There are more than 83 million dog owners in the United States, and for most of them, their dog is more than a pet and is instead part of the family.
What happens, however, when it’s time to introduce another member of the family to your dog—a baby?
Introducing a new baby and a dog to one another can be nerve-wracking, to say the least.
You want the two to get along, and you never want your dog to harm your baby.
You want to ensure you set guidelines that your dog can follow to prevent bites and injuries and other types of harm.
For example, dogs’ mouths contain millions of potentially harmful bacteria that may cause serious infection after a bite.
That’s never something you want to expose a new baby or anyone to.
By preparing for the introduction between your dog and new baby, you can make the transition smoother, safer, and less stressful.
The following are some specific tips to keep in mind if you’re going to be introducing your new baby to your family dog.
Don’t wait until your baby is home from the hospital to start preparing your dog for the new arrival—do it at least a month or two before your due date.
First, think about enrolling your dog in a group training class before the arrival of a new baby, to get a handle on some general behavior management.
You can also think about how a baby will impact your dog’s daily routine, such as the time you feed and walk him or her. Then incorporate those anticipated changes into the routine ahead-of-time.
A dog who’s going to be in the house with a baby should have some general skills.
For example, your dog should learn how to greet without jumping, how to relax in a crate when you aren’t able to supervise, and how to stay and settle.
Much of the focus leading up to your baby’s arrival should be on helping your dog with impulse control.
A few weeks before your baby arrives, you should try to reduce the amount of playtime and attention you give so that when this inevitably occurs after the baby comes, it won’t be such an adjustment for your dog.
Let Your Dog Get Used to the Scent
Someone in your family should bring something home from the hospital after the baby is born and let your dog sniff it before the baby actually comes home.
This could be as simple as a cloth or something used with the baby.
You should let your dog sniff from a distance at first while you hold whatever it is.
What you are telling the dog is that the baby’s item is yours, and you give your dog permission to sniff it. This helps create boundaries and rules regarding the baby.
There are other boundaries that need to be set as well—for example, make your baby’s nursery an off-limits area for your dog.
When it’s actually time to introduce your dog and your baby, you should first take your dog on a walk.
Try to get as much of your dog’s energy out as possible, and then when you return to your front door, make sure your dog is in a state of calmness and submissiveness.
Whoever is holding the baby should be equally calm, and you should let your dog sniff the baby, but from a distance, as you did with the item you brought home.
Don’t bring your baby too close to the dog during your first meeting.
Over time you’ll permit the dog to get closer, but by controlling the introduction and setting these boundaries, you’re letting your dog know that you’re in charge.
There are a few other things to keep in mind.
Some new parents are overly trusting of their dog because it’s never been aggressive in the past, but this doesn’t mean that the dynamic of a baby won’t bring out new behaviors in a dog. Reward your dog with a treat for good behavior.
You have to learn to communicate with your dog and understand signs your dog is uncomfortable or triggered by something.
Over time, you also have to work on helping your baby understand how to be around your dog, particularly as your baby grows and starts crawling and walking.
It’s not something that happens overnight, nor is it something that’s ever really “finished” when you have a dog and a young child in the same house.