Introducing Dogs and Babies to Each Other Properly
When you welcome a newborn into the world, you want your pet to do the same, but the inevitable big changes that go hand-in-hand with bringing baby home aren’t always so easy for your dog, who used to be your number one, to embrace. So how can you ensure that your fur baby and newborn will be best friends? We asked Mary Papnik, instructor of the Baby Ready Pets course taught at Animal Friends in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for tips on the best way to introduce dogs and babies for the first time. Follow these step-by-step guidelines to help their relationship get off on the right foot (or paw) safely to forge a healthy friendship.
1. Slowly Give Your Dog Less Attention
Even though you may want to spoil your dog more during pregnancy, it’s actually best to ease him into the change now. So resist the urge to shower him with extra affection, treats and walks. If you can, start encouraging him to sit by himself in his dog bed, rather than next to you on the couch for example. Some experts even recommend carrying around a doll or a rolled up blanket so your dog can get used to you holding something all the time and not having a free hand for petting or tossing a ball.
2. Brush Up on Behavior
You also should also take stock of your dog’s current behavior and determine whether or not you need to teach him any new commands before Baby arrives. Now is the time to be strict about rules for furniture and train him to go to his “place” when asked. This way your pet won’t jump on the couch when you’re holding your delicate newborn, and if he gets too interested in the baby, you can tell him to back off and go to his bed, or place, with one simple command. While you may not need your dog to do these things now, it will be much harder to train him after your pet’s life changes post baby.
3. Have Treats Ready
Before Baby arrives, strategically place small containers of treats in key areas around your home, Papnik suggests. If you have them easily available on the shelf above the changing table, next to the couch, and so on, you’ll be ready to ask your dog to “sit,” “leave it,” and “go to his place” with a treat when needed.
4. Tire Out Your Dog
When Baby is born, make sure you have a plan for your dog. Who will he stay with if you and your spouse are gone overnight? Who will take him for walks? Ideally, your dog will stay in a familiar place or with a familiar face to reduce anxiety. You’ll also want him to be worn out as much as possible before you make the first introduction, so be sure he isn’t shorted on exercise while you’re at the hospital.
5. Give Him Something to Sniff
The night before Mom and Baby come home, Dad should take a receiving blanket or tee that Mom has snuggled with and wrapped around Baby for your dog to smell. Your hospital may even give you Baby’s first hat for Fido to sniff. The jury is still out on whether or not your dog will understand that it’s the scent of the soon-to-arrive baby he’s smelling, but Papnik says it may help your animal understand that Mom is in the hospital, or away from home but coming back soon. When the dog sniffs the object, be sure not to let him play with it and chew it up.
6. Let Mom Say Hello First
When you come home from the hospital, Papnik says Mom should go in the house alone to greet the dog. “First you want your dog to get over the excitement of Mom coming home,” she says. So Mom should do whatever is normal, whether it’s letting the dog out of the crate, putting him in the backyard or giving the dog lots of affection.
7. Set Up the Introduction
Once your dog has calmed down, Mom should take him into another room away from the front door. Then, Dad should bring in baby in the car seat and place it at the end of the couch with Mom sitting on the other side of it, says Papnik. Next, have Dad bring your dog (if you have more than one, do this one at a time) on a leash to sniff the baby in the car seat. If you have a small dog that can’t see the baby, pick him up or let Mom hold the dog in her lap. Ideally your dog will take a few sniffs and be ready to move on, but many animals need more time to get used to a new baby.
8. Stay Positive
“Always keep everything positive, even if your dog growls or shows signs of being uncomfortable,” Papnik says. If you do get an adverse reaction, take your dog out of the situation, without scolding him, for 5 or 10 minutes and attempt the introduction again. Try to stay upbeat and be patient, even if that may seem easier said than done when you come home as bleary eyed new parents. Once your dog settles down, which could be 15 minutes or 5 hours, let go of the leash and have your dog drag it around the house for the first day or until you feel comfortable.
9. Stay Aware
Even if the introduction between dogs and babies goes perfectly, remember that your canine is an animal and can be unpredictable. Never leave dogs and babies in the same room alone together. Even if you just need to leave the room to go to the bathroom, be sure to bring your dog with you. And as your baby starts spending more time on the floor playing, crawling and walking the game will change. Be sure to continue training and being vigilant about encouraging and demanding safe interactions between your dog and baby.