How To Introduce A Dog To A New Baby: What Every Parent Should Know
For families who have welcomed a newborn home to a household with pets, most folks will agree: bringing a new baby into a home with a dog can be a big period of adjustment for everyone concerned. Even the most docile and gentle dogs can get jealous, defensive, or curious with a new little person in the house, which is why smart adjustment techniques aren’t just wise, they’re an absolute necessity.
If you are about to have a new addition to the household, read on to learn how to introduce you dogs to a new baby – including the steps that should be taken to acclimate a pup to their presence, before, during, and after the “big day”.
What To Do With A Dog Before Bringing A Baby Home
A dog becomes accustomed to their surroundings, experiencing them in a far different way than their human pet parents do. The sights, smells, and even textures of the house are all familiar, which lowers a dog’s anxiety and makes them feel safe and secure. This is the reason that a new smell – say, for example, a brand new chew toy –tends to immediately capture their interest. “This is new,” they think, “and I need to go check it out!”
For dogs meeting babies for the first time, consider the smells, sights, and sounds that come along with an infant. Below, some helpful guidelines to consider when preparing dogs for a newborn’s arrival in the household:
- Exposing a dog to new smells like baby powder, lotions, and diapers can be very helpful to prevent that overwhelming canine curiosity later on. Open a clean, new diaper on the changing table and sprinkle some powder and diaper cream in it. Leave both items this way for several hours (or even days) to let the dog get adjusted to their scent. Once the child has been born but hasn’t yet left the hospital, the parents may want to take a baby-worn clothing item or swaddling cloth home to let the dog sniff and explore it. This way, when the little one finally does come home, its scent won’t be as unfamiliar to the dog.
- Sounds are another big curiosity trigger for dogs. In the wild, they rely heavily on their hearing to ensure the survival of their pack mates, as well as themselves. The involuntary cries, screams, babbles, and shrieks of an infant can be very concerning for a dog used to relative tranquility in the house. Playing sounds and recordings of babies crying can help familiarize the concept of baby noises, as can playing the music from the new baby’s toys, rocker, and so on. Remember, both the baby’s “human noises” and “toy noises” will be new to the dog, as will any children’s programming on the television or computer.
- Sights are less important to acclimate beforehand, but still need to be considered. In particular, items like strollers, cradles, baby furniture, rockers, and so on will occupy space the dog may consider “theirs.” With this in mind, it’s important to draw clear boundaries for the dog so they understand the proverbial pecking order. In particular, a baby gate may be useful in the baby’s new room: the dog should understand they are not welcomed or allowed to be around the baby’s room. This promotes a safe space for both the new baby and the dog.
It’s also important to consider current dog-centric household routines and how they will change. For example, in a household without children, or even one with older children, there’s a good chance a dog is used to being the center of attention. When he needs to eat, drink, walk, or snuggle, he simply needs to “request” it by approaching one of his pet parents and acting a certain way. Understandably, when a new baby enters the mix, priorities change a great deal. Suddenly, that same dog who was used to getting his way with little resistance will find that he has to work harder for attention – or even delay his own needs while the little one takes up his parents’ time. Unless precautions are taken before bringing the baby home, this is a recipe for canine jealousy and resentment.
Some experts suggest that miming the routine that will begin when the new baby comes home is a great way to begin the acclimation process. Swaddle a blanket or an infant doll up and carry, rock, and cradle the bundle as if it were a real newborn, paying full attention to the bundle where he can see. Place the bundle on the changing table and take out a diaper, mimicking the diaper change process with a little powder and diaper cream. Have a partner clip the dog on a leash and accompany a walk with the empty stroller, acting out the activities the family will do together with the newborn. The idea is to get him used to the new actions without the live baby in preparation for the actual infant arriving in the home.
All efforts to acclimate a dog before a baby arrives should be done gradually, over a period of weeks. The effort and attention paid to him should be gradually diminished as the due date arrives – this will prevent him from associating “bad” things like being ignored with the new baby. As a note of caution, while it’s hard not to do as a loving pet parent, be careful not to “love bomb” a dog before heading out to the hospital. An outpouring of lavish attention and praise just before a long period of attention-elsewhere is confusing to a dog, and is likely to make him think he’s being punished or pushed out of the home “pack.”
What To Do With A Dog After Bringing A Baby Home
Research how to introduce dogs to a new baby and the same advice will emerge, over and over: take it slow. This advice is especially important for first-time parents: up until this point, the only interaction a dog has had is with adult humans, who won’t be injured if play becomes rambunctious or if he jumps up. The fragile nature of a newborn is completely alien to him, so he’ll need lots of guidance to get through it properly.
The most important rule of introducing dogs to babies is to never, ever leave a child alone with a dog. No matter how harmless the infant may be or how gentle the dog is, accidents happen and defensive instinct can look a lot like aggression.
If, for example, a dog leans into a carrier and the baby grasps and squeezes his ear, he may snarl and nip at the offending hand. This is how a dog says “Hey, that’s enough!” to his pack mates, but even a “warning nip” can be extremely dangerous to an infant. He may not mean to hurt the baby, and he may only be defending himself, but the negative results will be the same. Experts recommend that an adult remain between the dog and child at all times, and that the baby be higher than the dog so it can be immediately lifted up and removed if there’s an issue.
As the baby begins to crawl and walk, it’s crucial that the dog has a safe space that he can retreat to if he needs privacy. Keeping that in mind, be sure that the baby doesn’t pull or tug on fur, ears, or tail. Again, while the baby may only be exploring or playing, if it’s painful or irritating to the dog and he can’t escape the situation, he may attempt to correct it with a snarl or nip. Having an enclosed space (such as a crate with a sleeping pad and favorite toys or blankets) gives him a comfortable place to remove himself to if the attention, sounds, or scents of the baby become too intense for him. Make sure to keep the baby away from this area, and do not allow them to trespass into it, even if they’re curious. A dog needs to know he has his own safe space – and that means only he can be in it. For dogs who are particularly anxious or having a difficult time acclimating to the new family member, you may want to also consider the benefits of dog treats to help with the training process.
It’s also essential that dogs in households with newborns continue to get their daily exercise – the family pup should be receiving at least 20 minutes of exercise each day, even if a dog walker must be hired. This will not only ensure his health and happiness, but give him some time outdoors to get some fresh air and burn off excessive energy that can turn into aggression or anxious behavior – which is the last thing new parents need when trying to create a peaceful routine for the family (including the pooch)! If you live in an area that experiences harsh winters, you need to also make sure that your dog is getting exercise indoors. For pet parents who do have the time to walk the dog regularly (or even on occasion), it can be a valuable moment for bonding, too, which is so important during this time of transition.
Life And Safety With A Dog & Baby
Just as it’s important to be a safe, guiding buffer between a curious canine and a tiny human, certain aspects of a dog’s belongings and lifestyle need to change, too. Once a baby starts crawling, it’s prudent to move the dog’s feeding area somewhere that little hands can’t reach. Kibble not only poses a choking hazard, but the dog’s feeding area should be off-limits to children for the safety and hygiene of everyone concerned; additionally, proper boundaries should be established early on to avoid territorial canine behavior. The same squeaky toys that are safe for dogs may not be suitable for little hands and mouths, so be sure to have separate toy storage areas. And finally, areas of the yard where the dog “does his business” should be far away from any areas that a baby plays: even the residue from dog feces pose a health risk to evolving immune systems.
Dogs and babies can live in perfect harmony together when the right preparations are made, and both parents agree to follow through on precautions. Common sense prevails, so when in doubt, proceed slowly and carefully with plenty of supervision, and allow both dog and baby ample time to adjust to one another.
- Canfield, Christie. “Helpful Hints When Introducing Babies and Dogs.” American Kennel Club (akc.org), June 27, 2017, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/how-to-introduce-babies-and-dogs/. Accessed on February 27, 2020.
- “Introduce Your Dog To Your Baby.” Cesar’s Way, September 26, 2019, https://www.cesarsway.com/introduce-your-dog-to-your-baby/. Accessed on February 27, 2020.
- Jones, Sally. “How To Introduce Dogs And Newborns.” Canine Journal.com, August 7, 2019, https://www.caninejournal.com/dogs-and-newborns/. Accessed on February 27, 2020.
- Reilly, Kate. “How to Introduce Dogs and Babies.” Parents.com, (no publish date), https://www.parents.com/parenting/pets/babies/how-to-introduce-dogs-and-babies/. Accessed on February 27, 2020.