She’s been your best friend for her whole life, but now you’re pregnant, and you’re not sure how she’ll react to the baby. We’re not talking about your human bestie here—we’re talking about the family dog.
Introducing dog to baby can be hair-raising. We’ve all heard horror stories of family pets seriously injuring infants. Some of those stories are true. On the other hand, family dogs have been known to lay down their lives for the youngest members of their household.
How to Introduce Dog to Baby
Your dog’s senses will be overwhelmed when you bring a new baby home. There’s going to be strange sounds, sights, and interesting smells, as well as a disruption in the family’s schedule. All these can be very upsetting for her, especially as the new reality means less attention for her and more for the small human who just invaded her home. Taking the time to prepare her for the new arrival is essential. Fortunately, you’ve got nine months to do so.
Basic Training for Introducing Dog to Baby
If your dog isn’t already obedience trained, now is the time to teach her. Ideally, she’ll master the following skills before the baby comes home:
- Sit, come, and down.
- Stay, wait at doors, and settle—all important for controlling her movement when the baby arrives.
- Leave it and drop it—helps you retrieve baby toys and other items from the curious dog quickly.
- Polite greetings—having an excited dog jumping at you while you’re carrying baby can be dangerous.
- Crate training—teach her to relax in her crate and she’ll have her own special place for when you need to confine her or when she needs to escape the house’s busy new schedule.
- Targeting—teaching her to target your hand gives her a familiar task when she’s nervous.
- Please leave—teach the dog to move away from you and the baby, so she never feels trapped.
Need help training dogs? Check your local yellow pages, vet clinics, and animal shelters to see if there’s a reputable dog trainer in your area. He or she will be able to help you design and implement a baby-based training program for your pet.
Preparing to Introduce Dog to Baby
A few months before the baby is due, start making changes to your schedule to reflect life as you expect it will be when baby arrives. Possibilities include:
- Taking a nap in the afternoon
- Changing when you walk the dog
- Varying the time you feed the dog slightly to prepare for hectic days
- Provide short, unscheduled play and snuggle sessions with the dog, and gradually provide less attention at other times of day.
- Consider hiring a dog walker, and add him to the dog’s schedule a month or two before your due date.
- Teach her to settle whenever you are in the nursery.
Introduce her to baby’s crib and other items early. Be aware an energetic dog may see the crib as a great dog bed, so teach her to settle or move away when she’s near the crib.
Offer her as much opportunity to get used to baby sights, smells and noises as possible. Introduce her to high chairs, toys, and car seats one at a time. Practice leave it and drop it commands with small baby toys and other items, including diapers (one small dog and one dirty diaper can create a horrific mess).
Use some of the baby’s lotions, shampoos, and similar products on yourself so the dog associates them with you. Some people play recordings of crying babies for a few minutes a day to prepare the dog for that strange new sound.
Many dog trainers recommend simulating baby with a life-life doll. Your dog’s smart enough to know the doll isn’t alive, but how she reacts when you coo at, cuddle, carry, and “feed” the baby gives you some idea of which training needs finetuning before the baby comes home.
This is also an appropriate time to introduce the dog how a young child explores the world. While you’ll teach your child to be gentle with and respect dogs, small children can grab, poke, push, pull, and yes, even bite pets. Some dogs will tolerate this. Others will, understandably, be upset. Gently pinch, poke, or tug on her ear, say “Oh! What was that?” and give her a treat. She’ll learn she can expect a reward when baby does those things, and even look forward to them if you reinforce the behavior with treats (her behavior, not the baby’s!).
Safely Introducing Dog to Baby
The big day is here! Here’s how to introduce dog to baby:
- Choose a quiet room.
- Sit with the baby in your arms.
- Have someone your dog trusts leash her and bring her into the room.
- Talk to your dog in a calm, relaxed voice.
- If the dog seems agitated, remove her and try again later.
- If the dog is calm and curious, let her come progressively closer on a short but loose leash.
- Allow her to sniff the baby if she wants, while you continue to praise her in a calm voice.
Allow only brief interactions at first, always with another person on hand to control the dog if she gets agitated. Reward her after each session with her favorite treats, and then distract her with a chew toy or food puzzle toy.
Some dogs will react positively at once when introduced to a baby. Others need time to overcome anxiety and nervousness. With proper preparation and regular training, you can successfully introduce dog to baby without incident, and provide your child with a loyal, lifelong guardian and friend.