Firstly NEVER leave your baby alone with any dog. The vast majority of dogs get on well with children and babies, and child and pet get a great deal out of the experience. However always remember that a dog thinks like a dog, not a person. A dog will not consider a baby as a person, it is a nosy, smelly thing that is taking the attention of its pack members. Therefore your aim is to prepare your dog thoroughly for the new arrival to ensure all goes well.
The sooner you start the process of preparing your dog for the arrival of a new baby, the better. The more time you spend on training him, helping him to adjust to the changes that are coming, the easier the whole process will be! The arrival should be as stress free and pleasurable for you both as possible.
Tell your midwife you have a dog and discuss the measures you are taking.
Don’t wait until the last few weeks or when the new baby arrives to start the preparations. It’s important your dog associates the new baby with as few disruptions and changes to his routine as possible.
Remember that even if you’ve had a baby in the house before, it’s probably very worthwhile to repeat this training process for each new arrival.
Things to do in the months leading up to the baby’s arrival
Solve any behaviour problems such as aggression, separation anxiety or any fear behaviours. Ask your vet to refer you to a good local animal behaviourist if these problems exist.
Brush up on training so that he sits, lies down and remains quiet for short periods on command, won’t jump up, can walk on lead without pulling, and come when called. If your dog already knows these commands but is unreliable, practice these obedience exercises with the dog until it is reliable. Even if you consider your dog “pretty good,” that may not be good enough and could lead to your having a false sense of security. Imagine how your dog, if excited, will react when you bring the baby home. Can you depend on it to reliably sit and stay or down and stay and not rush toward the baby?
If you’re planning to keep your dog out of certain rooms or areas of the house after the baby arrives, start doing this now. Ideally, he shouldn’t be allowed in baby’s bedroom, better still crate train your dog. Make it a great place for your dog to spend time, put chews etc in there, and put him in there in daytime occasionally, as well as at night.
You should start requiring that your dog sit/stay or down/stay as you do things that resemble “baby activities” around it. For example, pick up a doll, cradle it, rock it, and walk back and forth. Periodically, reward the dog with titbits, petting or praise for remaining in a sitting position while this is going on. The doll should also be wrapped in baby blankets and shown to the dog, which must learn to control itself and to refrain from moving.
Your dog should be healthy and up to date with his worming tablets and vaccinations.
Because dogs respond with interest to strange sounds, it is a good idea to accustom your dog to the recorded sounds of a baby crying, babbling, or making other normal “baby” sounds. Try to get a tape recording of baby noises and play it in areas that the baby is going to be most often, so that your dog can get used to these ‘strange’ sounds. Ideally, if the opportunity is available, expose your dog – in a controlled manner to ensure the infants safety – to real babies of friends or neighbours. This procedure should be considered only if the dog is reliably trained and controllable. The dog should gradually be exposed to babies until it can remain relaxed in their presence. This may require several sessions.
If your dog’s an ‘only’ pet, it’s quite likely that he’s used to having your full attention whenever he wants it. You’ll soon be busy with the new baby so, to avoid a negative reaction, get him used to being alone in a safe area with his bed and a tasty chew item for short periods of time every day.
Teach him to walk gently next to the pram, without pulling.
Bring new items of furniture such as playpens, carry cots and highchairs into the house, so that he can get used to them.
Try to teach your dog the difference between his toys and those that’ll belong to the baby.
Develop a routine that you intend to follow when the baby arrives and stick to it, to help him cope with the changes.
If the expectant mum is the one who has previously done most of the interacting, dog walking and feeding of the dog, it’ll help the dog adjust to having less time and attention from her in the future if her partner starts taking over most of these duties.
Once the baby has arrived
If your baby is born in a hospital, your dog will remain at home. You can use this interval to familiarize your dog with the baby’s smell by bringing home blankets or clothing the baby has worn. (On the subject of nappies: It would advisable you to keep soiled nappies in a tightly closed container. One of the functions of a mother dog is to lick up the urine and faeces of puppies to keep the sleeping area clean. Quite frequently, female dogs will ingest the faeces of a human baby and may go to great lengths to clean up after the child, including raiding nappy buckets! This is not an abnormal behaviour but a normal aspect of canine maternal behaviour.)
When mother and child come home from the hospital, it is best if mother greets the dog without the baby present. Another family member should hold the baby or, better still, put in another room while the mother and dog greet each other. This way, you can avoid reprimanding an excited dog that merely wants to greet the owner and that may jump at the baby in an attempt to get near the mother. If possible, take the whole family for a short, exciting walk as soon as the baby arrives so that he associates pleasurable activities with the baby’s arrival.
Owners should allow some time for the dog to get used to the smells and sounds of the baby, which to it are the presence of another creature in the house. Later, when the level of excitement in the household has decreased and the dog appears relaxed, the baby and dog can be introduced to each other.
One parent should attend to the baby and the other to the dog. The dog should be in a sit/stay or down/stay and on a lead. If there is any concern that the dog may leap at the baby, a halter or muzzle should be placed on the dog. (The dog should already be used to the muzzle prior to this introduction.) The dog should be allowed to see the baby from 10 to 15 feet away. Then either the dog or baby should be brought closer to the other, slowly, one foot at a time. If the dog remains calm and under control, it might be allowed to sniff the baby, again from a safe distance. If the dog is extremely excited, however, this progression should not be attempted. If the dog has a history of predatory or aggressive behaviours, it may take many introductions before dog and baby are close enough for the dog to investigate the baby closely.
Always use positive training techniques and never punish or reprimand your dog around the baby. Never hit or shout at him for approaching the baby in the wrong way. Gently, show him what you wish him to do and reward him when he gets it right.
One tip that can be helpful is that whenever you begin to do something with you baby, you can put the dog in a sit/stay and periodically reward it with a titbit. This procedure allows the dog to associate pleasant experiences with the baby and gives the dog extra attention when the baby is present.
Don’t place the baby on the floor with him and NEVER leave your baby alone with any dog.
Make sure he has enough exercise and things to do – a bored dog with too much energy can get up to all sorts of mischief while you’re busy with your new baby.
If you have any worries about your dog’s behaviour after the baby has arrived, consult your vet as soon as possible, who will refer you to a good local animal behaviourist.