It can be tough bringing a new baby into a home where the dog is used to being the center of attention, both for anxious parents and for the dog. After all, there’s truly no way of telling how a not-so-wild animal might react to a new screaming, stinky, gurgling creature in the house. But a bit of patient practice that begins well before the baby’s due date can help ease the transition. And it also pays to focus on the dog, which is likely going to have the upper hand in the relationship for a while.
“You can’t give your dog as much attention as you could before the baby,” explains Merritt Kennedy, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of Lucky Dog Farm in Vermont. She has helped many couples transition from dog-parents to dog-and-human parents and notes anticipating future problems and getting a pooch prepped for the transition can help stem problems later. “Your dog needs some time to get used to this,” she explains.
In her estimation, there are three key time periods that allow a dog to get used to the idea of a baby. Each has distinct step and considerations, but it all starts during pregnancy.
Prepping the Dog Pregnancy
Kennedy suggests the first step is to invest in a baby doll. When the dog’s watching, that’s the baby. “Talk to it,” she says. “Change its diaper. Help teach the dog how to act before it’s a real baby.”
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Teaching the dog to sit-stay while parents pay attention to a plastic bundle of joy helps them learn that this is appropriate behavior. And to kick up the reality a bit, Kennedy recommends buying a CD, or downloading MP3s of baby sounds like gurgling, cooing, and crying. These can be played softly while prenatal parents give their dog treats. This helps them get used to those inevitable baby sounds that could otherwise induce nervousness or overzealous curiosity.
If parents already have other babies in their life, be they kids of friends or family members, they can be invited over for brief visits. This gives a dog great practice, Kennedy says, with the caveat that the dog should be closely supervised and monitored.
But Kennedy also notes that pre-delivery parents need to engage in a little soul-searching. They need to admit to themselves that some of the bad dog behaviors they’ve let slide may need to be confronted before the kid arrives. “Some problems are not that big before you have a baby, but are very big after you do,” she says. “Obedience training can be a good idea, even if they’re not generally poorly behaved.”
The obedience training is not just for the dog, it helps owners learn about how to communicate effectively with their dog. And even if parents went through obedience training in the puppy years, it’s a good reminder both for the dog and the humans.
Introducing the Dog to The Baby
If the baby is born in the hospital, parents should consider sending a friend or relative back to their house with a baby blanket or article of clothing. Anything that the baby has spent some time with, Kennedy suggests. That way, the dog will get their sniffs in early and the baby will feel a little bit more familiar.
But even with this early familiarity, parents should remain cautious.
“Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever leave a dog and the baby alone together,” Kennedy says. “No matter how well you know the dog. No matter how well it’s reacted. No matter how well it’s gone at first. No matter how confident you are that it will all be fine. Don’t do it. Parents have to be incredibly vigilant about interactions between the dog and the child.”
Still, it mostly becomes a matter of living consciously. Some sniffing from the pooch can be expected. But they should know not to jump up on the baby and the should understand not to climb up in a lap during breastfeeding. These lessons take a while to learn regardless of preparation.
When in Doubt, Take The Dog For a Walk
Even if someone is the world’s best dog parent (and has the T-shirt to prove it) things may still not go smoothly. And if it’s not going well, parents need to think about the dog’s basic needs: Food, water, exercise, attention. Are the needs getting fulfilled?
“Make sure the dog is getting enough exercise,” Kennedy says. “That can suffer when you’re low on time.”
And even if the dog is on its worst behavior, focus on keeping everyone safe. Don’t dole out discipline on the scene. “Don’t punish the dog for how they react,” she says. “There’s a risk that they’ll associate the punishment with being near the baby.”
Worst case scenario: Keep the dog separate from the baby and get professional help.