Preparing your dog for a new baby
There’s so much to think about when you’re getting ready for a baby, but if you have a dog it’s worthwhile preparing early to ensure a safe and happy start to the relationship between your fur child and your human one.
Here are my tips for helping you and your dog prepare for the new arrival!
Solve existing behavioural issues
Finding the time to do behavioural training might be difficult after baby comes, and you don’t want to be dealing with tough behaviours while also trying to look after a new baby. Plus, behaviour that seems harmless now – like your dog jumping up on you – may become dangerous if you are heavily pregnant or holding a brand new baby in your arms. If your dog has seriously problematic behaviours such as aggression, you may wish to consult a professional behaviourist.
Ensure your dog walks well on a lead, without pulling, tugging you or lunging unexpectedly. This will make it easier for you to keep taking your dog out on walks, even if you have a pram to manage as well. You may like to do some practise walks with the pram before baby arrives, to help your dog get used to it!
When you find out you’re having a baby, begin socialising your dog with lots of babies and kids, rewarding it for any positive interactions with them. If you don’t have friends with little ones, perhaps head to a local park or walk past a school at lunchtime to help your dog adjust to kids being around. If your dog hasn’t been socialised with kids much, be very cautious when you get started and keep your dog on a lead and in a muzzle if necessary.
You can desensitise your dog to baby noises beforehand so they are unfazed by the real thing when it comes along. Find recordings of babies crying, laughing and screaming then play these sounds to your dog on a regular basis at all times of the day. Start at a low volume, then increase the volume slowly in small increments only when your dog is acting calmly and not stressed. Reward your dog for calm behaviour while these sounds play.
Baby’s sleeping space
I recommend you make the nursery off-limits to your dog by using training to condition it to understand this is a place in the house they are not allowed without you. Once your dog understands the rules, you can allow them to enter for a little exploration – but maintain enough control to send your dog out of the room when you decide to. If you find it difficult to maintain this flexibility then it’s best to keep it fully off limits.
Installing safety gates creates separate areas in your home so you can allow your baby to have some free floor time without being in the dog’s space or making the dog uncomfortable. Installing these ahead of time will help your dog get used to being restricted to certain areas of the house sometimes.
Introducing dog and baby
To encourage a peaceful introduction, try these tips:
- Initially, have someone bring home something that smells of your baby (such as a wrap it has been wearing), so your dog can become familiar with the scent before meeting.
- Help your dog relax by ensuring it’s taken for a nice long walk before the introduction and has used up some energy.
- If you have been away in hospital for a few days, greet your dog first before introducing the baby – it will have missed you and will be excited to see you, so doing this will help foster a calm interaction.
- Make sure your dog is calm before it is allowed to come near the baby. While holding your baby, gently call your dog over and allow it to sniff baby, talking in nice tones throughout. Do this with only one dog at a time.
- Reward your dog for nice calm behaviour when meeting the baby – do this for their first few interactions to help build a positive association.
After baby arrives
Here are some things you can do to continue to foster a safe and happy relationship.
- Reward your dog for being calm while you feed your baby. Ask someone to give the dog treats for acting nicely as you feed or have your dog safely clipped up near your feeding chair, so that he or she is included in the experience in a calm manner.
- Your dog will still need plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. If you are – understandably – not up to it in the first few weeks after baby’s arrival, find a dog walker or a friend who can assist, or perhaps consider a doggy day care temporarily.
- Reward your dog for nice calm behaviour when it’s spending time near the baby.
- Don’t keep your dog’s food bowl on the floor when not in use. When baby starts moving and crawling, you don’t want them getting into the dog food, plus some dogs are territorial with their food and might lash out.
- When baby starts crawling, they can unknowingly appear aggressive to a dog, particularly if they like to stare at the dog’s face (which some babies do). Make sure you do careful desensitisation training at this stage, with a muzzle on your dog to be safe if you have any hesitation.
- Teach your child from an early age mutual respect with the dog – being gentle, patting nicely, not screaming or rushing at the dog, not getting in the dog’s face or chasing it. Don’t let your baby sit on your dog, try to ride it or hug it – this can be perceived as a threat.
Learn to read your dog’s body language for any indication it’s not happy or comfortable in a situation. If your dog growls, has its hackles raised or bares its teeth – remove the child from the situation immediately. If your dog is stressed out or fearful, this is also a warning sign – indications include panting, tense body language, the dog’s tail between its legs, trembling and/or the dog trying to hide or escape a situation. Pay attention to these signs and remove the child to diffuse the situation if you ever see any of them.
ALWAYS supervise all interactions between a dog and a baby or young child. Even if your dog is extremely friendly and docile, babies and young kids do unexpected things and any dog can react in a negative way if it feels scared or threatened. If your dog gives any indication that it is frightened of or aggressive to a child, immediately separate the two and consult a qualified animal behaviourist.
Mark Vette is one of the world’s leading animal psychologists and behaviourists, who has been studying and training dogs for more than 40 years. He has seen – and solved – every behavioural issue imaginable and is known as the star of the TV show ‘Purina Pound Pups to Dog Stars’. For more information about Mark’s online training program, go to www.dogzen.com.
Image Credit: Life Iz Photography