We refer to our pets as our furry four legged children, but what happens when a two legged human child is entering the picture? Many families find the inevitable introduction nerve wracking at best. It’s not impossible to bring a new member into the family without causing chaos but it does take patience, practice and planning.
Before your baby comes home you’re making preparations, painting the nursery, building the crib, purchasing supplies, etc. As your due date gets closer you’re packing your hospital bag and making the necessary arrangements. If you have a pet that you intend to keep after your baby comes home it’s important to include them in the planning phase as well so it’s not a shock when the two legged, not furry baby comes home.
You want to desensitize your pet to the items that will come along with the baby, including the big furniture like the crib, rocking chair, stroller, etc. as well as the little items like receiving blankets, rattles, toys and baby clothes.
The biggest problem you’ll face is managing your time. Not only are you exhausted from the pregnancy and delivery, now you have another human being demanding all of your time and attention and it leaves your dog feeling anxious and unbalanced.
Make time in your day for your dog starting now. Instead of random attention here and there, set aside a solid 15 minutes or so just you and your dog. You can do training tricks, play games, go for a walk, whatever floats your boat, but it’s important that this time is reserved for you and your dog only and that it happens consistently every day. Setting quality time aside will get your dog in a new pattern and lessen the anxiety of the random attention that is now elsewhere.
During the planning phase you’ll want to start desensitizing your dog to the sounds, sights and smells that the new baby will bring. Play recordings of baby noises at low volumes and watch how your dog reacts. If your pet is calm, or curious, praise and reward them and then gradually increase the volume. If your dog shows any signs of anxiety or any form of a negative reaction, stop and start over with the volume at a low level. The idea is that your dog gets used to the sounds before the real live baby comes home and starts crying which could really scare your dog and create a dangerous situation.
Desensitizing your dog to the sight of a baby is the next step. It’s best to practice with a life like doll during this phase. One that makes noises is preferable and you shouldn’t have any problems finding one at your local toy store. It’s important that during this practice phase your treat the toy baby like a REAL baby. Do not leave it laying around, do not let the dog turn it into a toy, don’t let the dog have any sort of interaction with the doll that you wouldn’t allow with your real/live baby. This is a dress rehearsal for the real thing, so make it believable!
Watch how your dog responds as you hold the baby (just as you would a real baby) and use gentle corrections if your dog is jumping to see and/or sniff the baby, etc. Watch for any sort of rough response to the baby that could be potentially dangerous and start training your dog not to jump on you when you have the baby, or be on the sofa next to you, etc. Practice going in and out of the nursery and putting the baby in the crib, on the changing table, etc. You can even take it for a walk in the stroller. Get your dog used to all of the “equipment” that comes along with the baby before the baby comes home.
The next step is to acclimate your dog with real life children. Kids move very quickly and without caution and that can be frightening to some dogs. Take them to a park or somewhere kids are playing and let them watch from a distance. If your dog has any sort of negative response to the kids, including fear, consult a professional right away.
Smell is the next step in the desensitization process and is sometimes where the dogs are most interested. Remember that dogs have about 5 million more scent receptors than we do, so while baby powder might not even give your nose a second thought, that foreign scent to a dog can send them into a sniffing and exploration frenzy.
Your doll will come in handy again here, use the products on your toy baby that you would generally use on your real one, baby powder, diaper cream, any scents you want your dog to be familiar with and let him gently explore the doll.
If a family member can bring a piece of clothing that your baby wore (after it was cleaned up) bring it home before the baby get there and let the dog gently sniff it to become acclimated. The dog should NOT put any of the baby’s items in his mouth or take possession of any of the baby’s items. You can even put it on the toy baby to create a more real life scenario for your dog.
Patience is the main thing you’ll need when introducing your baby to your dog. You’ll likely be in short supply of patience by the time the baby arrives. This is where planning ahead and preparing really come in handy. Your dog will have already begun the desensitization process and should be calm when the baby arrives at home.
In real-life you never can tell how long it will take a dog to adjust to a baby so use caution and be sure you are reading your dogs body language and progressing at the correct rate. If your dog shows ANY signs of anxiousness, fear or negative reaction to any of the baby items or the baby please contact a dog trainer or behaviorist immediately.
While these are some basic tips to get you started this is by no means an all inclusive list of the steps you may need to make your home baby and dog friendly. Please, NEVER leave your baby unattended with an animal regardless if it’s your own personal dog or someone else’s. Check out our tips on kids and dog safety here.
Be patient as everyone acclimates to each other and the house settles into place, if you need assistance, we are here to help! Just contact one of our Certified Behavior Buddies Trainers and schedule your in-home training to prepare for baby!
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