Having a newborn baby will change your life forever, and it can also change your pet’s lives forever too. Fortunately, babies take nine months to come around, so there is time to prepare. We are similar to our pets in that we are each individual, and will respond to change differently. Some will adapt very well to a new baby, while others may need more time and effort to help with this transition. For this reason, we need to evaluate our pet’s lifestyle and behaviours to see what areas we can improve upon.
Does your dog bark a lot, jump up on people, steal objects or food? Do they respond to basic commands like sit, stay or go to bed? Imagine yourself carrying an upset baby with your dog barking or trying to jump up and won’t settle when you tell them too. So stressful, but it doesn’t have to be that way!
If your dog doesn’t respond to basic commands reliably, this is a fantastic place to start! Try incorporating this into the daily routine – have them sit and stay many times throughout the day, not just many times within a 30 minute period. When they are more reliable, start to incorporate things that resemble baby activities. Carry around a doll wrapped in a towel and put your phone with some baby noises in with it. If you don’t have a doll, roll up some towels. Some dogs will have no issues with this, while others may take more time to adapt and respond better to your commands.
Some other questions to consider. Does your dog show any signs of aggression such as snarling, nipping, curling lip, raising hackles? Do they have any fears, such as loud noises or strangers? If so, this should be taken very seriously. Focus on obedience training and building trust in your relationship.
We love spending time with our dogs, but when a baby comes, your time will be redistributed and will likely mean less time with your dog. Some things to consider include getting a dog walker or bringing them to doggie daycare a few times a week. Prepare to take your dog on walks with the stroller. This, however, is a situation where basic commands on a walk are extremely important. So start before baby arrives, by going for walks with an empty stroller. Some dogs will be scared of this large object you are suddenly taking with you on walks, so have it in an area where your dog can familiarize themselves with it. This also applies to any baby furniture (cribs, bassinets, etc.)
Think about what type of freedoms around the house your dog has. Are they given free-run of the house at all times, do they sleep in bed with you, are they crate-trained? Consider what may change after baby arrives. Will, there be baby gates set up? Will the baby have time when they are laying on the bed or furniture with you? It’s better to start getting them used to new rules now, than after the baby arrives.
Dogs and babies should not be allowed in the backseat of a car together. Instead, plan to either use a crate when driving (for the dog, not the baby). If crate training in the car isn’t realistic, consider getting a dog car seat and having them in the passenger seat. As with everything here, it is best to get them used to this change before the baby comes.
When the baby arrives, we want the introduction to be calm and controlled. It will be natural for your dog to want to see the baby, given the new smells and noises. Getting them to may take place over a few days. When you first come home with the baby, have mother greet the dog without the baby present. Either have someone else hold the baby or have the dog in a separate room to be greeted by mom. Depending on how labour goes, it may be longer than usual, since mom has seen the dog, so the dog may be pretty excited to see her. Before introducing the baby to the dog, let the dog smell something with the baby’s the scent on it a few times.
When introducing the baby to the dog, have one person focus on the baby and another on the dog. Having dog reliably sit and will help this go more smoothly. Start with being at opposite ends of the room and slowly bring them closer together, but maintain control over the dog. If the dog is excited and you’re having difficulty maintaining a sit, you may need to stop and try again later. If the dog has a history of predatory behaviour, it may take a long time (if ever) before you are confident in them meeting. Always err on the side of caution for when you are prepared for the dog to sniff baby directly. Muzzles can be used as a further precaution as well. If you are having trouble getting the dog to settle around the baby, calming medication from your family veterinarian can be used to help ease this process.
It is never a good idea to leave the baby and dog together without supervision – they don’t speak the same language, and this can result in misunderstandings between them.
Whenever the dog is showing good behaviour with the baby, remember to reward them for this with either treats or attention. Developing a positive association between them is important. Enjoy this time with your growing family and help the dog enjoy it as well.
Written by Michael Brown, DVM