Dogs are sensitive to changes in their environment. When a baby is expected, many changes occur in a household even before the infant’s actual arrival. These can create a very stressful and anxiety-provoking environment for your dog. This may involve home renovations, unusual number of parties and social visits at home, alterations to the daily routing and decreased attention from his/her family. All these changes lead to a permanent change in the family with the addition of a small, squealing , unfamiliar human being.
There are many things a family can do to help a dog deal with these changes, and a family should start implementing them before the baby arrives. These changes are aimed at creating a reliable routing for the dog’s interactions with the family. They are also aimed at helping the dog to adjust to the upcoming new situations, such as getting used to the smells of a new baby, toys for the baby, and new furniture.
Before the baby arrives:
- Take a refresher obedience class. Address any bad habits you don’t want to see when baby is around. This is to establish your alpha position so your dog will trust you to not abandon him when the baby arrives.
- Expose your dog to children before the baby arrives. Visit local playgrounds, have people over with small children, etc. Teach your dog how to interact with children and get him/her used to children screaming.
- Get a doll, sprinkle it with baby powder, wrap it in a blanket, cradle it, rock it, talk to it, and walk around with it. Praise your dog for not jumping on you. Let him/her smell the baby and give him/her lots of praise for good behavior.
- Practice walking your dog with an empty stroller to teach your dog how to behave on future walks.
- Gently grab and pull at your dog’s ears, tail and whiskers as a small child would, teach the dog not to bite at this – surprise is the objective of this activity – not pain.
- Play recordings of baby sounds (see link to baby sounds below). Start out with the volume low and gradually increase it to a normal level.
- Get all of the baby things out before he/she arrives and get the nursery set up so the dog isn’t stressed out by all that stuff invading the house.
- Provide the dog with a variety of non-stuffed toys. As long as the dog has no history of food-related aggression, some of these toys could be food-dispensing – such as Kongs or Buster cubes.
After the baby arrives:
- After the baby is born, have dad go home and visit with the dog and bring home a blanket or hat that the baby used in the hospital, so the dog gets accustomed to the smell.
- When you bring the baby home, walk in without the baby (or have dad bring the baby in after mom) and greet the dog. Be sure to spend some good quality time with your dog even if you are tired. If you can trust your dog’s behavior around babies at this time, let him see, smell, and touch the baby. Don’t worry if he licks the baby. You can wash it off later. Besides, a dog’s mouth has fewer bacteria than a human’s!
- Do not panic or yell at your dog when the baby is around as you don’t want him to associate the little newcomer with nervous feelings or alarm.
- Give your dog a safe place to be, where the baby won’t be able to get at him.
- Be patient in allowing your dog to adjust to the new baby. If your dog seems to have trouble settling down after you follow these tips, be sure to consult a behaviorist-trainer for personal guidance. It’s WELL-WORTH the investment!
- NEVER leave dogs and young children unsupervised together, and don’t give the dog access to baby when adults aren’t monitoring them.
- Any dog that has shown predatory behavior toward small animals, food or possession guarding or any other aggressive tendencies will require special attention and management. Some dogs don’t recognize an infant as a human, therefore, may not have normal inhibitions in their actions toward them.
- Someday you may feel like you just don’t have the energy to play with your dog in addition to caring for your baby, but the EXTRA EFFORT WILL BE WORTH IT as your human child and your dog grow to be inseparable companions in the years ahead.