Bringing home a new baby to a household with an existing dog (or dogs) should be done with great care and a good amount of foresight. Too often, new parents are so consumed with the needs and exhilaration of the new baby that they overlook the impact that this new tiny, loud, smelly creature may have on their dogs.
To get a better sense of how your dog will cope with the new arrival, it is important to understand how your dog perceives the world around her. Dogs are extremely sensitive to environmental change both physically and mentally. Things like people walking in and out of a room, strangers coming to the front door and raised voices during an argument will naturally illicit an emotional and physical response. How your dog deals with the new family member may vary greatly.
It is impossible for humans to understand exactly how sensory output can affect dog behavior, but years of scientific and observational study have presented us with a clearer picture. You can avoid potential problems by using this knowledge to help your dog become more comfortable when your baby arrives.
The Baby’s Smell
A dog’s sense of smell is immeasurably superior to ours. Your baby is going to smell fascinating to your dog, so introduce her to baby smells well ahead of baby’s actual arrival.
Allow your dog to explore the sweet smelling baby products that you will be using and when your baby is born
Have a friend or family member bring home a blanket that your baby has been wrapped in at the hospital.
Allow the dog to smell the blanket and praise her as she is sniffing it.
Give her a delicious treat and allow her to smell again.
Repeat this a number of times until baby comes home.
The Baby’s Cries
If you consider how the cry of a newborn makes a new mom anxious, you can be sure it has the same affect on the animals around you so it is important that you work now to desensitize your dog to baby sounds.
- Try buying a CD of a crying baby, which you can play a few times a day for a few weeks at a low setting so that the dog can hardly hear it.
- Good things such as play, petting and treats happen while the CD is playing.
- If your dog seems comfortable and shows no adverse reactions the volume is increased.
- If she becomes stressed at any time, the volume must be decreased to the previous comfort level for a couple of days until she is relaxed.
- This process can be repeated until she is comfortable with louder levels. The recording will not be the unique cry of your baby, but over a period of weeks your dog will become accustomed to the sound of a baby’s cries even before your baby is born.
The Touch of the New Baby
The special sensory hairs that grow around your dog’s muzzle, under her jaw and above her eyes are called vibrissae and they help her gather information from her environment through touch. You can use this to your advantage.
- Purchase a life sized baby doll and allow your dog to touch the doll’s feet with her nose.
- Praise and treat.
- Walk around with the doll in your arms wrapped in a blanket.
- Get used to sitting with your doll in one arm as if you are feeding it while stroking the dog with the other hand.
Your dog will begin to associate that the close presence of your baby means good things happen to her.
Know Your Dog
Some dogs have never seen a baby, let alone live with one in the house. How does your dog react around other babies that cry loudly or a child that runs past? Does she get over excited or remain calm? Is her body tensing when a child comes too near or is she eager to greet them? Observing your dog’s reactions around other children will give you an indication of what you can expect when your baby arrives.
Use the Power Positive Reinforcement
Most dogs are motivated by food. Using treats as a reward for calm behavior when the baby is crying or when you are holding the baby in your arms provides a positive association, because your dog is getting delicious food when the baby is around. If your dog is not food motivated then rewarding good behavior with her favorite toy or game is just as powerful.
Get Your Dog Used to the Equipment
Walking with your dog is a great bonding experience and helps you stay fit throughout your pregnancy. However, it is important that your dog now learns how to walk with a stroller. If your dog is a leash puller, have another person walk her while you push the stroller. Hire a private trainer or take your dog to a training class so that she can be taught to walk appropriately alongside the stroller. The more you can practice now the easier it will be.
Brush Up On Training Before Baby’s Arrival
If you have poor communication with your dog, now is the time to enroll her in a training class or hire a private in-home trainer to work with you. A dog that responds well to cues and who understands that jumping up on you when you have a baby in your arms is unacceptable, for example, will be much easier to live with when the baby arrives. Compliance teaching is great for bonding and good communication promotes confidence.
Have a plan ready a few months before delivery so that your dog has somewhere to go when you go into hospital. And when you finally come home allow a family member to carry your baby into the house while you spend time greeting the dog. After the greeting is over, sit down on the sofa with the baby in your arms and introduce your dog to the new family member. Keep your body relaxed throughout the introductions and praise your dog for remaining calm.
Baby proofing your dog is all about making that dog feel comfortable and safe with the new changes your baby will bring to your life. Never forget that as a parent you are responsible for those who do not have the ability to think or reason like you do. You need to protect your baby and your dog.
No infant or child should ever be left unsupervised even for a short time with a dog, no matter how well mannered and well trained that dog might be.