Introducing your dog to your baby can be a stressful time for all parties (except the baby, who will be fairly oblivious at first!) Let’s be honest, our dogs often are our babies, but then when a human baby comes along, they suddenly get pushed aside because the human baby is totally dependent on us, not to mention completely mesmerising and exhausting…
From time to time I hear of a family who (in some cases, prior to the arrival of the child) decide that there isn’t room in their household for a dog and a child, and the dog gets rehomed. This saddens me greatly, because the dog hasn’t even been given a chance. And I read recently that children who are exposed to pets develop much better immune systems and tolerances! But that’s just an aside.
Ultimately, unless you have incredibly challenging dog, an incredibly challenging newborn, and no support network around you, then it is possible to make the new pack dynamics work.
Important considerations for introducing your dog to your baby
1. The Intro
On returning home from the hospital the actual moment arrives for introducing your dog to your baby. This is best handled calmly, and with some gentle control. So starting with the dog out of the room, out of the way. Whoever will be holding baby gets themselves comfortable, and then another person the dog trusts gets them and calmly brings them into the room on a lead (without making any kind of deal out of it) and sits down, far from the baby. Wait until the dog is calm, then move once pace closer. Repeat until your dog is within close distance (still on the lead), of the person who holds the baby. Again wait for calm, then the dog can be invited over to say hello. Any sign of over enthusiastic behaviour/jumping, the person holding the lead calmly moves the dog a pace away again. If the reaction is too much, take them back out of the room for a while.
2. Who is responsible?
If your dog considers itself to be the Alpha, it may regard the new baby as its responsibility. This can become stressful for your dog, so I’d recommend that you address this in advance, by implementing the techniques that will help your dog understand its place (read “The Dog Listener” by Jan Fennell)
3. ‘Ground’ rules
You may come to realise that you would rather not have your dog on the sofa, the bed etc. This is really simple to change. When your dog jumps up, you put them back down. You do this without saying anything, without making any eye contact. So they do not get away with it, but they also get no attention for trying, so they will lose interest very quickly. If they try 100 times, you put them back down 100 times.
4. Time for walkies…
You do not need to worry about walking your dog every day. Bringing a new baby into the home is likely to throw your routine out of the window. Do not stress about walking your dog. Exercise can be achieved through play, so when you get a quiet moment (if you feel up to it), throwing a ball or something can achieve what a walk can, without the hassle of worrying about getting the baby ready to leave the house.
5. Taking it in their stride
Get your dog familiar with the pushchair etc, prior to the baby’s arrival. I would even go so far as to suggest that you practice walking a dog with a pushchair too. The aim of the game is that your dog is not pulling. If they pull, stop or change directions immediately. Get your dog used to this behaviour, before there is a baby in the equation if possible! Then on the occasion that you do have the time and energy to try it all together, it’s only one new thing (the baby), rather than 2.
6. If your name’s not down, you’re not coming in…
Be aware that your dog may feel protective of your new baby. When visitors arrive, always pop your dog in another room out of the way, and be sure that they are calm before bringing them into the room. If your dog is quite boisterous with visitors, I would suggest bringing your dog into the room on a lead (as you did with the first introduction), so you can calmly keep hold of him or her, rather than them creating chaos.
7. A precious cargo
Also be aware that your dog’s behaviour may change on the walk, as they may start to see other people and dogs as more of a concern than previously (if you are walking your dog with baby in tow), as they will understand that your baby is more vulnerable than you are. If you get any barking or pulling, calmly change directions and move your dog along in a positive way.
The most important consideration
The above list makes it sound like there are lots of important considerations – there are. The most important consideration when introducing your dog to your baby is the leadership one – and this makes everything else fall into place. And on every occasion that anyone has contacted me for my help with their dog’s behaviour, believing that their dog already considers them to be top dog… the dog hasn’t. This is not a criticism, we treat dogs a human way, they expect things done a different way. With my help the owners are always able to change this, so don’t worry! A good place to start is with the Jan Fennell book I mentioned.