In addition to all that you need to do to prepare for a new baby, there are a few things you can do to make the transition easier for your dog. Babies are often a novel thing for dogs, bringing new smells, noises, and sights into the home. Bringing a baby home also comes with more visitors and commotion that your dog might not be used to, causing them to become nervous or stressed. Here are some tips for how to introduce a baby to a dog — and how to help your dog get used to life with a baby in the home.
What can I do to prepare my dog for the new baby?
First, make sure your dog is up to date with veterinary checkups and vaccinations, as you might not have time for such things in the first few months after the baby’s birth. Also, give your dog plenty of attention. Play and exercise will help your dog to relax — and it can relieve stress for the whole family.
Consider taking your dog to a training refresher course. A trainer who has experience with babies and children is ideal; they can design a training, exercise, and safety plan for your family. It will save you a lot of time and frustration when you are busy with the baby if your dog knows key cues, such as “drop it,” “leave it,” “wait,” and “down/stay.” Make sure you practice the cues daily with your dog.
Furthermore, dogs can benefit from familiarity with babies before you bring your new one home. Invite friends over who have babies and small children. Watch your dog closely to see how they react. If they seem unduly frightened, you might want to seek help from a behaviorist; your veterinarian might be able to refer you to someone. Never leave a baby or child unsupervised with pets.
Start using baby products, such as lotion, bath soap, powder, and laundry soap. If you and the rest of the family smell like baby products, the baby will have a familiar smell to your dog when they arrive. In addition, set up the baby’s room as soon as possible, so your dog will accept the new arrangement long before the baby comes home. You can practice going into the room and reading aloud or talking in tones you will use with the baby.
How should I introduce the new baby to my dog?
When you bring your new baby home, greet your dog while someone else holds the baby. A normal greeting will help your dog feel that everything is OK. Your dog should be held on a loose lead. Then, hold out one of the baby's blankets for the dog to sniff. If you have multiple pets, introduce one animal at a time to make the process easier to manage for the humans and less overwhelming for the baby and the pets.
When you enter the house, stay standing until your dog has had a chance to smell and listen to the baby. Ask your dog to sit or lie down before the person holding the baby sits down.
Watch your dog closely. If they're curious, allow them to view the baby from about six feet away. Hold the lead loosely but short enough so that the dog can’t reach the baby. Reward your dog with praise if they show no fear or aggression. If your dog has been fine with other babies, you can allow them to go closer, but use caution.
Will my dog get used to the new baby?
Your dog might need reassurance that life hasn’t changed all that much, so they eventually get used to having the new baby around. Make sure you continue to give them special attention. Watch for signs of stress. Your dog might bark more, chase their tail, circle or pace, eliminate inappropriately, sulk or look depressed, start licking or chewing incessantly, lose their appetite, or have diarrhea. Consult your veterinarian if you notice changes in your pet’s behavior.
You can use a crate or baby gates to help your dog acclimate to the new baby. Ideally, you’ll have crate-trained your dog before you bring the baby home. This practice sets boundaries for your dog and gives them a place where they can decompress away from the baby.
When you start using a high chair to feed the baby, your dog might try to share meals with the baby. When you reach this stage, go back to using the crate or baby gate to ensure that your dog is not begging or jumping up for food.
There also will be new challenges when the baby starts to crawl and then walk. You will soon have a very short person walking around the house with toys and food that might be tempting (and accessible) to a dog. Once you have a toddler, it’s even more important to practice your dog’s cues every day.
How can I keep my dog safe around kids?
As your baby grows, it’s crucial to keep setting boundaries (for both your pets and your child) and to make sure you respect what your dog is trying to tell you through their body language.
Children begin to run and make more noise as they get older; both can be scary or cause reactivity in dogs. If you notice that your pet is uncomfortable or hides when confronted with a running or screaming toddler, make sure you give your pet time away from the child as well as some alone time with the adults in the house.
Even if your pets are extremely tolerant, children need to be taught to be gentle with animals. Eventually they will be around someone else’s pets who might not be so tolerant. And remember, never leave a baby or child unattended around animals. If you need to leave your child with a sitter, tell the sitter to keep pets and the child apart in your absence. Don’t take unnecessary risks with any of your family members — human or otherwise.