Preparing Your Dog for a New Baby
When you bring a new baby home, your dog will face an overwhelming number of new sights, sounds and smells. She may find some of them unsettling, especially if she didn’t have opportunities to spend time with children as a puppy. You’ll drastically change your daily routine, so your dog’s schedule will change in many ways, too. And, out of necessity, she’ll get less of your time and attention. It may be a difficult time for her, especially if she’s been the “only child” for a while.
It’s important to take some time to prepare your dog for the arrival of your new addition. In the months before the baby comes, you’ll focus on two things:
- Teaching your dog the skills she’ll need to interact safely with her new family member
- Helping your dog adjust to the many new experiences and changes ahead
Before Baby arrives
Your dog will benefit from any training you can put in place before your baby’s birth.
- Teaching your dog some basic obedience skills will help you manage her behaviour when the baby comes.
- Four months before the baby arrives: Gradually introduce your dog to the new experiences, sights, sounds and smells she’ll encounter when you bring your baby home, and associate these new things with rewards. This will help your dog learn to love life with the baby.
- One to two months before the baby arrives: Anticipate any changes you’ll make to your dog’s daily routine, and start making those changes now.
Teaching Your Dog Important New Skills
Having good control of your dog can really help when it comes to balancing her needs and the baby’s care. The following skills are crucial.
- Sit and down
- Stay, wait at doors and settle: These skills can help your dog learn to control her impulses, and they’ll prove useful in many situations. For example, you can teach your dog to lie down and stay whenever you sit in your nursing chair.
- Leave it and drop it: These two behaviours can help you teach your dog to leave the baby’s things alone.
- Greet people politely: A jumping dog can be annoying at best and dangerous at worst when you’re holding your baby.
- Relax in a crate: If you crate train your dog, you’ll know that she’s safe when you can’t supervise her, and she’ll have a cozy place of her own to relax when things get hectic.
- Come when called
- Hand targeting: If your dog is nervous or timid, teaching her to target your hand with her nose will give her something to do when she’s around the baby, which might make her feel more comfortable and confident. After your dog learns how to target your hand, you can even teach her to gently touch the baby with her nose!
Teaching your dog to go away when you ask will enable you to control her movements and interactions with your baby. For example, you can use this cue to tell your dog to move away from the baby if he’s crawling toward her and she seems uncomfortable. Many dogs don’t realise that moving away is an option! If she learns that she can simply walk away from the baby when he makes her nervous, she’ll never feel trapped in a stressful situation and she won’t be forced to express her anxiety by growling or snapping. How to teach your dog this invaluable skill:
- Show her a treat, say “Go away,” and toss the treat four or five feet away from you. Repeat this sequence many times.
- The next step is to refrain from tossing the treat until your dog starts to move away. Say “Go away,” and move your arm as though you’re tossing a treat. When your dog moves in the direction of your gesture, even if she only takes one step, say “Yes!” Then immediately toss a treat four or five feet away, in the direction your dog started to move.
- After more repetitions, try waiting until your dog takes several steps away before you say “Yes!” and toss the treat.
- Play fetch: Teaching your dog to play fetch with a toy can prepare her for safe, fun interaction with your child.
Preparing Your Dog for Lifestyle Changes
Many dogs experience anxiety when their lifestyles are drastically altered. Although things will change with the arrival of your new baby, you can minimise your dog’s stress by gradually getting her used to these changes in advance.
Plan and Practice Changes to Your Daily Routine
Try to predict how your schedule will change when the baby comes, and begin a slow transition toward that new schedule now. If you plan to nap in the afternoon when the baby is sleeping, start taking occasional afternoon naps. If you plan to walk your dog at different times of day, gradually switch to the new routine.
Life with a baby can be hectic and sometimes unpredictable. It may help to prepare your dog for a less consistent daily schedule. Try varying the time you feed your dog. For example, if she gets breakfast every morning at 7:00 A.M. sharp, start feeding her at random times between 6:00 A.M. and 10:00 A.M. Alternatively, you can plan to stick to your dog’s regular schedule with the help of an automatic feeder. These products have built-in timers, so you can set them to deliver food at set times each day, whether you’re around or not.
Consider hiring a dog walker to take over the responsibility of exercising your dog, at least for the first few weeks after the baby arrives. Interview dog walkers and choose one now. To help your dog get used to leaving your house without you, you can have the dog walker start taking her on occasional walks.
Minimize Changes in Attention
Resist the temptation to spoil your dog with too much extra attention in the weeks before the baby’s due date. This will only set her up for a bigger letdown when the baby comes and takes centre stage. Instead, start scheduling short play and cuddle sessions with your dog, and gradually give her less and less attention at other times of day. Schedule your sessions randomly so that your dog doesn’t come to expect attention at any particular time.
Make New Rules Now
When the baby comes home, some of your dog’s privileges will likely change. It will be easiest for her to accept these changes if you institute new rules in advance.
If you don’t want your dog on the furniture or the bed after the baby arrives, introduce that restriction now.
If you don’t want your dog to jump up on you when you’re carrying your new baby or holding him in your lap, start teaching her to keep all four of her paws on the floor.
If your dog is used to sleeping in bed with you and you want that to change with the baby’s arrival, provide a comfortable dog bed that she can use instead. Likewise, if you want your dog to sleep in another room when the baby arrives, establish this habit well in advance.
Even if your dog adores children, she might accidentally scratch your baby’s delicate skin while riding beside him in the car. Consider installing a car barrier, purchasing a dog seatbelt or teaching your dog to relax in a crate when she’s in the car.
Having a vocal dog in your home can be a great deterrent to burglars, and many people appreciate their dog’s watchdog skills. However, when your baby’s trying to take a nap, your dog’s barking at falling leaves, neighbours and squirrels outside will get old very quickly. Now is the time to start teaching her that she doesn’t have to be quite so vigilant.
If the Baby’s Room Will Be Off-Limits
Some people decide that they’d like their dog to wait outside the baby’s room unless invited in. The easiest way to accomplish this is to teach your dog to sit-stay or down-stay by the door.
If the Baby’s Room Won’t Be Off-Limits
Put a dog bed in an out-of-the-way spot in the baby’s room, and keep a container of dog treats in the room. Every once in a while, leave a few treats on your dog’s bed when she’s not looking. Later on, she can discover them on her own. She’ll learn to love her new spot in the baby’s room!
If you plan to spend time in the baby’s room when you’re nursing, teach your dog to spend quiet time in the room with you. While you sit in a chair, your dog can relax on her bed. Try giving her a new chew bone or a food puzzle toy to work on during your quiet-time sessions. After the baby comes, when you rock or feed him, you can occasionally toss a treat to your dog while she?s lying on her bed. This practice will make her happy to be around the baby and reward her for staying in her spot during quiet time.
If you don’t have time to teach your dog the Stay cue, you can use a leash or tether attached to a heavy piece of furniture to remind her to stay on her bed. If you prefer, you can screw an eye hook into a baseboard to secure the tether. This practice will allow your dog to enjoy time with you and the baby but prevent her from jumping up or pawing at you.
Preparing Your Dog for New Experiences
For dogs who haven’t spent much time with them, babies can seem like pretty bizarre and even frightening creatures. They make loud, screeching noises, they smell different, they definitely don’t look like grown-up humans, and they move in strange ways. It’s a good idea to introduce your dog to as many baby-like sights, sounds, smells and movements as possible so that some aspects of the baby are familiar when you bring him home.
Practice with a Doll
Some behaviorists recommend purchasing a lifelike doll and using it to simulate common activities you’ll do with the baby, such as feeding, carrying and rocking. Of course, your dog will quickly discover that the doll isn’t a real baby, but her initial reactions to it may help you determine which obedience skills you should focus on before the baby’s arrival. The doll can also help you practice caring for the baby and interacting with your dog at the same time.
Prepare Your Dog for the Baby?s Touch and Movement
When your child is old enough to understand the lesson, you’ll teach him to handle your dog gently. However, not knowing any better, young babies often grab dogs’ fur, ears, tails and anything else within reach. To prepare your dog for this inevitability, accustom her to the types of touching you can expect from your baby, including grabbing, poking, pushing and pulling. If you teach your dog that good things happen when she gets poked and prodded, she’ll be able to better tolerate potentially uncomfortable interactions with the baby.
Poke the Pup
Poke your dog gently and then give her a treat. Gently tug on her ear and then give a treat. Gently grab her skin or pinch her and then give a treat. In a cheery voice, say something like ‘Oh, what was that?’ each time you poke, pull or pinch your dog. Later on, when the baby does these things, you can say the same phrase. When you start your training, be very gentle. Over time, make your touches more intense, like they will be when the baby delivers them.
Some dogs have never seen a human crawl, so it can be an intimidating experience, especially because crawling puts a person right at their eye level. So it’s a good idea to help your dog get used to crawling before your baby starts to become mobile. Accomplishing this is easy, Crawl toward your dog. As soon as she lifts her head to look at you, pet her and give her treats. Eventually, she’ll start to anticipate fun and goodies when she sees you crawling in her direction. Everyone in the family should participate in this exercise.