As parents prepare for a new baby, they make many adjustments in their home. Rooms are rearranged, furniture is brought in, and all manner of equipment is scattered throughout the house. In their excitement over the impending new arrival, however, many people forget one thing: preparing the family dog for the presence of the baby.
Picture the event from your dog’s point of view. For years he’s been the center of your lives. He greets you when you come home, sleeps at the foot of your bed, accompanies you on walks which are often all about him, and lays his head in your lap when you watch TV. Suddenly, you bring home a tiny thing that moves in odd, jerky ways, makes unusual smells and squeaks, howls and cries. Even worse, this strange intruder takes up a lot of your time and energy. The time to prepare your dog is before the baby comes home.
If your dog is not already well-trained and obedient, this is the time to work with him. A good obedience class taught by an experienced dog trainer is a great place to begin. Let the trainer know that a baby will be joining your family, as it will allow the trainer to evaluate your dog in a different way and suggest additional things you might need to do. Before the baby comes, you want your dog well-trained in the basics of walking nicely on a leash (so he can accompany you with the baby stroller), sit, down, stay and come at a minimum.
Take your dog on walks to places where he is likely to encounter little ones. Don’t force him to allow the children he meets to pet him. Watch him closely and reward appropriate responses to children with praise and food or play rewards. If he’s nervous, don’t switch into a high-pitched coo as you reassure him, “It’s ok” or scold and correct him. Instead, speak to him calmly and request he perform a behavior you’ve trained him to do, such as a sit/stay. This gives him something to focus on instead of the presence of the children, and gives you an opportunity to praise and reward him.
If your dog shows signs of aggression towards the children he sees, consult a trainer or an animal behaviorist. If your dog is accepting of the wee ones, invite friends over with their babies and toddlers. Ask your dog to sit or lay near you, and when he is calm talk to him in warm, reassuring tones while you hold the infant.
A baby’s cry can be extremely disturbing to your dog. Because dogs are social creatures, crying may trigger the desire to help with the distress. Dogs may run around the room, whimper, cry or bark. Some dogs may jump at the infant in a desire to get to the source of the distress. Prepare your dog for this ahead of time by recording the sound of a baby crying or purchasing a CD with sounds of crying. If your dog wants to run off when he hears the sound, allow him to do so. If he comes to you, talk to him in a normal voice and pet him. He’ll get the message that the sound is not something to worry about.
When you actually bring the baby home, have Dad hold the baby while Mom greets the dog. Mom can then hold the baby and calmly introduce the two, while Dad holds the dog’s leash if necessary. If the dog’s reactions are positive and friendly, praise him. If he’s nervous, allow him to hang back; don’t force the introduction.
As much as possible, allow the dog to participate in family activities with the baby. If you shut him out of your interactions, he will become confused and possibly resentful of this odd creature that has displaced him. Let him be a part of pack activities so he can begin to understand the new family dynamic.
NEVER leave your baby and dog alone together, no matter how accepting your dog is, and keep your baby’s face away from your dog’s face. Pictures of your infant lying across your dog’s front paws may be adorable, but you’re putting your child in danger, no matter how calm your dog may appear. A quick nip from even a small dog can be disastrous to your baby.
Bringing home baby should be a joyous occasion for everyone in the family, including the dog. Prepare for the big event in advance, and all of you should be able to enjoy the new family dynamic.
Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.