Safely Introduce Your Dog to Your New Baby

Many couples put off having that first child for a number of reasons:  To establish their career, to be more financially stable, some want to buy the house first…… But in their desire to nurture ‘something’, many (myself included) choose to get a dog – and the dog invariably takes on the role of substitute child. In my household, we refer to our dog as our ‘son’, and when we talk to him, we refer to each other as ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy.’

But as a professional dog trainer, one call I get quite often is, “We have had our dog for years, and he has always been so good…. Until we brought home the new baby a few months ago. Then his behavior totally changed! I think he is jealous of the baby, and I am afraid for the baby’s safety, I think we are going to have to get rid of the dog.”

How many of us remember the classic Disney movie “Lady and the Tramp”?  The scene that always comes to mind for me regarding this subject is when Lady sings, “What Is a Baby?” It actually gives amazing insight into what I, as a trainer, see as the problem.

All rights reserved by Disney – Lady and the tramp (1955)

Prior to the baby coming home, all of the attention and nurturing has been on the dog. If you play the video clip, pay attention to the small things, like how Lady starts off alone downstairs, the lights are off, and none of her people are around. As she climbs the stairs she sings, “They haven’t even noticed that I’m around today”. Then she sees Jim, and gets into a happy begging position… which always got her plenty of attention before, but distracted, he ignores her as he goes down the stairs with the baby bottles. When she arrives at the top of the stairs, she knows her “Mom” is behind the door, but the door is almost closed, and it is the only light on. As she approaches the almost closed door, she sings the last line, “I must find out today, what makes Jim Dear and Darling, act this way.”

So first off, I want to dispel a myth…. Regardless of how it may seem, dogs do not get jealous. This is a human emotion we put on them to explain their behavior. In order to be jealous, there has to be a cognitive thought process…. “They are getting something, I’m not, and it’s not fair!” Sorry folks…. Dogs are just not that complex. For them, it is mostly curiosity…and a somewhat child-like instinct. Like a two-year old they want to be included (“me too, me too”). There are also a ton of new smells, the sound of crying that they are not accustomed to, and let’s not leave out the fact that quite often, as new parents, there is usually a bit of tension when the new baby first comes home. Your dog picks up on this tension, one that was not previously there. Let’s face it….you’ve had 9 months to prepare for this. Isn’t it only fair that you prepare them for this big event as well?

Here are some of the typical ‘bad behaviors’ my customers report to me that their dog is doing…

  • Dog pulls at baby toyJumping up on them when they are holding the baby
  • Nipping at the baby
  • Pulling and yanking on the baby’s clothes
  • Excessive and nuisance barking
  • Growling at the baby
  • Trying to ‘climb’ into their laps while they’re holding the baby, as if the dog were trying to knock the baby off.
  • ‘Pawing’ at the baby
  • Stealing items belonging to the baby

So now, the question becomes “how do you correct these behaviors while balancing a baby in your arms?”  The best answer I can give you is not to wait until the baby arrives.

Start prepping the dog in advance for its arrival. Here are some of the ways you can easily accomplish this. Some may feel or seem a bit silly to you, but trust me when I say about 95% of the time, early preparation works.

  1. Get a small box of diapers. Put a few piles in rooms like the bedroom, living room, bathroom, and any other areas you might be typically changing the child’s diaper in the future.  A clean diaper has no odor to us, but you better believe it does to a dog that can track a scent for hundreds of miles. This accomplishes two things; it allows your dog to familiarize himself with something that will be around constantly in the very near future, and enables you to correct him if he goes to steal or chew them. If he sniffs it and walks away, this is the appropriate behavior, so make sure you praise him. If he goes to grab it, make a loud noise and in a firm (but not angry) voice say “LEAVE IT!”. If he leaves it alone, praise him.
  1. Get a doll.  Get a doll the size of a real-life baby, put a diaper on it, swaddle it, and start walking around the house with it in your arms. As you walk, do the same rocking, cooing and coddling you will be doing for your real baby. More often than not, the dog will get excited and go to jump up and may even go a bit nuts barking. It is important at this moment to remember that your dog is not trying to hurt the baby, but more likely just responding to the same baby talk that you have used on him for the last several years. This is why this practice is so important.  Use this time to make whatever corrections are necessary to ensure your real baby will be coming home to a safe environment. With a doll in your arms, you can firmly push him down and tell him, “OFF!” and when he isn’t jumping, tell him “GOOD BOY” and you can bend down to his level with the doll in your arms and let him sniff it. While he is doing that, make sure to tell him, “EASY” and again, praise him.
  1. Sound Effects  Another suggestion I offer people is to pull up a sound effect of a baby crying on YouTube, and use your cell phone to record it. The one I have used before is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TjmHkVMEdI. Put the doll down either on a blanket on the floor or in the crib if you already have one set up, put your cell phone next to it, play the recording, and watch your dog’s reaction. More often than not, your dog will just sniff at it out of curiosity. If that is all he does, make sure to pet and praise him.  If he goes to nudge or paw the doll, correct him by telling him, “EASY” again. Now lie down on the blanket with the doll and the dog. You will see he feels much less threatened when he is included. Continue working on this for a while before bringing your new baby home, and make sure the dog understands the “rules of engagement”
  1. Once baby is born  While Mom and baby are still in the hospital for the first few days, have Dad or whoever is watching the dog bring home the real baby’s unlaundered clothes, and even a few dirty diapers. (Yes, I know this is kind of gross.) Put the clothes that the new baby has already worn on the doll so that the dog can get used to the scent. Praise the dog when he sniffs at the doll in the baby’s clothes appropriately, and if the dog goes to grab at the clothes, make the same correction you made earlier. And let the dog sniff the dirty diaper. These are all scents that the dog must get used to… he’ll be around them for awhile!
  1. dog adjusts to babyHomecoming Day  The last piece of advice is if Dad has been home with the dog while Mom was away having the baby, Dad should be the one to bring the baby in. Your dog has not seen Mom for a few days and may be excited to see her and jump up on her. Mom needs to greet the dog when she comes in and spend a minute or two with him, but also correct his jumping.

In closing, just remember…. Your dog does not do well with change, so it is up to you to help him adjust to everything prior to it happening. While I have heard at times, “My dog took right to the baby and they have been best friends ever since”  … Why take chances when it is easy enough to ensure a good home-coming with a great outcome.

Photo credit: Wayan VotaCC license

About the Author

I trained as an EMT in NY, than recertified in Atlanta. I loved being an EMT and was involved with it for several years. I worked on the “Rainbow Response Unit” at Egleston’s Children’s Hospital in Atlanta, and when not on a call, worked in the PICU and NICU, which was both a blessing as well as a heartache because I learned and saw so much. Helping to create a child safety seat for ambulances was my way of making sure children who were already compromised health-wise, would not be put in any more danger. When I realiized I could no longer be an EMT due to medical reasons, I found an alternate outlet for my desire to nuture and protect; I became a dog trainer...something that was always a second love and passion for me. Now, whenever possible, I combine my passion for children and canines by working to make the world a safer place for both. Suzanne is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

Comments

5 Responses to “Safely Introduce Your Dog to Your New Baby”

  1. Rochelle Hersch says:

    Your site is very informative

    • Stefanie ZuckerStefanie Zucker says:

      Thanks! We appreciate you stopping by! Please let us know what you liked the most…we love hearing from our readers! 🙂

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