Preparing for my first baby was a daunting task. So many questions came up. What color should the nursery be? What will labor be like? When do I order baby gates? Who is Sophie the giraffe? With all of the planning, my husband, Chris, and I, almost forgot to ask—what about the dog?
With all of the planning, we almost forgot to ask—what about the dog?
Chris and I adopted Sonny, our adorable chiweenie (Chihuahua – dachshund mix) in July of 2011. We had just moved back to Seattle and were recently engaged, and a dog seemed like the appropriate next step. It took Sonny a little while to warm up to his new surroundings and family, but after a month or so, he settled in just fine.
It wasn’t until about seven or eight months into my pregnancy last year that it dawned on me that Sonny might need help adjusting. Sonny was very spoiled; he got all the attention and all the snuggles. He loved to sleep, bask in the sun, eat cheese, and cuddle in your lap. My parents also fawned all over him. A first grandchild would ruin his life, I realized! My biggest fear was that Sonny would act out because of losing his share of the attention.
My biggest fear was that Sonny would act out because of losing his share of the attention.
To figure out how to prevent this from happening, I went to my trusted friend: Google. I read a few articles from the pros, and some heartbreaking ones where the family pet ended up having to go. I was determined to ensure Sonny didn’t have to leave us. After all, he’s our baby too.
In the months leading up to my son’s birth, and in the months immediately after, we tried lots of tips and tricks for introducing Sonny to his new brother. Here’s what worked—including one tip we’d never heard of, which has turned out to be our favorite.
1. Getting Ready
After Bennett was born but before we brought him home, we followed the common advice of introducing the baby’s scent to the dog. We brought home a baby blanket and let Sonny smell and cuddle with it before he met baby Bennett.
2. Ongoing Attention
From the early days to now, we try our very best to ensure Sonny still gets a lot of attention. I’ve found that you really have to work at this and be mindful of it.
3. Baby = Treat!
We’ve made sure to associate the baby with good things in Sonny’s mind. We use treat reinforcement in combination with daily baby activities. One of the absolute best strategies has been to get outside a lot and bring the dog! Both Sonny and Bennett love walks, and now Sonny associates anything Bennett-related with going for a walk. As a result, he loves Bennett, because Bennett is basically a walk guarantee.
4. Our Favorite Tip
This trick is by far the best thing we’ve done to help Sonny adjust to Bennett. And it was so simple! We gave Sonny has own special spot in the baby’s nursery: his very own dog bed.
This trick is by far the best thing we’ve done to help Sonny adjust to Bennett. And it was so simple!
I’ve read that some parents don’t allow their dogs in the nursery at all, and this decision is dependent on your dog and personal preference. But in our case, knowing Sonny, keeping him out just wasn’t a great option. However, as I mentioned, Sonny loves cuddles. Normally that’s a good thing, but post-baby it presented some challenges. I was worried that he’d want to be in our laps while we were feeding or reading to Bennett.
The solution? His dog bed. It’s a place reserved just for Sonny, where he can be close to us—safely. Sonny loves to be a part of the family, and now he can feel included when we’re attending to Bennett in the nursery. In fact, putting a dog bed in there has worked so well, Sonny runs to the nursery. He heads straight to his bed to watch or rest as we’re in the rocking chair or at the changing table.
What the Future Holds
Bennett is now 9 months old, and all of our preparation has worked well. I think we definitely nailed the whole process of bringing home a baby to a dog. But things keep changing, of course. The challenge is now handling a dog with a toddler—and the struggle is real. Bennett can crawl and move around quickly. He can grab and pinch things, and wants to do said things to Sonny. We’re doing our best to teach Bennett to “be gentle,” of course. However, we’re finding that at this stage, it’s a little easier to train the dog to be more aware. We’re acknowledging and rewarding Sonny’s good behavior around Bennett with treats and love.
We’re finding that at this stage, it’s a little easier to train the dog to be more aware.
It certainly isn’t perfect yet. Both dog and baby will likely continue adjusting to one another over their various stages of life. But they do love each other. The look on Bennett’s face when he sees Sonny? Pure delight. Add to that Sonny’s excited reaction to seeing Bennett, and it makes it all worthwhile.