Bringing home a new baby can be a very stressful experience and the last thing that you need is to have to worry about how to introduce your dog to your new baby. Introducing dogs and babies can be an easy, peaceful, and safe experience if you do the necessary prep-work before the baby is born.
The first step is to make sure that you teach your dog to be calm and submissive when in the home. This entails teaching the dog not to jump on, bark at, or paw at you or anyone coming into the home. Use the entire pregnancy to evaluate your dog’s behavior, and if he does something to an adult that you wouldn’t want him doing to a baby you need to stop the behavior.
Once you have covered the basics of respecting humans you can start working on some exercises designed to teach the dog how to control his impulses. When you first put your baby on the couch or on the ground do you want your dog racing over in an excited state trying to see the new “thing”? Of course not, so you need to set up that specific situation and work on it. One exercise is to work with putting something new and exciting on the floor and “claiming” it from the dog. This just means teaching the dog that it belongs to you and not him. I will start by bringing in a new toy that will excite the dog and placing it onto the floor while telling the dog to “leave it”. If the dog is unable to control himself I will push him away from the toy and correct him. I work on this until the toy can be left out and the dog basically ignores it. The goal of this exercise is that the dog learns he can’t smell and touch everything he wants to. While practicing it is extremely important that the dog is NEVER given that specific toy. If you tell him “ok” and let him race to the toy after every practice session you might actually make the situation worse. When this becomes easy with a specific toy I will then practice the same thing with some type of food. Pick something that will be difficult (steak, hamburger…) and basically treat the food like it is your baby. Do not ever the leave the food unattended and make sure that the dog can completely ignore it.
Once we have established basic manners and covered “claiming” interesting things on the floor and couch we are pretty much ready for the baby to be born (at least dog wise).
The Big Day
It is very important to make sure that someone is keeping the dog in a good state of mind while you are at the hospital. Have someone come into the home and give the dog plenty of attention and exercise. Try to ensure that the dog’s day is at least as stimulating for him as a normal day. You don’t want to come home to a frustrated or overly excited dog! Once the baby has been born the next step is to bring one of his or her swaddling blankets that have your child’s scent on it into the home. Treat this blanket like it is your baby! Come into the house and expect the dog to leave the blanket alone when it is placed into the babies car seat, crib, bassinet, and anywhere else you might place your new child. Dogs can smell well enough from five feet away to get all the information that they need, you don’t need to let them shove their nose into the blanket. To make yourself more comfortable with the process it wouldn’t hurt to repeat this with a new blanket each day until you are ready to come home with the baby.
When the entire family is ready to come home for the first time you should be an expert at how to “claim” new objects and people from your dog. Enter the home and keep your child above the dog at all times at first. This can be in your arms, on a bed, or in their crib. The dog should be showing a moderate interest in the new member of your family while keeping an appropriate distance. Day by day you can allow the dog a little more access to your baby. Start small by holding the baby while the dog gently smells the babies’ feet. The speed by which you grant more access to the baby is highly dependent on your dog. With a very calm submissive dog you can grant access fairly quickly. With an excitable dog or a dog with a strong prey drive the process needs to be much slower. As the old saying goes “better safe than sorry” and this could never be truer than with a human baby. Following these steps and consulting a professional if you need additional help should be enough to make your child’s first days less stressful for you and safer for them.