I often get inquiries from expecting parents on how to properly introduce their dog to the new baby once it arrives. In my opinion it is not as simple as just introducing the dog to the baby the right way…In fact there are quite a few things that I would suggest working on far before the baby comes home.
Most of the people who contact me will tell me they plan to bring a baby blanket home to let the dog smell it before the baby comes in and that they will play baby crying noises to get the dog used to the sound. I don’t think either of those suggestions will hurt to do, but I certainly do not think they are a guarantee that it is going to go smoothly. Of course, working with animals, there is never a guarantee with anything!
So what do I suggest that you do? These are actually things that all dogs should be able to do (or not do) regardless of whether there is a baby on the way. However, I think they are even more important if children are going to be involved.
Here are 5 things you should work on before the baby arrives. Start as early as possible to make it easier to enforce once the baby is here.
- Teach your dog to walk nicely on leash. Even though you have a new baby at home, your dog still needs exercise. You are far less likely to walk the dog if they are dragging you all over the place, especially if you have the baby stroller out as well. Many behaviour problems stem from lack of exercise and mental stimulation. A proper loose leash walk can do wonders for any dog, especially those with endless energy. You might also practice walking with the stroller so once the baby has arrived you can get started immediately.
- If your dog jumps, you need to extinguish that behaviour IMMEDIATELY. It does not matter if your dog is big or small, friendly or not. There should be ZERO jumping on people. This includes when you are sitting on the couch. I am not opposed to dogs on furniture (granted they are polite about it – if your dog guards the couch that is a different story), but dogs should have boundaries and respect personal space. So if your dog jumps all over you or guests, or jumps on people when they sit down you need to stop this from happening right away.
- If your dog guards any resource(s) you will need to work with a trainer who has experience with this issue. The most common form of guarding is over food. You will want to teach your dog not to stress out if people are near his food bowl. If your dog guards furniture (ie. growls or bites if you go near him on the couch or ask him to get off), then furniture privileges are revoked. For safety purposes, only give high value bones or treats in a safe space like a crate or a separate room.
- Set and enforce rules and boundaries. If you do not want the dog upstairs or in the baby’s room then set that rule and enforce it. Whatever rules you decide on, make sure you enforce them.
- Teach your dog the “place” command and use it. Place is two things, a command to go put all 4 feet on an object (usually a dog bed), and a state of mind. Place should be somewhere to go be calm and out of the way. This is one of the most powerful commands that you can teach your dog. It will be frustrating before it gets easy, but SO worth it in the long run.
Once it is time for the baby to come home you will want to set up the introduction properly. I suggest having the dog on leash and on “place” when the baby comes home and until everyone is settled. Only once the chaos of coming home has settled down can you release the dog from place. Try your best not to be nervous or anxious as the dog will feed off of your emotions. Do not force the dog to sniff by bending down and showing the dog the baby or by putting the carseat on the floor. The initial introduction should be calm and quiet, without any pressure to interact with the baby. You can sit down with the baby and the dog should be on the floor. The less of a big deal we make it the better. If the dog tries to jump up or gets too excited you have the leash on to help guide him to make a better decision. You can always put him back on place if needed. Over time as the dog shows he can be calm around the baby then you can allow some sniffing. It should be short and sweet and if the dog gets overly excited then stop the interaction and put him on place to calm down. This may take some time but if you go slowly it should work out just fine.
In order to make sure that things continue to go well, you need to make sure you are still exercising your dog and that he or she still gets an appropriate amount of attention. Having a new baby in the house can be overwhelming but not an excuse to ignore your dog. Simply putting the dog outside in the yard is not adequate exercise or stimulation. You will likely start to see some bad behaviours starting to appear if that is the case. Two walks per day, and some play time are required regardless of how busy you are. There are very few exceptions to this rule.
Lastly, once the dog and baby have been introduced and everything seems to be going smoothly you will want to always supervise any interaction they have. Even the most gentle dog has the ability to make a bad decision so you should never leave the dog and baby alone together. There are no exceptions to this rule.
Should you need any help with training before your baby comes home, please contact us as soon as possible! Give yourself ample time to train to set yourself and the dog up for success!