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Expert Article

Bringing Home Baby

Bringing home a newborn baby is one of the most exciting times in your life.  Chances are you have prepared tremendously for the arrival of your baby.  The bottles are washed, the car seat is fastened securely in the car, the nursery is flawless, and all the toys are waiting for the little one to show up. Most likely you have taken some classes to prepare yourself for the baby and have done a lot of reading.  Have you also prepared your canine friend for this major change?  If not you could have a major problem on your hands.  It amazes me when people bring a dog into their home and treat them like their “baby”.  Then when they actually bring home a real human baby they neglect their dog.  When you bring a dog into your home you have an obligation to meet that dog’s needs whether you have a baby or not.  If you are not ready for this commitment you should reconsider getting a dog until you are ready. 

Some dogs are naturally good with children but you should still prepare them for this change.  If your dog is good with other children it is not safe to assume that he will not have any problems with a newborn coming onto his turf.  Is your dog aggressive towards people?  Is your dog aggressive toward children?  What about small animals such as rabbits and squirrels?  Some dogs may view an infant as a strange mammal rather than a small human.  As a mother of 2 children and 2 dogs I know that having dogs and children together is work no matter what the situation.  My black lab Joey didn’t seem to notice when we brought our first child home. Our concern with Joey; however, was that he might inadvertently step on the baby if the baby was in the way of his food dish or going outside.  Our yellow lab mix Baxter is a very loyal dog and loves his family however he is also frightened easily. From day one he was curious about the baby but as soon as the baby moved Baxter would run away.  Your dog doesn’t have to be aggressive to attack a baby, he might be afraid of it.

When you find out that you are pregnant you should start preparing your dog right away.  If you are not the pack leader in your home you better take on that leadership role before the baby arrives.  I believe that having a well-mannered dog makes life so much more enjoyable for everyone.  It will definitely make things more enjoyable when you bring home a baby.  If you have not already been through a basic obedience class, enrolling in one soon can insure that you have the skills necessary to control your dog under various conditions.

You can start preparing your dog by making sure he understands who the pack leader is in your home (that should be you).  If you walk through the door and start showering your dog with affection you need to stop.  You are teaching the dog that when you come home he gets all of your attention.  This makes him feel that he is pretty important.  In a few months when you walk through the door with a baby you don’t want him jumping all over you or the baby.  You will also have a lot of friends and family coming over to see the baby, so before baby arrives is the best time to practice. Start by telling your guests to ignore your dog until he is in a calm state of mind.  Also correct your dog if he jumps on people and don’t be shy about it, they need to get a good solid correction to learn. 
You need to have control over your dog around food and toys. A good idea is to make your dog hold a “down stay” while you eat dinner.  When you’re done eating and you feed him, make them hold a sit stay until you say it is time for them to eat.  They need to have boundaries around food even when it is their own.  Eventually your child will be walking around with a cookie in his hand and your dog needs to understand that is not free for snatching.  If you have a more dominant dog you will want to keep him off the furniture and practice taking his toys away.  Someday your baby might grab a toy away from your dog and the dog needs to be okay with that.  Keep your dog out of the baby’s room.  This will provide a safe place for your baby if you need to separate your dog and baby. Separation can be very useful and having a dog that is crate trained is a good idea.  Introducing the crate properly and before the baby is born will provide a safe place for your dog to be when you can not supervise them or if your dog is too excited around the baby.  All of these preparations will help get things off to a good start when you bring the baby through the door. 

Although your dog’s life will change dramatically after the arrival of the baby just as yours will, some things need to stay the same.  You need to continue to exercise your dog.  I believe one of the most important things you need to give your dog is exercise.  This releases all of that excess energy and will make them calmer around the baby.  I know how hard it is to make sure your dog gets exercise but it is crucial.  If you can’t do it perhaps hire a dog walker or better yet take them to Come, Sit, Stay, and Play a few days a week.  Before you have the baby you will want to make sure that your dog doesn’t pull you around the neighborhood during your walks.  Once the dog is under control you should walk him with a stroller.  I know people might think you look silly but walking with a stroller is an adjustment for your dog and it is good to get him used to sharing the sidewalk with a stroller.  Make the dog walk behind or next to the stroller and make sure he is not ripping your arm off when they see a squirrel or need to go to the bathroom.  Practicing the walk will make walking with the baby and dog a more pleasurable experience for everyone. 

The other thing you will want to do is set up the baby swing, bassinet and other gear a month or two before your due date.  Walk around with a baby doll and put the doll in some of the equipment.  Some people have done this and said their dog chewed off the baby’s head.  Obviously you should not let the dog chew on the doll but don’t worry about it too much if he is not gentle, it is after all a doll.  The important thing is to get him used to all the equipment and seeing you walk around with something in your arms.  You also want to teach your dog the “leave it command”.  How can you expect your dog to know the difference between his toys and the baby’s toys?  Don’t get upset if you let your dog chew on a stuffed animal and scold him for chewing up the giant panda you won at the fair for your baby.  Practice the leave it command by setting up a store in your living room with things they can and can’t have.  When they try to chew a baby toy tell them to “leave it” and give a collar correction.  Then give them one of their toys.  All of these corrections are things that you will learn by taking the Essentials Class at Come Sit Stay and Play.

Now that you are ready to have your baby, make things as normal for your dog as possible.  When you leave for the hospital don’t bolt out of the house screaming and crying.  Try to remain as calm as possible.  Most importantly NO LENGTHY GOODBYES.  There will be lots of emotions and hormones raging, but don’t cry to your dog about how much you are going to miss him.  In fact don’t even say goodbye, just leave like you are going to work.  Once the baby is born have your partner bring home some of the baby’s blankets so the dogs can smell them.  Some don’t have any interest in the blankets in which case you can just wrap them around the doll or put them in the bassinet.  Before you arrive home try to get someone to exercise your dog so he doesn’t have all the extra energy when you arrive home.  Mom should greet the dog first before bringing the baby into the house.  Allow the dog to smell mom who should have the baby’s scent on her.  When you walk through the door with the baby ignore your dog until he has calmed down completely.  This may take 15 minutes or even longer.  Once the dog has calmed down it is okay for him to approach you and the baby.  The dog is not allowed to jump up and he still needs to respect boundaries.  Don’t worry about the dog being able to smell the baby.  Your dog can smell the baby from several feet away.  Your dog does not need to have his nose on the baby.  Also don’t let your dog lick your baby.  This is not necessary and more importantly you have seen where your dog’s mouth has been.  Over the next few weeks you will want them to be respectful of each other.  Only allow them to have contact when you are there and when they are in a calm state of mind.  Don’t lay your baby on the floor and leave the room.  Always make sure that if you need to do something that your baby is in a safe place.  Expose them to one another gradually.  Don’t try to force your baby on the dog.  You don’t need to have a picture of your baby napping on your dog.  To me this is not responsible behavior.  What if your dog has a sore that you are not aware of, your dog could nip at your baby if they unknowingly touch that spot.  If you want your dog to respect your baby’s space then you need to do the same for your dog.  If your dog is resting, he may not want to be bothered. 

Does this sound like a lot of work?  Well it is nothing compared to the work you will have to do if you don’t prepare your dog at all and have to live your life with your dog in one room and baby in another.  As your baby grows and becomes more mobile you will need to teach your child to respect your dog.  The baby might crawl on the dog, slap him, pull his tail or chase him.  Your child needs to learn boundaries just like your dog.  It is not fair to put your dog in a situation where he feels threatened.  This is your responsibility and supervision is always necessary.

Dogs are amazing creatures.  It surprises me how well they adapt to most situations.  Even when we humanize them, put them in strange situations and don’t set clear boundaries most of the time they still do pretty well.  Our children have so much to learn from them.  They love us unconditionally and never judge us for our mistakes.  They protect us and can be wonderful playmates for our children.  If you are bringing a child into this world don’t forget about the dog in your home.  This is going to be a big change for them as well and you should prepare them as much as possible.

Sara Jaap
Professional Dog Trainer

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