Introducing Your Dog to a New Baby

By Caroline Squires >>>

Bringing home a new baby to a household with an existing dog (or dogs) should be done with great care to help your pet cope with this big change. It’s not unlike how parents help children understand that a new brother or sister will be joining the family. Your dog was your first “baby,” but your dog is no longer an “only child.”

Often times new parents are so busy preparing for the arrival of their baby that they can overlook how much of an impact a baby will have on their dog. To get a better sense of how your dog will cope with the new arrival, it is important to understand how your dog perceives the surrounding environment. Dogs are extremely sensitive to environmental change both physically and mentally. Things like people walking in and out of a room, strangers coming to the front door, and the crying of a baby will naturally illicit an emotional and physical response. How your dog deals with the new family member may vary greatly.

By following the tips below, you can ease your pet’s stress, help your dog welcome your new baby, and ensure that your dog stays where it belongs—with you and your growing family.

The Baby’s Smell

A dog’s sense of smell is immeasurably superior to ours. Your baby is going to smell fascinating to your dog, so you should introduce baby smells well ahead of the baby’s actual arrival.

Allow your dog to explore the smells of the baby products that you will be using when your baby is born. For example, sprinkle baby powder or baby oil on your skin so your pet becomes familiar with the new smells.
Have a friend or family member bring home a blanket that your baby has been wrapped in at the hospital, and allow the dog to smell the blanket and give praise as the dog sniffs it; you can also give the dog a delicious treat and allow the dog to smell again.
Repeat these actions a number of times until your baby comes home.

The Baby’s Cries

If you consider how the cry of a newborn makes a new mom anxious, you can be sure it has the same affect on the animals around you, so it is important that you work now to desensitize your dog to baby sounds.

Try buying a CD of a crying baby, which you can play a few times a day for a few weeks at a low setting so that the dog can hardly hear it.
Make sure good things such as play, petting, and treats happen while the CD is playing.
If your dog seems comfortable and shows no adverse reactions, you should increase the volume.
If your dog becomes stressed at any time, the volume must be decreased to the previous comfort level for a couple of days until your dog is relaxed.
This process can be repeated until your dog is comfortable with louder levels. The recording will not be the unique cry of your baby, but over a period of weeks your dog will become accustomed to the sound of a baby’s cries even before your baby is born.

The Touch of the New Baby

The special sensory hairs that grow around your dog’s muzzle, under her jaw, and above her eyes are called vibrissae and they help her gather information from her environment through touch. You can use this to your advantage.

Purchase a life-sized baby doll and allow your dog to touch the doll’s feet with her nose.
Praise and treat.
Walk around with the doll in your arms wrapped in a blanket.
Get used to sitting with your doll in one arm as if you are feeding it while stroking the dog with the other hand.
Your dog will begin to associate that the close presence of your baby means good things happen.

Before the Baby Arrives
Does your dog consistently obey your voice commands? If you haven’t taught your dog this skill, now is the time. Obedience training is critical to having your dog stay well behaved around your new baby.
Does your dog nip or play bite? If so, make it stop. Your dog simply cannot bite or lay it’s teeth on your child; it’s just too dangerous.
Start reducing the amount of attention you give your dog every day. This does not mean to completely ignore or stop loving your dog; but you need to prepare your dog that you are going to be very busy with your new baby, and the fact is your dog is not going to be able to get as much attention as he/she is used to at first. So by starting ahead of time, you can better prepare your dog.
Start introducing your dog to other babies. Do this safely and pull out all the stops when it comes to rewarding good dog behavior around babies, infants, and toddlers.
Have you ever watched a child interact with a new object? They bite it. Lick it. Slap it. Poke it. Prod it. Fall on it. Cry at it. One day your baby is going to do that to your dog too. Start getting your dog used to having it poked, prodded, nudged, and “messed with.”
Will your baby have its own room? If so, let your dog get used to behaving well in it. Give your dog a special toy and “lie down” spot in the new room.
For praise, learn the art of calm praise. Get your dog used to calm praise and love, so he/she doesn’t get hyper around the baby.

After the Baby Arrives
Keep the dog’s routine as normal as possible. Dogs are creatures of habit and need the stability they have grown accustomed to.
Make sure to include your dog in your activities with the baby. Your dog needs to learn there is a new pack member and he/she is expected to behave around it.
Do not mix dog toys and baby toys, or let your dog play with the baby’s things.
If your dog starts misbehaving, he/she most likely needs more attention and assurance that he/she is still a valued pack member.
If the baby’s room will be off-limits to your pet, install a sturdy barrier such as a removable gate (available at pet or baby supply stores) or, for jumpers, even a screen door. Because these barriers still allow your pet to see and hear what’s happening in the room, your dog will feel less isolated from the family and more comfortable with the new baby noises.

Bottom Line

No infant or child should ever be left unsupervised even for a short time with a dog, no matter how well mannered and well trained that dog might be.

Information gathered from The Humane Society, DogManners.com, and from Victoria Stilwell’s Positively.com