Introducing dog to baby – it’s a crucial step when you’re adding a new member to the family. If your dog isn’t used to sharing your attention, having crying babies around, or being woken up at night, it’s a lot to get used to all at once. Many things you need to do will happen long before baby comes home. Here are 9 tips for getting your dog used to having a baby at home.
1) Train your dog any commands he’ll need to know.
Familiar commands will help your dog know what you need him to do when you’re busy with baby. That reduces stress on both you and the dog. Some suggested commands:
• Sit and stay. Keeps Fido from jumping up when you’re doing a diaper change.
• Back up. Tells dog to move out of the way. Useful when you’re carrying in a baby, diaper bag, and more.
• Quiet. Stops dog from barking and waking up baby.
• Go to bed
. Gives dog a safe space to go when you just need him to stay out of the action.
• Leave it. Prevents dog from getting into baby’s toys, spilled food, dirty diapers, etc.
2) Get your dog used to rough petting.
Start with a little bit – run your hand clumsily over his face at first, then later tug (gently!) on ears. Progress to putting your hands in his mouth and playing with his tail. These actions are common from infants and children who don’t know better, and it’s better for your dog to get used to this behavior from you, someone he trusts. Start with just a few seconds and slowly work up to a couple minutes at a time.
With this, your dog will get used to childlike clumsiness and be less likely to get nervous, intimidated, or reactive when a child does it. (That's why it's often required in therapy dog training
.) It’s not an excuse not to teach children, even infants, how to interact with dogs. It just helps your dog be more patient during the learning process.
3) Introduce your dog to babies and children before baby comes home.
The sooner you can do this, the better. If you have friends or neighbors with children, take the opportunity to have your dog spend time with them. This will get your dog used to sudden movements, the high energy of children, and the screaming and crying that often happens.
4) Make sure your dog has no food aggression (or any other kind).
Dogs are sometimes protective of their food, and this is a big problem when small children are involved. Imagine a baby learning to crawl sticking his hand into the food bowl of a food-aggressive dog – not good. If your dog shows signs of food or other aggression, work with a trainer to overcome that long before the baby arrives.
5) Designate a safe space for your dog to relax.
Your dog will need a refuge where the baby and crying cannot bother him. After all, it’s a big change and your dog will need some breaks. A dog crate
or large dog bed
are good options. Some people have a special room where the dog can go to get away from the action and sounds of the main part of the house.
6) Get your dog used to sharing your attention.
Once baby comes home, you’ll often have something in your arms that will keep you from giving your dog the attention he once had. Slowly wean him (and yourself) to a different level and kind of attention so that it’s not a dramatic change that the dog associates with baby. Come home with packages in your arms and take a few minutes to put things away before greeting the dog. It will make future homecomings with baby more relaxed for both you and the dog when he doesn’t think he’s being ignored – it’s just a new routine. If your dog usually gets a lot of petting, try reducing the petting and increasing the verbal affection. When baby has your hands tied up, you can still offer your dog praise and affection with your voice and words.
7) Involve your dog in some of the baby preparations.
That might sound crazy. But here’s what it means: let your dog into the baby’s room as it’s being transformed into a nursery. Let him get used to the new furniture and smells, like lotions and powders. Play with baby toys so he gets used to the sounds and ignores them (rather than getting curious and trying to take it out of baby’s hands). Let your dog get used to as much as possible before the baby comes.
Did you already buy your baby a baby doll? Perfect. Carry it around in a blanket you’ll use on the real baby so your dog gets used to the sight. Sit in your rocking chair with the baby doll and reward the dog for not jumping on the chair or nosing the doll. Teaching the dog that the rocking chair signals quiet time will be a lot easier when you’re not simultaneously trying to soothe a crying baby.
8) Bring a baby blanket home before baby comes home.
When the baby finally does arrive, have someone take one of the baby’s blankets home to the dog before the baby comes home. This will introduce the dog to the smell of the baby so the baby is a little more familiar to the dog.
9) Keep to a routine.
Obviously, a lot is going to change once the baby comes home. But whatever routines you can maintain will reduce stress and anxiety on your dog. If feeding and walks happen at specific times, try to stick to those times as much as possible. It’s understandable if your routine needs to change, but try to keep it to a routine, rather than haphazard, as much as possible.
For example, if someone else in the family will take over walking duties, make the transition before baby comes home so that it’s simply a new routine, not a sudden change among many others when baby arrives. If you and your dog have special bonding during walks, make sure to keep that up or replace your one-on-one time with something else, like a few minutes dedicated to your dog after the baby is asleep.
Introducing dog to baby doesn’t have to be difficult. There are countless fine details, but one simple guideline helps: introduce changes gradually and make it a positive thing for your dog. If your dog is not ready for the changes and gets scolded every time he’s near baby because he doesn’t know how to act, your dog will not be fond of baby.
Help him be prepared. That way, your dog will grow up loving the baby, and your baby will develop the same love of dogs you have.
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