INTRODUCING YOUR pet TO YOUR NEW BABY
Introducing your dog to your new baby needs to be a gradual process. Your pet will need time to adjust to the newest family member. Since your dog was likely your first baby, he is used to being the center of attention. It's completely natural for your dog to feel something like sibling rivalry when you bring your new baby home. You can help your dog accept his new role by taking a few simple steps.
BEFORE baby’s arrival:
- Get your pet spayed or neutered if they aren't already. Sterilized pets are calmer and more likely to behave.
- Review your dog's obedience training. Knowing commands like ‘down’, ‘stay’ and ‘leave it’ will be immensely helpful when the baby arrives. It's important to be sure he will reliably and consistently behave for you. Ideally, start addressing behavior problems as early into your pregnancy as possible to give yourself enough time to teach your dog some key commands. If your pet exhibits fear and anxiety, now is the time to get help from an animal behavior specialist while your life is still relatively uncomplicated.
- The time and energy needed to care for a newborn leaves less time for your dog. When the baby comes home, your dog will no longer be receiving the same amount of attention he was accustomed to. If your pet is particularly bonded to the expectant mother, another family member should start establishing a closer bond with him, perhaps through daily walks or play sessions. Drastically decreasing attention or isolating your pet after the baby is born will only produce stress. Though you will be tired, it is still important to spend special quality time with your pet.
- While it's important to maintain your dog's daily schedule, you can gradually adjust his timetable by making changes at least a month or so before the baby arrives. If his exercise routine will change from leash walks to backyard time, it is best to start making the change ahead of time. Put up baby gates so that your dog gets used to the restricted movement. Early and gradual changes in daily routines and physical environment can help make the adjustment easier for your pet once the baby comes home.
- Practice walking your dog with your stroller. It is common for strollers to make dogs nervous and it can take some practice to get them accustomed to the “big scary thing on wheels” right next to them. For baby’s safety, never attach the leash to the stroller.
- Purchase a dog “sound desensitization” app or CD of infants crying and play it at gradually increasing volume to get your dog acclimated to the sound. Make sure to give your dog calm, quiet praise during this time so that he associates all of these new sounds, smells and routines with positive things.
AFTER baby’s arrival:
- When you return from the hospital, your dog will be eager to greet you. Let someone else take the baby into another room while you give your dog a warm, calm welcome.
- After you are done with your greeting, you can allow your pet to sit nearby while you hold the baby. Reward him with treats for appropriate behavior. You want your dog to have only positive experiences with your newest family member. Never force your pet to get near the baby, or hold the baby out towards the dog’s face.
- If you feel comfortable and the pet seems relaxed, allow him to sniff tiny feet and hands. Once his curiosity is satisfied, most dogs will ignore the newborn.
- For the sake of safety, even the most accepting and gentle dog should never be left alone for even a moment with an infant, whether your baby is awake, sleeping, in a carrier, or on the floor. Always keep pets separated from baby by using a dog crate, baby gates, or a crib when you aren’t able to supervise interactions.
- As your baby grows older, model safe and respectful touching. Pets should never be expected to put up with tail pulling, wrestling or being ridden. Familiarize yourself with dog or cat body language so you can recognize when your pet is signaling stress or fear. Biting is typically only a last resort after multiple warnings have been ignored or missed.
Even if your dog’s breed has a reputation of being good with children, every dog needs time to adjust to life with children. Babies and kids sound, move and behave differently than adults, and their cries, shrieks, jerky movements, and wobbly walking can make even the sweetest dog nervous. Give your pet time to adjust to these new behaviors. Consult a trainer if you have any concerns about your dog’s behavior. The earlier you address the problem, the easier it will be to fix it.
If you are expecting a child or have a young family, please visit Family Paws Parent Education for more specialized support.