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Welcoming a new baby into your home is exciting for you and your pet. However, this can also be a stressful time for your dog. Dogs are creatures of habit, many of them do best with a routine that helps them understand what they can expect from their day, and a new baby can cause a complete shift in the household’s day to day operations. Additionally, many dogs are the first children of their pet parents. They're used to getting all the attention, so when you bring a new family member home, they might feel left out.
You never know how a dog will react in any situation, especially when meeting the newest member of your family. Even a mild-mannered dog can react negatively to a new baby, and if your dog has never spent any time with children, they might not know how to behave around them. Therefore, learning how to introduce your dog to a new baby is important to ensure a smooth transition period. In this article, we'll teach you the key steps for how to introduce a dog to a baby to ensure your dog knows how to behave and still feel included in the family.
- Invest in Training Beforehand
- Prepare For Lifestyle Changes
- Make Sure Your Dog is Calm Before Meeting The Baby
- Let Your Dog Smell Their Clothing
- Introducing Dog To Baby
- Reward Good Behavior
- Don't Forget About Your Dog's Needs
- Monitor Your Dog With The Baby
- Teach Your Baby How To Treat Dogs
1. Invest in Training Beforehand
As soon as you know you're going to be a parent, you should invest in obedience training if you haven't already. If you invested in puppy training when they were young, and your dog is relatively well-behaved, brushing up on their commands should be easy. However, your dog needs to learn how to respond and react in new situations and around new people. Their routine and environment are likely going to change once your newborn arrives, so it’s important to help your dog adapt. For example, their walk schedule may change, and the free space they had to roam will now be dedicated to baby toys.
There are several types of training to accomplish before the baby comes. For example, you may not want your dog in your baby's room. In this case, you'll need to invest in baby gates or train them to stay out of certain areas of the house, which can be difficult if they were once allowed to roam free.1
In addition, having verbal commands is crucial going forward. Instead of being able to point at the floor to have your dog sit or lie down, you’ll probably have your hands full, literally. If your dog isn't fully trained, you'll need to work on verbal training commands to ensure they can demonstrate desirable behavior upon your command.2 Believe it or not, you can teach an old dog new tricks, so if you have a senior dog in the home, you should still brush up on their training to ensure they can follow directions.
It's important to note that basic commands aren't enough training for some dogs. In addition, some dogs have behavioral problems due to anxiety, which can cause them to become overly stressed or even lash out around people, including infants. If your dog has a behavioral issue, now is the time to address it with your vet or veterinary behaviorist to ensure they won't act out of fear around your baby.
2. Prepare For Lifestyle Changes
You can't plan for everything that will happen when baby comes, but you can plan for some lifestyle changes. You can reduce your dog's stress by exposing them to these changes beforehand.2 For example, if you know your dog's walk schedule will change once the baby comes, you can begin transitioning them by taking them on earlier or later walks. Eventually, you can work your way up to a completely new time without it causing too much stress.
Additionally, while we hate to admit it, you will have less time to spend with your dog while caring for a newborn. Therefore, your dog has to get used to spending less time with you. You can gradually minimize the time you spend with your dog to get them more accustomed to your inability to give them all your attention.3
Of course, you want to ensure that your dog still gets all of the love and care they need, so you might consider enlisting some help to do so. Hiring a dog walker, for example, is a great way to take some of the load off of your to-do list, plus, it helps ensure your pet is getting the physical exercise and mental stimulation they need on a day to day basis.
During this time, you should also create a sanctuary space for your dog. If they're crate trained, they may already use their crate as a safe space where they go when they get overwhelmed or stressed. Alternatively, a sanctuary space can be their pet bed in a quiet corner of the room, filled with their favorite blankets and comfort toys. If your dog doesn't have a sanctuary space, you should create one for them now, allowing them to escape the noise and stress of having a new baby in the home.
3. Make Sure Your Dog Is Calm Before Meeting The Baby
When you're ready to bring the baby home, it's usually best to have help. Your partner or another adult can hold the baby to let your dog greet you and calm down.1 Most likely, you've been away for a while, so your dog will be excited to see you, and now is not the time to show them the baby because they could jump or get scared.
Instead, sit down and pet your dog to help them calm down. Once your dog is fully calm, your helper can bring the baby into the room. If possible, consider separating your dog from the baby with a baby gate to let them see the baby but not approach.
4. Let Your Dog Smell Their Clothing
Your dog's smell is their strongest sense, and it's how they learn about the world. Before letting your dog sniff the baby, let them sniff an article of their clothing to get used to their scent.4
Of course, this entire experience can be overwhelming for everyone, so your dog may still be excited to meet the new baby you've brought home, which can make it difficult for them to calm down. Don't pay attention to your dog if they're barking or whining behind the baby gate because it can just reinforce their behavior. Instead, let them calm down while sniffing the baby's clothing to help them learn more about them.
5. Introducing Dog To Baby
After your dog has calmed down, you can let them sniff the baby. However, you should only do this if your dog is calm. If your dog is still excited, they can accidentally jump or nip the baby, so it's always best to let them calm down first. Pay close attention to your dog's body language during this time. Most dogs will simply be curious, but you never know how a dog will react. Therefore, if you notice any signs of stress, slowly pick the baby up and move to another room where your dog can't follow. You can return once your dog has calmed down.
Keep in mind, there are some dogs that should never have physical contact with a child or baby, this includes dogs that have a bite history or aggressive behavior toward children. These pet parents should talk to their veterinary behaviorist about how to manage the situation, while keeping the baby and dog 100% separate in the home.
Anytime a baby and dog are touching, an adult should be holding the dog while another adult holds the baby. Most bites to children occur when there’s an adult in the room, but not close enough to stop the bite from happening.
Knowing how to introduce a baby to a dog means knowing how your dog could respond. You know your dog best, so it should be easy to predict their behavior based on body language. Additionally, you can introduce the baby to your dog as slowly as you want. For example, you can keep them separate for a few days or introduce them as soon as possible, depending on your dog's overall temperament. Every dog is different, so how to introduce a dog to a baby will vary depending on your pet's unique personality.
What's most important is that you don't force the introduction. If your dog is uninterested in the baby, there's no reason to continue to show them the baby. Instead, you should reward any calm behavior with treats.
6. Reward Good Behavior
Baby supplies can scare dogs. For example, some dogs fear carriers, while others might simply be curious. You don’t want your dog jumping on top of you when you're trying to feed the baby or barking while you're carrying them. Instead, consider having your spouse or a second adult feed your dog treats whenever you interact with your new baby. Not only will treats distract them, but they can reinforce their training and help them learn how to behave in certain situations. Additionally, parents should plan ahead and introduce the dog to new items, such as baby clothes and toys to encourage them to start building positive associations before your baby arrives.
You want your dog's interactions with the baby to be positive. Therefore, avoid scolding your dog for unwanted behavior. Instead, ignore any bad behavior you can and reward them for good behavior to help them learn what you expect.
7. Don't Forget About Your Dog's Needs
First-time pet owners can easily forget their dog's needs after bringing home a new baby. While you likely won't forget to feed them, your walks may become shorter, and you'll likely give them much less attention than they're used to. Dogs are companion animals; you can't ignore them if you want them to be happy and healthy. Instead, you should set aside time for your dog every day, including going for a walk, playing fetch in the yard, or snuggling.
You should also give your dog lots of attention when the baby is around. This teaches them to enjoy being in their presence because they're rewarded with affection, treats, and even play.2
8. Monitor Your Dog With The Baby
After the initial introduction, you should never leave your dog alone with the baby because you never know what they'll do. Some dogs may see the baby as prey and display behaviors like searching for the baby, staring, or chasing. Therefore, adults should always supervise interactions between their dog and baby.
Even if your dog is behaving well, you should continue to monitor them with the baby, especially as the baby grows up. Dogs can become confused, anxious, and aggressive when babies start to walk. In addition, if they've never seen baby toys, they can be afraid of them. Therefore, any interactions should continue to be monitored as your child grows.
9. Teach Your Baby How To Treat Dogs
Just as important as teaching your dog how to behave around the baby is teaching your baby how to behave around the dog. As they grow, they'll interact more with the dog. They'll see you petting the dog and want to do the same. However, children must be taught to be gentle with dogs and respect their toys and safe spaces. Over time, you can teach your baby what petting looks like and what to avoid. You should explain that riding the dog, pulling their ears, or yelling at them is scary for them.2
How long does it take a dog to adjust to a baby?
How long it takes for a dog to adjust to a new baby depends on your preparation, and will vary from dog to dog. Most dogs adjust just fine within a few days, but it may take others several weeks. Meanwhile, dogs with anxiety or behavioral problems will have a more challenging time adjusting to life with a baby.
Is it safe to have a dog around a newborn?
Whether it's safe to have a dog around a newborn depends on the dog and must involve supervision from adults. You know your dog better than anyone, so you should always use your best judgment when introducing them to babies. In addition, you should never leave your baby and dog together unsupervised even if your dog is well-behaved.
Do dogs get jealous of newborn babies?
Dogs can get jealous of newborn babies because they're used to getting all the attention. You can reduce your dog's jealousy by giving them attention even when the baby is in the same room. Giving your dog rewards can help them bond with the baby by giving them positive associations.
How do I prepare my dog for a new baby?
The best way to prepare your dog for a new baby is to practice changes to their routine and minimize changes in how much attention you give them. You can gradually reduce how much attention you give your dog, but you should never ignore their needs. In addition, you should prepare them with any new training and rules they have to learn, such as which rooms they're not allowed in.
Learning how to introduce your dog to a new baby requires preparation. Most dogs will experience anxiety due to a new family, new furniture and toys, and a change in their daily routine. However, planning can help you reduce your dog's anxiety and make them more receptive to the new baby when it's time to bring them home.Unfortunately, some dogs can have behavioral issues or develop them as a result of a new baby in the home. Talk to a Dutch vet if you're worried about your dog's behavior. We can help diagnose and treat a range of behavioral problems in dogs to reduce their anxiety around children. Try Dutch today.
"Introducing Your Dog to Your New Baby." Indoor Pet Initiative, https://indoorpet.osu.edu/dogs/new_additions_dogs/new-baby.
"Dogs and Babies." ASPCA, https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/dogs-and-babies.
Bringing Home Baby: A Step by Step Guide. https://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/sites/g/files/dgvnsk491/files/inline-files/Babies_and_dogs.pdf.
Herron, Meghan. "How to Introduce Your Pet to Your Baby." Ohio State Medical Center, 16 Sept. 2019, https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/blog/introduce-baby-to-pet.