Introducing Your Dog to a New Baby: Six Keys to Success

You adore your dog, and now there’s another love in your life – a new baby. Where once the dog was the 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:

"Mom and Dad used to lavish me with praise, then they brought home this squalling, smelly, mini-alien and everything changed. When I tried to give the alien a friendly lick, Mom 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 Mom gives me attention is when the alien is asleep and the fun stops as soon as it wakes up. 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.

Six Ways to Prepare

1. Attention Span
Babies are time consuming. For the dog to go from being 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.

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 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.

2. Gear Up Slowly

The home is your dog’s territory and all this new baby equipment appearing out of nowhere could make him anxious. 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.

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.

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 highlights any areas of his training that need special attention whilst there’s still time to address them.

3. 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.

4. 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. More information on crate training your pup can be found in the course Reward-Based Dog Training.

5. Introductions

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.

6. Teach your Dog that “Baby = Fun”
The 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 that when the baby appears the fun stops. Instead, when you feed the baby, also feed the dog. When the baby is 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 their 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.
In short, make good things happen when the baby’s around and the dog will become their 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.