Baby Introduction: A Step by Step Guide to Facilitating Dog Adjustments
In California, there is approximately one dog for every child. It is unlikely that animals will innately know how to respond to a child. Thus, conditioning pets prior to the arrival of an infant, and to other changes in the home environment, is key. Many pet owners mistake anxiety and stress in their pets for jealousy. This is a guide to help with the introduction of your new bundle of joy to your family dog, a common source of worry and questions for families.
Before baby's arrival
Take your dog into the veterinarian BEFORE the baby comes. Ensure that vaccinations and parasite control are current and the dog is in good general health. Before your appointment, keep a journal for several days of your pet’s behavior so that you can more easily mention concerns or observations during your visit.
Gradually minimize the time you spend with your dog before bringing the baby home so he gets more accustomed to the fact that you will not be able to give him unlimited attention.
If possible, have another family member try to develop a closer relationship to your dog, especially if he is very attached to the future Mom and Dad.
Teach your dog to sit and not jump up, as this is especially important training to have prior to bringing your baby home.
Obedience training for basic commands is useful in helping pets adjust to changes in their environments. For most training, your pet should show the desired response before receiving positive reinforcement, such as play, petting, open doors, invitations onto furniture, food, or treats. For animals that have previous training but are out of practice, review past training and commands.
If your dog already exhibits stress and anxious behaviors, NOW is the time to see your veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist and get at the root of the problem. Some examples of undesirable behaviors are mouthing, nipping, snapping, biting, growling, jumping, chasing, and pawing.
Ignore pushy or attention-seeking behaviors, such as nudging, stealing, pawing, or barking. Once the dog stops, reward it with positive reinforcement.
Has your dog ever interacted with a baby or children? If not, talk with your veterinarian for tips on how to safely monitor any reactions. Look for any inappropriate behaviors, such as signs of aggression like barking or growling, as well as any anxious behaviors like whining or pacing.
Allow your dog to become familiar with the baby room and baby “smells”. You may also want to start sprinkling baby powder and lotion onto your skin, since dogs normally rely so much on their sense of smell.
While it is important that the dog gets used to the baby’s new room, ensure that the dog does not sleep on the baby’s furniture or play with the baby’s toys. Reward the dog with treats and clearly distinguish non-baby toys from dog toys.
Practice laying a towel on the floor (as if you were changing the baby’s diaper or playing with the baby), and have your dog “stay” without approaching until called. Once he does this behavior correctly, make sure to give lots of positive reinforcement. To make this exercise even more realistic, you can buy a baby doll so your dog is more accustomed to the idea that there will be a little person lying on that towel.
You can purchase a soundtrack or download sounds of baby “noises”, such as babies crying and screaming, so your dog gets used to these new sounds.
Some dogs are anxious about things that roll or may try to bite at wheels, so if you plan to take family walks, start walking your dog with the stroller before your baby is born. If your dog seems afraid of the stroller or chases wheels, start by walking your dog very slowly on-leash next to the stroller. Reward your dog with a favorite treat if he is able to walk next to the stroller without reacting.
Accustom your dog to likely changes in your schedule, such as new walking/feeding times.
Bringing baby home and next steps:
Never EVER leave ANY dog unattended with a young child without direct supervision of both the dog and the child by a responsible adult. PERIOD.
If at any time you are uncomfortable about the situation, KEEP YOUR DOG SEPARATED FROM YOUR BABY AND CONTACT YOUR VETERINARIAN.
If you have a hospital birth, have a plan for dog care (least stressful for your dog) when the whole household leaves to the hospital.
Make sure both you and your dog are calm prior to bringing in the baby. Depending on your dog’s personality, it may be less stressful to have the dog outside and the baby inside and then walk the dog into the house with the baby in it.
Have at least 2 adults present, one with direct control and supervision of the dog. A leash is necessary for dogs, as well as potentially a muzzle for better control during the first several interactions.
Make the introduction calm and slow and only take it as far as your dog is relaxed. If your baby startles, your dog may startle as well and it is important for Mom and Dad to remain calm to show that everything is fine.
Do not force the introduction. Allow your dog to sniff slightly. If overly rambunctious or fearful, gently walk the dog away without any scolding.
Make sure the baby does not arouse the dog, as if it is prey. This can appear as obsessive searching for the baby, staring, and chasing. If you observe ANY unusual or unwanted behavior, calmly walk the dog away from the baby, change tasks, play, or give a treat once your dog relaxes. If this happens, it is important to keep them separated at all times and contact your veterinarian.
If the introduction does go well during the first couple of days, give your dog a long-lasting food treat or something to play with when in the same room as your baby to enforce positive experiences around the baby. Ignore the dog when your baby is not around.
If you need to be alone with your baby, put your dog in another room behind a baby gate with a treat or favorite toy so he can still see you and it doesn't feel like punishment.
Additionally, have an area where your dog can get away, such as another room.
If problems arise, contact your veterinarian immediately. This is a wonderful time for your family, but it is also a time for major adjustments for every member of your family, including your pets. So, if your dog shows signs of anxiety or aggression, contact your veterinarian. The most important thing for everyone is to maintain a safe household.