Roughly two-thirds of American families own at least one dog. Add Baby to the mix and often the family dog drops quickly on the priority list or is removed from the household altogether. Before your baby arrives, prepare your dog for the changes ahead and enjoy the rewards of raising your children alongside your furry companion. “We tend to underestimate how stress and change can affect a dog’s behavior,” says SueZanne Thibodeau, a certified humane education specialist and dog trainer. Thibodeau also facilitates a Dogs & Storks parent-education program, teaching expectant parents how to help the family dog with the transition.
Manners are a must.
Teach your dog appropriate behaviors including basic commands like: sit, down, stay, come, drop it and leave it. “Make it fun. No prong collars, choke collars or shock collars. Instead, use treats and toys to help motivate the dog,” says Kristyn Savage, a certified dog trainer. “Before the baby (arrives), sit in the chair that you will be nursing or feeding in and have the dog do the obedience in those areas.” Keep treats near the changing table and nursing station to create an association between pleasant experiences and baby. When Ali Foulk was expecting her son, Hans, she worried about her German shepherd Blondie’s fearful behavior. Following Savage’s advice, Foulk turned what could have been a dicey situation into a positive one. “My son is now 2 years old and loves our dog. Blondie is extraordinarily gentle with him. He can give her a sit or down command, give her treats and throw balls. Playing together entertains both of them and fosters confidence and language development in my son,” Foulk says.
Prepare for the commotion.
Toys dropping on hard floors, swings moving and Baby crying may alarm a dog, especially one sensitive to sounds. Purchase a CD or download a soundtrack of a baby crying from iTunes or Google. Play the sounds at a low volume for your dog while offering treats. Over time increase the volume of the cries.
Manage your dog’s access to your baby and her accouterments, like the diaper can and toys, with baby gates and closed doors. Christina Thomas started preparing her two mixed-breed rescue dogs for the arrival of her baby, Makayla, long before her daughter’s birth. She trained her dogs to go to a “safe” space, like their dog beds, when they want to be left alone. “They aren’t allowed to be protective of their space, but they know it is a safe area that we will always make sure they can rest peacefully there,” Thomas says. “The dogs now trust that they won’t be hurt by our daughter, so both are very accepting of her.”
Before coming home from the hospital, send your husband or a relative home with a blanket that smells like your baby. Introduce the new scent to your dog with treats and praise. Before you arrive home, have a friend or relative crate your dog or put her in a safe room. “You don’t have to introduce your dog to your baby on the day you come home from the hospital. In fact, for most people that’s a really bad idea,” Thibodeau says. With hormones soaring, you may feel anxious or stressed when first coming home with your baby. Dogs can sense your stress, which raises their stress levels. When you feel calm, have your husband control your dog on a leash, and hold your baby while seated. Since a dog learns about the world through smell, allow her to sniff the diaper area and your baby’s feet (cover your baby’s feet with booties or socks). Avoid the baby’s head, face and fingers. Watch for subtle body language, including tongue flicking and looking or turning away — early signs that your dog feels uncomfortable and wants to disengage. Immediately consult with a certified dog trainer experienced in behavioral modification if your dog exhibits any aggressive behavior. Never leave your dog alone with your child. Even a well-trained dog could bite a child who is climbing on it or pulling on its tail or ears.
16 Tips for Introducing Your Pup to your New Baby
1. Make gradual changes to your dog’s routines.
2. Lessen the amount of play and attention you give your dog two to three weeks before the your little one comes home.
3. Play a tape recording of various baby sounds.
4. Acclimate your dog to the new smells, including lotion, powder, etc.
5. Before Baby arrives, teach your dog to “go to place.”
6. When you arrive home with the newborn, first greet your dog alone so it doesn’t get excited and jump on the baby.
7. Allow your dog to adjust to the smell, sight and sound of the baby for a few days before introducing them in closer proximity.
8. After a few days, allow the dog to sniff the baby while controlled on a leash.
9. Once your dog is used to the infant’s smell, allow the dog to sniff the baby off leash.
10. Give your dog plenty of attention when the baby is around.
11. Don’t scold the dog for picking up the baby’s toys.
12. Babies change quickly, and it can be difficult for the dog to adapt as quickly.
13. Once your little one begins to crawl, make sure that he/she doesn’t pull on the dog’s tail or ears.
14. Never leave even the most trusted dog alone with a baby or small child.
15. Have “safety zones” for the dog.
16. It is OK to keep the dog out of the baby’s room with a gate, etc., especially if he is curious and attempts to jump on the crib or changing table.
Source: American Kennel Club (akc.org)