Congratulations on the new – two legged – addition to your family! As you know, your world is about to change and even more so for your dog. Your pup is going to need time to adjust. Their normal routine is going to dramatically change and it is important to start the changes slowly before the baby arrives. Ideally, you do not want the arrival of the baby to be associated with the new rules and make negative associations towards your baby.
When training your dog to accept a baby into their pack, it is important to go slowly to help your dog feel good about this big life change. The rules of the house are going to have to change, and if you are like most parents, you will have less time to interact and exercise your dog.
Therefore, we recommend you look for a dog walker, daycare, or ask friends and family to help with walks and exercise for the first few days and weeks. Many dog owners find it a relief to having their dog stay with a friend, boarding facility, or family member for the first few days the baby’s home. Lining up those resources to help before your baby arrives can make the baby’s first day home less stressful.
Start with Obedience
To make the transition easier on your dog, start brushing up on obedience – even if your dog is well trained and well behaved, it is a good idea to practice training games and tighten up the rules. In addition to mastering typical obedience such as:
Make sure you work on more advanced commands like:
- Drop it
- Leave it
- Go to your place or mat
The comfort and safely of your baby and dog are the top concerns here. Having a dog who will drop something on command is essential. Having a dog who knows to leave something, go to their bed on command, and stay when needed, can be a huge help when something happens and you have your hands full with a baby.
If you have a Zen Dog, your dog knows how to take treats gently and not act demanding for food or attention. If your pup needs to freshen up on gentle mouth exercises now is the time. Practicing taking treats gently exercises multiple times a day – bonus points if you do this exercise with one of your dog’s meal. Spend time on impulse control games by teaching your dog to sit and stay before getting treats or before meals. If your dog needs some help with the basics, we offer great guides, training comics, and other online training solutions.
Remember: Demand barking becomes more than annoying when it might wake up a sleeping baby! Before the baby arrives, you want to ensure your dog isn’t demanding in ways where they bark, whine, scratch, or beg to get food, attention, or be allowed outside.
Pay Attention to your Dog’s Body Language
Now more than ever, you want to better understand how your dog is feeling and if anything about the baby or new situation is making them anxious. If necessary, hire a dog trainer to help you brush up on better understanding your dog cues and improve how you communicate with them.
It’s important to learn your dog’s body language and nonverbal ques to help figure out how your dog is feeling and how to help them. If your dog is shows signs of fear or seems worried – has their ears pinned back, wide eyed, and looks like a deer caught in headlights – your dog is stressed and may need help coping with the baby.
Managing the Environment
Before the baby arrives, it is important to create an environment where your dog and baby can safely interact. Just using baby gates or by dedicating the baby’s nursery as a dog-free zone can make it less stressful to have a baby and dog together and help you gently set boundaries.
It is also important to create a safe ‘place’ for your dog where they can go to when they’re feeling overstimulated or you need a break. This can be a dog bed, crate, or a specific room. Continue to practice ‘go to your place’ command and make sure you reward them when they lay in their place. Make it a rule in your house to not allow kids to go over there. Parents must not let children put themselves in situations where a dog may feel provoked or threatened.
Changing the Rules
Having a baby in the house means that certain things may have to change. If your dog likes sitting on the couch, start only allowing them up on your command. Look for things you’re your dog does like sleep in the bed, jump up on people, or get up on furniture and imagine having a new born baby in your arms. For everyone’s safety you should really train your dog to not think they get their way all the time.
Instituting a nothing for free program where you take back control of the couch and bed are important ways to keep the baby and the dog safely apart and preventing guarding behavior.
Prepare for the Baby’s Arrival:
Desensitize, desensitize, desensitize! The goal for successful dog/baby introductions is to get your dog used to all the sights and sounds of a new baby. They should learn to accept your baby’s toys, crib, and crying so it becomes their new normal before the baby arrives.
Find some good videos of newborn and baby crying. Place your phone in the crib or bouncer and allow your dog to explore. Start going on walks with the empty baby stroller. Set up the baby’s items and put them around the house. This includes the nursery, car seat, swing, bouncer, crib/bassinet etc. Allow your dog to sniff the items, but use ‘leave it’ if needed. If any of these items have sounds, start playing them before the baby arrives and use treats to help them associate the items with good things. Introduce to your dog the sounds your baby will make.
Leash walks and exercise are usually the tough transition aspects for dogs. Usually, a walk is heart-thumping exercise, a reward and a good bonding time for you and them. Now this big thing with wheels is walking with them, not only will it mean a slower pace, but at first this could be terrifying! Practice doing walks with treats and the baby stroller as often as you can. Get your dog used to the stroller, brush up on loose leash walking and teaching your dog to focus on you doing walks.
Socialization to children
If you haven’t already, start introducing your dog to kids of all ages. Kids can be TERRIFYING!
They scream, yell, and are unpredictable with their movements and actions. Many children are small and come in close eye contact with your dog in a way that adults do not. Most people need to be proactive about looking for socialization opportunities with kids.
You want your dog make positive associations with children. Depending on where they are in their comfort level around kids, your next steps may differ. It’s recommended (unless your dog is petrified) to take your dog to a park or play ground where the kids are playing behind a fence at a safe distance and walk around and explore the area. The plan is to hang out there to get them to feel more comfortable in the presence of kids – don’t forget your high value treats!
If they’re already great with kids, start asking saying hi to more families on walks and taking your dog to places where they will see more kids. Encourage children to give your dog treats with an open palm. If they are older or into dogs, they can teach them to sit or play obedience games. If you are looking for help Desensitizing your dog to children, check out our Helping a Shy, Fearful, or Protective Dog Comic for a step-by-step plan.
When the Baby’s Born:
Finally, the day has come! The newest addition has been born. Bring a blanket or hat to the hospital that you can cover with the baby’s scent, many people use the first hat the hospital provides. Bring or give whatever item you choose home with you or someone else and allow your dog to smell it. You can even go one step further and put the item in the baby swing.
If your dog is boarding, contact the facility and ask if they can give your dog opportunities to sniff their new siblings clothing item. Most facilities will be more than happy to give the item to your dog and it’s recommended to bring the item in a zip block bag. This way they can zip the item back up and preserve the scent.
Time to Introduce the Baby to the Home!
Before the first dog baby introduction make sure your dog is well-exercised. Take your dog on an adventure, or a nice long walk before introducing the baby. Your dog may act calmer if you’ve given them a chance let out any pent-up energy.
During the introduction, we recommend keeping your dog on leash (using a drag line) for the whole introduction. Let the leash drag on the floor to make sure there is no tension in the leash when the meet. If something doesn’t go as planned, you can quickly get control of the situation by grabbing the leash, interrupting your dog, and walking them away.
It is essential to make this whole experience positive. Talk in a calm/neutral voice and praise everything positive. Try not to correct your dog or give and kind of physical (or leash) correction as you don’t want any associate with the baby with anything negative. (Zen Dog Training never recommends using corrections or any method that depends on pain, scaring a dog, or fear.)
Allow your pup to say hello to mom before meeting the baby. If your dog hasn’t seen her for a couple of days, they will probably be excited to be reunited. After the happy reunion, have mom go get the baby and either sit down on the couch or sit on the floor with the baby in its car seat. Your dog should already recognize the scent, from the item of clothing introduced. They may still be excited, but are very curious. Everyone should act calm and relaxed to help your dog understand everything is OK.
During the introductions and when your dog is around the baby, give them treats to help your dog make a positive associate with your baby. You can also reward them for being calm. Try having your dog focus on you and encourage them to do some tricks to keep them engaged with high reward treats. Watch your dog carefully and supervise all interactions, if your dog seems to be acting nervous or growling at the baby, keep your dog away from your baby until you can get professional help.
Most dog baby introductions go great when people have prepared their dog for the new baby. In general, be sure to still give your dog attention throughout the day, not just when the baby sleeps. Remember a well-exercised dog tends to be calmer and settles down more quickly.
Also, do not try to force your dog to be next to the baby. This is a huge change, at first your dog may be and just don’t know what to do. By letting things go slowly at your dog’s pace you will have a better chance of it working.
****NEVER LEAVE YOUR DOG WITH THE BABY UNSUPERVISED, NO MATTER HOW MELLOW AND WELL-BEHAVED YOUR DOG IS…ACCIDENTS HAPPEN! ****
Your Dog’s New Partner in Crime
As your baby grows, your dog’s bond with them will grow too, especially when it’s solid food time. Continue with your dog’s obedience and impulse control training and also teach your child how to be gentle and kind with their best friend.
Adults should reinforce that children pet dogs carefully and teach children to respect their dogs’ safe place. This way, an overwhelmed dog can safely escape when they’ve had too much stimulation or when they feel stressed.