While you can’t always predict how your dog will react to your newborn, there are many things you can do to help your dog have the best possible introduction. Nobody really tells you what to expect when you bring a new baby home to a dog. But introducing dog to baby can go several ways. Our dogs are very in tune with us, so with an event as monumental as a pregnancy, your dog has already sensed that something is up. But just because your family pet has picked up on the new feelings hanging in the air, doesn’t mean that they do not understand what they mean. If at any time you are concerned about your dog’s behavior, consult a qualified trainer or behaviorist.
If you're a dog-owner and pregnant, you may be wondering how to introduce your dog to your new baby before the baby arrives. We put together a step-by-step guide for planning ahead.
First Comes Dog, Then Comes Baby
For many couples, a dog is their first "baby." And chances are, your pup knows it! Your canine will still be a cherished part of the clan when your newborn arrives on the scene, but your routines will shift, and that can befuddle your furry friend. Like babies, dogs thrive on predictability, and a newborn dramatically changes not only your life but your dog's as well. Soon your pup will have to share your adoring attention with a demanding infant, and he won't understand why the long walks he relishes are getting shorter.
But don't wait until your (human) baby is home to help your (fur) baby adjust to the expanded family. There's actually plenty of ways to start preparing for the transition while you're pregnant. Read on for your step-by-step guide of things to do at every stage of your pregnancy to help your dog and baby get along.
Dogs read your body language and your pheromones. If you are anxious and worried about your dog’s reaction to the baby, you may inadvertently be encouraging that anxiety. Try to find a happy medium between vigilance and stress. Practice feeling it. Practice breathing normally and not holding your breath when the two are in the room together.
Take Baby Steps, Literally
You can’t expect a finished product right out of the gate. Plan out your encounters between dog and child – no matter what the age – and start simple. Try to create tiny successes and build from there. Talk to your vet about ways to support your dog through anxiety.
First Trimester: Consider Dog Training and Exposing Your Pup to Babies
If your dog hasn't been to a basic obedience class or training class, it might be time to sign them up. Behavior that seems innocuous now—like jumping up to greet you at the door, might become an issue when you're eight months pregnant or carrying an infant in your arms. An instructor can help correct that.
Many dogs have never been around children before. Little people do unpredictable things that adults don't, like make sudden movements, shriek, and get in dogs' faces. To give your pet exposure to tots, take them to the park to see how they react to babies from a distance. Ask your fellow mom friends if you may walk near them when they have their kiddo in a stroller—or, if things go well, even alongside them. These tactics will gradually acclimate your dog to the sight and sound of children.
Second Trimester: Practice Life at Home With a Dog and a Baby
Actively prep your pup for their future "sibling." Though it may seem silly, get a doll and treat it as you would your infant. Carry it around at home, coo to it, and tote it in the baby carrier. Set up the bassinet, crib, and swing, and place the doll inside. You want the dog to become familiar with these baby gear items now, not when your baby is in them. Let your dog investigate everything the way they do best—by sniffing. And introduce them to smells like baby lotion and shampoo.
Third Trimester: Set Up Your Dog Care Plan
When you head to the hospital to deliver, you'll likely be gone for a couple of days. Do you know who will be feeding your dog and walking them? Line up pet care, sitters or close friends your dog already knows and likes. Enlist someone you can count on if you have to call at 3 a.m. to ask them to take your dog out later. And always have a back-up person on hand too. Worried about juggling a newborn and your pet in the very early days? You might want to sign up your pup for doggie day care and try it out now so you get a sense of how they will react or enjoy it. A good facility will have at least two attendants per ten dogs and keep the dogs of like-sizes and activity levels together.
Nine months is more than enough time for you and your pet to work through most issues and smooth out any unwanted habits, and for you to establish yourself as the unwavering pack leader. If necessary, hire a professional to work with you. You will appreciate the work you put in now when you bring your newborn home to a calm, well-behaved dog.
1. Have a Plan During Labor
While some dogs will happily leave with a stranger (looking at you, Labradors), some dogs will be traumatized if they are suddenly left alone for an extended time or don’t know the person who will take care of them. Arrange for your dog’s care well in advance and have backup plans (not just one!)
Expert Tip: Have a plan for if you need to stay at the hospital longer. You don’t want your dog stuck at home alone and under stress.
2. The Introduction
There are 3 main ways to introduce your newborn to your dog:
- baby in the car seat
- in your arms
- in the crib
A large open space – inside or outside – is the safest. Small, tight areas – like entryways and hallways – can increase the dog’s agitation and stress. You don’t want your dog to feel cornered, and you don’t want to be cornered by your dog. You need to be in control of the situation at all times.
Expert Tip: Placing the car seat on the floor with the baby strapped and giving your dog (or worse, dogs!) full access to explore the baby is VERY UNSAFE.
3. Send An Item Home From The Hospital
When your baby arrives and you're recovering from childbirth, your partner, a family member, or a friend should call the dog sitter to make sure they got into the house. Later, ask someone to take home one of your baby's first bodysuits or blankets so your dog can get used to your child's smell, Saul says. By the time Baby comes home, your pooch will recognize and accept the strange new scent.
"There's quite a difference between the initial sniff-down and a friendly recheck" Saul says.
While your dog will detect the baby smell on the blanket, it will be one of many scents. Your dog is exposed to new smells every day. Dogs learn that smells don’t matter unless they already have a strong association with a particular smell.
Expert Tip: There’s no harm in bringing the baby blanket home and offering your dog lots of love and a treat right after they smell it. Just know that one exposure is not going to make little difference. It’s okay if you missed it or want to skip it!
4. Give Your Dog Attention
It's easy to get wrapped up in the diaper changing, feedings, and precious moments of sleep after the baby goes down. Don't let this get in the way of showing your dog affection. Your pup still needs daily exercise, playtime, and attention, and you can't forget about this even with a new baby.
Giving your dog attention and keeping up with their routine helps them stay secure in your household. Showing your dog affection when your baby is awake rather than asleep is vital. If the dog only gets attention when the baby is not around, she will notice. She might think that the baby takes the focus away from her, and this could breed resentment or confusion.
5. Establish Boundaries Around the Nursery
Celebrity dog trainer Cesar Millan says "I recommend starting with the nursery off-limits. Condition your dog to understand that there is an invisible barrier that she may not cross without your permission. Eventually, you can allow your dog to explore and sniff certain things in the room with your supervision. Then you decide when she needs to leave. Repeat this activity a few times before the baby arrives. This will let your dog know that this room belongs to its pack leader and must be respected at all times."
6. Teach Your Baby
Once your child is in the exploratory state, it is important to supervise all interactions between him or her and any four legged family members. This is a great opportunity to teach your child not to bother the dog, yank their tail, etc. These lessons on mutual respect cannot begin early enough. Too many children have inadvertently provoked an otherwise peaceful dog, simply because they were unsupervised or their parents had not given them proper instruction.
Strategies to keep your dog calm and comfortable when first meeting your newborn:
- Make sure your dog has been well exercised.
- Greet your dog separately without the baby, if you can, to reduce your dog’s excitement and possible jumping.
- You want to give your dog time to calm down before meeting your newborn. It will also be helpful because your dog will be able to smell the baby’s scent on you.
Non-negotiable Safety Rules
- Never leave the baby and dog together unsupervised (when awake or asleep).
- Get in the habit of putting yourself between the dog and the baby.
- Teach your dog to follow you whenever you step away from the baby.
Are you dog parents expecting a baby? Congratulations! Bringing a new member of the family home is exciting for you and your pup. While you can't expect your dog to know everything about what's to come, by preparing early and letting your baby and your dog meet each other gradually, you can set both of them up for a healthy relationship. Again, the key, in the beginning, is to take things slowly and be there to monitor every step of the way!