Introducing Your Newborn Baby to a Dog
The thought of introducing a newborn to a dog can be pretty daunting to say the least! Yes, the most exciting time in your life may also be one of the most stressful. Even if you have a relatively well behaved dog, bringing another small, somewhat unpredictable person into your home is definitely going to shake up the routine you currently have in place with your dog. Nobody really tells you what to expect when you bring a new baby home to an older dog. While many books on the subject talk extensively about how to prepare your dog, there’s much less information out there when it comes to preparing yourself.
So, let's dive into this important topic of how to introduce a new baby to a dog! You’ve probably heard that it's a good idea to bring a blanket home with the baby’s smell or practice with a crying doll. But, let's face it, your dog is smart, and he'll definitely figure out that the doll isn’t a baby. He will know his world is about to change! He'll definitely notice your pregnancy - he'll recognize that your gait has changed, your hormones are all over the place, and of course, your routine will have changed well before the baby's arrival. Rooms in your home will also have been rearranged and new furniture will have shown up. He will also undoubtedly have sensed a change in your level of anxiety. With this in mind, it might be a good idea to have your dog familiarize himself with all the baby items, toys, or furniture in your home so that he can get used to them in advance of the baby's arrival. Just like humans, dogs require a period of adjustment when things around them change. Be sure to give your dog both mental and physical space to figure out how to adjust to changes on his own. Remember that if things become overwhelming, as they might well do once the baby arrives, it's fine to give your pup crate time with a high value chew, and be super patient during those first few months, as you all adapt to your new family member.
As is the case with all aspects of dog training, it is crucial to keep a level head and a centered mind. Dogs are exceptionally good at reading body language and knowing what you're thinking. When you are worried or anxious, you are, in a sense, encouraging them to be too. Try to find that balance between being hyper vigilant and overly freaked out. Practice breathing normally, not holding your breath, and being aware of that balance. If you're managing to stay calm, then chances are, your dog will do too. Sounds easier said than done, doesn't it? It can be incredibly daunting, especially if you're dealing with a dog who is having difficulty with the new baby transition.
It’s good to work on foundational techniques and strength test behaviors before the baby arrives. Impulse control exercises, such as "leave it" and "give" are very useful and easy to train. The key is to make it fun by using high value treats to reward your dog. He will soon realize that every time he does what you ask, he gets something more exciting and even more delicious. Another important behavior to work on with your dog is training him to make eye contact with you on demand. This can easily be done with treats, so that ultimately your dog will periodically check in with you without being cued, and you'll reward him for that. Being able to place or mat train your dog is also a great skill to master. This training rewards him for not becoming distracted by his environment. After completing mat training, you can then work on teaching the “settle” command. It's a good idea to practice and review these exercises as soon as you know a baby's arrival is imminent.
Be aware that each day is sure to present new challenges, but if you take things slowly, laying a solid foundation and doing the ground work ahead of your baby’s arrival, you will be in a great position to build on those skills once your baby has arrived.
If you would like more details regarding the ABCs and 1-2-3s when it comes to safely and harmoniously integrating your furbaby and human baby, we highly recommend reading "Storkwise", an eBook written by Brenda Aréchiga and Elyse Avila Smith. Brenda is a much sought after animal behavior consultant, who has worked with many Oscar, Emmy, and Grammy award winners in her career, and whose work is highly recommended by top veterinarians and pediatricians. Both a Mom and a Dog Mom, Elyse is passionate about animals, particularly rescues. Titled in competitive obedience training, she has developed a passion to teach new parents the best way to create balance in their home. "Storkwise" highlights the authors' shared experiences and unique backgrounds in parenting and dog training, and it's a wonderful resource, giving parents and families all the necessary tools to create a loving and balanced home environment where human babies and fur babies can thrive together. Check out "Storkwise" here.
We're hoping that all your introductions go smoothly, but if you are at all concerned about your dog's behavior, be sure to seek the expert advice of a qualified dog trainer or behaviorist.