You’ve mastered pet parenting, but now it’s time for the human kind. Your little bundle of joy is on the way, and you might be worried about how your dog or dogs will react. We’re separating myth from reality with California trainer and founder of Pawtopia Dog Training, Colleen Demling, who gives us the top tips for introducing your baby to your dog.
Myth #1: My dog is already well-trained.
Even the most well-trained dog will freak out if a new baby is dropped into his environment without proper preparation. Teaching your dog helpful new commands and boundaries will set the stage for your dog to make a positive correlation with the baby.
Trainer Tip #1: Teach your dog to “go away.” Several weeks to months prior to baby’s arrival, teach your dog this command by simply throwing cookies away from him while saying “Go away!” Progress to giving the command and waiting for the dog to go away before tossing a treat.
“This teaches the dog to go away from the baby without getting yelled at,” Demling explains. “You teach it as a positive command versus yelling.”
Trainer Tip #2: Introduce baby items, letting your dog explore potentially scary items like the stroller.
“If the baby comes home and this scary thing comes out that’s like a spaceship, it can create some anxiety around the baby,” Demling explains. “Some dogs may not feel secure with the stroller initially, so take them for a walk with the stroller before baby arrives.”
On that same note, introduce the high chair, the car seat, the diapers, the jumper, and as many other items as possible to help them address any fear they have before baby arrives.
Trainer Tip #3: Set boundaries by making the nursery off limits.
“Set that boundary now so the dog doesn’t think the sudden restricted access or change in territory has anything to do with the baby,” Demling adds. “Make sure they are so accustomed to not going in that room that if you sit on the floor and drop cookies, they don’t come in until you give them permission.”
Myth #2: I will give my dog extra attention now to make up for when the baby comes.
If you normally give your dog an hour-long walk each day and tons of attention, don’t expect him to be fine if that stops when you bring baby home.
“Your dog thinks, ‘OMG! Mom and Dad were spending all this time with me and now they’re not!”” Demling explains.
Trainer Tip #1: Mirror the attention your dog will get when baby arrives.
“If you won’t have as much time to spend with your dog, try to adjust to that now so it won’t be such a shock.” Demling suggests. “That way, there’s no negative association with the child because in that situation, the only thing in a dog’s mind they can equate to the change in attention is the baby.”
Trainer Tip #2: Give your dog attention when your baby is awake, not asleep.
“It sounds silly, but if the dog gets tons of attention when the baby is sleeping, the dog learns when the baby is awake, I’m ignored,” Demling explains. “Instead of thinking please put that thing to sleep so I can get attention, your dog thinks please wake him up because when he’s up, I get treats.”
Myth #3: Just bring a baby blanket home beforehand to get your dog used to the scent.
While not a bad idea, there are several other steps to take besides simply bringing home a blanket.
Trainer Tip #1: Great your dog first on your initial entrance back into the house before bringing in baby.
“Dad comes in and greets the dog(s) while Mom stays with the baby outside, then mom comes in and greets the dog(s) while Dad waits outside with the baby,” Demling says. “Make sure the dogs have gotten proper exercise that day so they’re calm.”
Trainer Tip #2: Keep the dog on leash for the introduction.
“That way, there’s a barrier initially between dog and baby just in case something happens,” Demling adds. “You can even allow your dog to continue to drag a leash on the floor at first out of an abundance of caution.”
Trainer Tip #3: Baby sniffs—as in, start with the feet and make small progressions, avoiding initial face-to-face contact.
“Hold the baby’s feet close enough so the dogs can sniff the feet first, because if the baby screams or moves, that can be scary for the dog,” Demling suggests. “Mix in commands so it’s all very controlled. So it’s sniff, sniff—come away and sit, and give a treat.”
Myth #4: Only “aggressive” dogs will attack and my dog has never been aggressive.
Pretty much every single dog will exhibit warning signs of aggression before nipping or attacking, it’s just up to pet parents to read the signs.
Trainer Tip #1: Learn about dog language to understand how dogs communicate, and stop potential problems before they escalate.
“We require our dogs to learn English, but not often do we learn dog – and that’s just not fair,” Demling says.
Enroll in a basic dog class, even if your dog already knows the basics.
“Even if you’ve done training before, get a refresher course because then you’ll have a professional as a resource to talk to you about what your dog is trying to communicate, because you’ll need to know that in an instant when you have a baby around,” Demling adds.
Myth #5: My dog and baby will be BFF!
This very well may be the case—eventually. It helps if you foster a respectful two-way relationship.
Trainer Tip #1: Just as you teach your dog to respect your baby, teach your growing baby to respect your dog.
“That means no pulling tails, no following them into the crate, no riding them like a pony,” Demling explains. “The dog can be stressing, panting, looking away, thinking, ‘get this little monster off of me!’ and then they nip and wind up going to the shelter. It’s not the dog’s fault. They’ve been telling us they don’t like it, they’ve been asking us to help, and we haven’t been listening.”
The Bottom Line
There is a lot of advice out there about introducing your dog to your baby, but what really works is proper training and preparation—and cookies, lots of cookies!
Armed with the right knowledge to get off on the right paw, there’s no need to choose between your fur baby and your actual baby, and both can grow to be best buds.