduction

You took advantage of the nine-months of waiting to change your dog’s outlook, and now it’s time to introduce your dog to the new baby. First things first, whilst you’re on the way home from the hospital have a friend take the dog for a long walk to reduce his energy levels. Have other people enter the house first, so the dog gets to greet them first and reduce his excitement.

When you bring the baby in, be relaxed. You want to give the message that the new addition is a good thing. Have some treats handy and praise your dog to reward his gentle behavior. If he gets too rowdy don’t scold him, instead use that training to get him to sit, and then reward him.

When it comes to safety around children, bear in mind all dogs are individuals and what matters most is his attitude not his breed. If you have any doubts that your dog might be aggressive around babies or children, then seek the advice of a qualified animal behaviorist, preferably before bringing the baby home.

Baby and Dog

Teaching your Dog that “Baby = Fun”

Key to a long lasting bond between baby and dog is to teach the dog that “Baby equals fun.” Avoid only fussing the dog when the baby is asleep, as this teaches him when the baby appears the fun stops. Instead, when you feed the baby also feed the dog. When baby’s awake, take both baby and dog out for a walk.

In short, make good things happen when the baby’s around and the dog will become her devoted companion. Introducing a dog to a new baby needn’t be difficult, and when done right it will enrich the lives of everyone involved for many.

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Pippa Elliott

Pippa Elliott, BVMS MRCVS, is a veterinarian with 27-years' experience in companion animal practice. Pippa's first job was in a practice by the sea, where she acquired her first (of many) waif-and-stray, a Dockyard Cat Rescue kitten, called Skate. She then worked for the PDSA (People's Dispensary for Sick Animals) which is a national charity that provides veterinary care for the animals of owners with limited finance. Currently Pippa works in a Veterinary Clinic in UK.