Introducing your dog to a new baby

Baby with German Shepherd dogIntroducing your dog to a new baby is best done gradually to allow the dog time to adjust to the new family member and the new rules and routine. Some suggestions on how to make this transition along with appropriate time frames are outlined below.

It is also advisable that if your dog has any type of behavioural problem such as jumping up, excessive barking, or pulling on lead that you should resolve it before the baby arrives. A well-meaning dog can accidentally scratch the baby, keep everybody awake, or make it difficult for mum to walk the dog as well as push the stroller. In-home dog training can assist you to address issues specific to your family in the dog’s own environment in the months leading up to the due date.

Two to three weeks before the baby is due

  • Dogs thrive on routine. If any changes to your dog’s routine are expected when the baby comes home, gradually introduce those changes over a period of weeks. For example, the amount of interaction the dog will receive, boundaries within the house, where it will be fed, where it will sleep, or amount of time inside.
  • Sprinkle a towel with baby powder or similar and leave it where your dog rests and also in various places around the house so they become accustomed to the baby smell. You can also rub this on your dog’s belly so that they carry the smell with them.
  • Record a baby’s cry or purchase a CD that is specifically designed to desensitize the dog to various baby sounds, and play this from various places around the house, including the nursery, at different times. You may need to begin with a low volume and gradually increase it to effectively desensitize the dog. Reward your dog for reacting calmly to the sound. This process may take some time.
  • Play the recording during training sessions with your dog, feeding time, and also at play time to create positive associations for the dog to the sounds, and to reinforce obedience commands such as sit/stay and drop/stay in the presence of this new type of distraction.

One week before the baby is due

  • Once the nursery is set up, encourage (but don’t force) your dog to enter and see the changes to the room.
  • Install a baby gate and begin using it, or close the door to the nursery so that your dog begins to understand this new boundary before you bring the baby home.

Before bringing the baby home

  • Present a blanket with the baby’s scent to your dog.
  • Let him explore this new scent and make it a positive experience by offering treats, playing a game, or giving your dog a belly rub.
  • Place the baby’s blanket where your dog rests and at various places around the house.

Bringing the baby home

  • When arriving home, greet your dog calmly and quietly.
  • When your dog is calm, acknowledge him and give him some attention.
  • Take the baby into the nursery, and if the baby hasn’t cried then play the recording from the nursery.
  • Allow the dog into the nursery for a few minutes while you hold the baby and someone watches the dog.
  • Keep the first meeting brief and then take the dog outside for a game, a treat, or a belly rub. Keep it positive.
  • When the baby goes down for a sleep, spend some time with your dog, go for a walk or play a game.
  • When the baby awakes and begins crying, if the dog appears interested or anxious, divert your dog’s attention onto something positive such as a game or a treat. Try not to reinforce any anxiety in your dog by patting or rewarding them. Do not remove the dog from the environment unless necessary.
  • Allow your dog to see, hear and smell the baby as much as possible. This will help your dog to adjust to the new pack member.

The Days Ahead

  • Allow the dog to have supervised access to be near the baby.
  • Hold the baby when first allowing the dog to approach but remember to stay relaxed.
  • Remain calm and allow the dog to smell the baby’s feet.
  • Always reward good quiet behavior. When you are nursing, praise your dog for sleeping near your feet, and reward him when he is relaxed during the baby’s crying.
  • Create positive experiences for your dog when the baby is present, for example, give him a stuffed kong to enjoy while you are rocking the baby to sleep, or hold the baby while you give the dog basic commands if practical.

Never leave the baby and dog together unsupervised. The baby’s safety must always come first but if you have any concerns, remember that a qualified behavioural therapist can most likely resolve any issues you may experience and should be contacted as a matter of priority if you are concerned or not progressing.