How to introduce your dog to your baby
Many people bring home a dog that quickly takes on the role of being their owner’s first baby, giving them a taster into what life would be like if they were to have a human child. Both dogs and children require care, compassion and a lot of commitment, and combining the two can often be a perfect match.
Watching a friendship blossom between canine and child is endearing, however those initial introductions between your first four-legged baby and your new human baby can sometimes be tricky, daunting and might make you think this could all have been a bad idea. After all, your dog has been an only child up to now, and they’ll be worrying they’ve lost your attention to this strange new creature that can’t even walk, talk or play with them!
Let’s take a look at how you can prepare yourself and your dog when you’re expecting, how to go about their first introduction and how to help bring out that everlasting friendship in the following weeks.
Preparations before bringing home your baby
Before the arrival of a new baby, you’ll probably be spending full nights scrolling through online advice, reading countless books about what to expect and filling your house with all sorts of new baby gadgets, gizmos and gear. For you, it might feel like you’ve been preparing for months, but for your dog, it will probably seem like this new person has just popped up overnight.
That’s why you must do all you can to prepare your dog for what’s to come, they’re going to be having a new sibling very soon that will change their life forever.
Dogs love predictability, they love to know exactly what time they’ll be having their food, when they’re going for a walk, what time you come in from work and when they get to have your full, undivided attention. Therefore, implementing small changes into their daily routine way before the baby arrives is key. A baby creates a lot of change, so if you change things in advance, it won’t be as big a shock for your dog when the baby arrives. We’re going to list and explain a few things that might be helpful to implement into your daily life before your next bundle of joy arrives.
Many dogs have never even seen a tiny newborn baby before, never mind lived alongside one. For a dog, these tiny humans might be quite strange and scary, or they could be the most exciting thing your dog has ever laid eyes upon.
Desensitising your dog to babies, toddlers and older children is a great way to tone down the intense feelings your dog might initially have towards your new baby. If you know any parents, see if you can take your dog to meet their child - this exposure will help make the arrival of their new housemate not so weird.
It’s no surprise that kids are very heavy-handed. They spot an adorable, fluffy dog and instantly want to squeeze, prod, chase, pull and poke at them. It’s only natural, it’s like a dog is a real life, moving teddy so you can’t blame a child for wanting a big cuddle. The ideal scenario is that your dog is totally fine with being stroked and touched anywhere on their body.
If they’re nervous and wary about any kind of physical contact, this can be quite tricky, especially when your baby starts to crawl and walk around the house, grabbing for your dog’s tail. Before the baby’s arrival, it’s a good idea to try and make your dog comfortable with being touched and stroked. Find out what level of physical contact your dog is comfortable with, and slowly build this up. Treat, reward and praise whenever they have no reaction to being touched.
On the other hand, some dogs can go absolutely crazy when they get any kind of human attention, bouncing, rolling and jumping around. Even though this can seem lovely that your dog is so loving and gets so giddy for some attention, if you’ve got a big bouncy dog, this could be a problem for a small child when your dog wants to get right in their face for a big, drool-filled kiss. You need to teach your dog some self-control and how to be calm even in those situations where they’re buzzing with excitement.
Reviewing and teaching new commands
Your dog might have a few behaviours that seem completely harmless at this moment in time but can become more of an issue when a tiny child arrives. For example, your dog greeting you at the door by jumping up at you in excitement and covering you in drool and kisses. This will be a big problem if you’re carrying a tiny baby in your arms, a toddler or small child is walking in and can even be dangerous when you’re heavily pregnant.
Teaching new and reinforcing old commands is the best thing you can do before the baby arrives to eliminate any bad behaviours in time for when the baby gets here. Read about all our top tips to stop your dog from jumping up here.
Give me space
Don’t worry if your dog isn’t a youngster anymore, teaching an old dog a new trick is definitely possible. Teaching a command such as ‘back’ is a nice one to have in the bag before the baby arrives, as it allows you to have more control over where your dog is when you’re holding the baby or when they start to become mobile.
To do this, you need to start by simply standing right in front of your dog with your hand held out and slowly step forwards. It will probably be a natural response for your dog to start backing up. As soon as they do, reward them with a treat and lots of praise. Introduce whatever command word you choose to use and keep practising over and over again. Slowly, you’ll be able to stop stepping towards your dog and they’ll automatically back up on command when you hold up your hand and say your cue.
Stay consistent in your training and your dog will be much better at respecting boundaries, this will be handy not only for when the baby arrives but also for any visitors that aren’t so keen on having big, bounding dogs all up in their face.
‘Go away’ is another one to teach to keep your dog well away from the baby when necessary, for example when you’re feeding the baby or they’re sleeping. You definitely don’t want your dog going to wake up your baby when they’ve finally dropped off to sleep! This one isn’t too tricky to teach either, just start by tossing treats away from where you’re stood or sat and say ‘go away’.
Children and babies equal a lot of new toys, clothes and even nappies scattered around the house, so teaching ‘leave it’ and ‘drop it’ can come in really handy to avoid your pup picking up something they shouldn’t.
New sounds, sights and strange objects
Introducing a baby into your home requires a lot of baby-related sounds, smells and objects taking over your entire house. Your dog will be shocked, curious and maybe even a little wary over these sudden changes, so it’s best to start getting prepared early.
Babies are noisy, they cry, scream, gurgle and giggle and this could all be quite disconcerting for a dog. Keep playing audio of all the sounds that babies make to your dog, if they react negatively, you’ll need to keep practising with this right up until your baby’s arrival.
Desensitise your dog to the sounds by playing the audio really quietly at first so your dog has no reaction, rewarding them when they don’t react, and gradually increase the volume until your dog is fully accustomed to the strange sounds.
Your house will no doubt become cluttered with baby toys, clothes, nappies, pushchairs, highchairs and whatever else is needed for life with a baby. Start leaving some of these objects on the countertops, you don’t want them to be really exciting things that look perfect for stealing when the baby gets here. This is annoying and potentially dangerous, your dog could swallow tiny toys, steal and rip up nappies or start barking at whatever the strange thing is up on the worktops.
It’s often recommended to start carrying around a baby doll in your arms so they get used to you having your attention on something else. However, dogs are smart enough to know that this doll isn’t a real human baby.
Larger objects such as pushchairs and highchairs probably look totally alien, they’re strange contraptions that will likely tower over your dog. These complex pieces of equipment might freak out your poor pup, which won’t be good when there’s a baby in it in a few months’ time. If they’re already freaked out by the pram, they’ll be even more scared of it when there’s a tiny human in it, which can create anxiety around the baby which you definitely don’t want.
Another thing to think about is how your dog is when they go for a walk. Do they lunge out when they see a person? Or do they pull on the lead like a maniac trying to get to the park? If so, these are behaviours you want to nip in the bud as soon as possible. If your dog can’t walk on the lead nicely, it can be really dangerous trying to push a pram and walk the dog at the same time.
You might look a bit crazy to the neighbours, but before the baby arrives, test out how it is walking the dog on the lead while you push the pram. If it seems impossible, you might need to practice your dog’s loose lead walking technique. Read our tips and tricks on how to help your dog walk nice and politely on the lead here.
The main thing to remember here is to never ever tie your dog’s lead to the pushchair. Even if your dog is superb at loose lead walking and they never have any reaction to distractions on the street, in the off chance it does happen it could take the pushchair flying.
Toddlers and children can be extremely irritating for a dog when they’re trying to eat their dinner. Nobody wants to be prodded, shouted at, or even have small hands reaching into their food, and unfortunately, children can be quite the little pests when it comes to this. However, this can cause huge problems, as the saying goes, you should never interrupt a dog when they’re eating.
Dogs can get very protective over their food, even their toys or bed too, and when they are it’s called resource guarding. If so, you must work to completely change your dog’s emotional response towards people approaching them while they have their treasured resource, which can be done by showing your pup that amazing things actually happen in the presence of people.
Start this behavioural change by tossing treats in your dog’s vicinity while they have their food or toy and slowly start decreasing the distance between you and the dog over a period of time. We’ve got a full post about resource guarding, you can read all about stopping this behaviour here.
Does your dog beg when you’re eating your dinner? Do they leap up at the counter tops to try and steal some food from the chopping board? If so, you need to try and stop this behaviour right away before the baby arrives.
Imagine when your young baby is eating from their highchair and your dog jumps up and snatches their dinner. Or they might even snatch a snack right out of their hand. This will be very annoying for your child who just wants to eat their dinner without a huge hound in their face. However, it doesn’t only cause food feuds between your child and canine, it can actually be dangerous.
If your dog is snatching food right from your child’s grasp, they could accidentally clamp down too hard on their tiny hands. Also, the food that they wrongly steal might not even be suitable for dogs, potentially leading to health issues.
As with dogs, babies take up a lot of time, energy, care and attention. As much as you say this won’t happen, it’s sadly unlikely that you’ll be able to give as much time and dedication to your dog as you once did before the baby’s arrival. Understandably, your dog might find this change a struggle.
One day your dog was probably all that consumed your mind, and seemingly the next day your dog will feel that they’ve lost all that attention. Your dog was probably your first child, albeit a four-legged, furry one, and now a second one has been added into the mix. Your dog will need to learn how to share this attention before the baby arrives, so it’s not a total shock to the system. Figure out how much time you think you’ll realistically have for your dog, for walkies, cuddles and playtime when the baby gets here, and start trying to emulate this now so they start to get used to it.
Alongside sharing your attention with the baby, your dog will probably now be faced with sharing their toys! Dog toys and baby toys are very similar, they’re made from similar fabrics, and many make similar strange noises. It’s no surprise that our dogs can get mixed up on whose is whose. Your dog needs to learn which toys are theirs and which are for the baby, to prevent your dog stealing your child’s toys.
Begin by putting your dog’s toys away once they’ve done playing with them, or even just reserving any playtime for the garden. Hopefully, this will help your dog begin to differentiate between playtime and non-playtime, they know they only play with their toys outside or when you get them out and initiate play, rather than picking up any old toy that is lying around the house.
Keeping your dog’s toys away also eliminates the chance of your baby picking up some disgusting slobbery dog toy and putting it in their own mouth. As stated earlier, teaching the ‘leave it’ and ‘drop it’ commands prior to the baby’s arrival can be really useful for these circumstances.
Boundaries and personal space
It goes without saying that a baby will probably turn your life upside down, there’ll be a constant stream of visitors, constant noise and your house will feel chaotic. At points, you’ll probably feel like running away and hiding in a quiet, peaceful space just to get away from it all. Don’t forget that your dog will feel the exact same way! A house that was once a place of peace and quiet has become a place of carnage.
Your pup requires a place they can call their own that makes them feel content and secure so they can settle down. Find a space for your dog, such as a room or a crate which is totally off limits for the baby and anything baby-related. This can be quite hard when your baby becomes mobile, for whatever reason, small children love to try and lie in dog beds! It might take your dog a while to associate the location with peace and quiet, but with a few treats they will realise that their bed in this room is a great place to be.
As much as your dog needs a place to relax, you and the baby probably need some space away from the dog too. Dogs can be pretty inquisitive, so it can often be difficult to feed the baby or let them sleep in peace if your big curious canine is sticking their nose in.
Put some baby gates up around the house to have some areas that the dog is now prohibited from entering. This will also help when your baby starts to become mobile, it allows them to get their crawling and walking perfected without the chance of a huge hound knocking them over.
Also, if you decide that your dog is still allowed in your baby’s bedroom, make sure they know that they can’t take a nap in the baby’s cot! If you can establish some boundaries with your dog before the baby arrives, it’ll make your life a whole lot easier in the long run.
We’re nearly at the end of our pre-baby preparations, it probably feels like a lot! However, the more preparation you do beforehand, you’ll ideally have a much more comfortable introductory period between your human child and canine child.
Some other things to think about when you’re expecting:
- Dogs are incredibly perceptive, they can usually tell if their humans are happy, sad, stressed and angry. You’ll probably be really anxious before your new baby’s arrival (understandably), but this could make your dog anxious too, to the point where they start acting out. Try and calm your emotions, which is easier said than done, but it’ll stop your dog from feeling anxious too.
- Line up a pet sitter or a dog walker for the first few days or weeks of having a baby, it’ll take a weight off your shoulders knowing you have care for your dog while your baby settles in.
What to do when the baby arrives
The initial introductions between your dog and your baby can go many ways, your dog could be dying to see what you’re holding in your arms, they might be totally disinterested and walk away, they could be fearful or even aggressive.
Everyone wants the perfect scenario where the dog and baby instantly connect, their friendship blossoms and your dog sees your baby as their own. However, this isn’t always the case. Even dogs that are the most gentle-natured creatures, who have met many babies before and have never shown any signs of fear or aggression could totally freak out when a baby enters their own home.
A tip that’s highly recommended is bringing home a blanket from the hospital that smells like your baby and allowing your dog to have a good sniff to get used to the baby’s scent. While this is a great idea, it’s not always that simple logistically, however if it can be done, do it. The more preparation the better!
Whether you can manage the blanket tactic or not, one of the best things you can do before bringing your baby home, if possible, is to ask a family member or dog walker to take your dog for a long walk, in the hopes that they’ll be really tired and not show the same levels of exuberance as they usually would when they haven’t yet had a walk.
Walking through the door
When it’s time to come home, try and say hello to your dog without the baby. Get someone else to hold the baby outside, you go in and greet your dog and then swap. This is just in case your dog is so excited to see you again, as it’s probably been a little while, that they get excited and jump on you.
Hopefully, having greeted you already will somewhat dilute their excitement so when you then enter with the baby, they won’t feel the need to go absolutely bonkers and jump all over you. It might be useful to ask the other person to put the dog on the lead just in case they do decide to still jump up when you have your baby in your arms.
Be calm and confident when you walk into the house, hopefully you do have a helper that can help to distract your dog with a few tasty treats thrown their way. If your dog wants to come and have a sniff of the baby, allow them, this is good! They’re interested and want to say hello. Let them have a sniff, praise them for being good and praise them when they back off.
If they’re disinterested or fearful, don’t force the introduction, it might take some time for your dog to form a friendship. If your dog simply walks away, this is still good, it means they’re unphased, so reward them with a treat for backing off.
Praise, reward and treat
You want your dog to see your baby as one of the best things in the whole world, which can be done by creating an association between the baby and positive, pleasurable things. It’ll be no surprise that these positive, pleasurable things are treats. And lots of them.
Every time your dog is behaving calmly around the baby, or even when they’re staying well away from the baby, reward them with praise and treats. Make sure your praise is calm and gentle though, you don’t want your dog getting giddy. Show your dog the activities that you do with your baby, allow them to be there while you’re feeding, rocking them to sleep or even changing them. Reward them when they’re totally chilled out and just talk to the dog and reassure them that you’re still interested in them even though you’re focused on the baby.
This might be easier with a second person available to toss your dog the treats. The more praise, treats and attention your dog gets in the presence of your baby, the quicker they’ll draw the association that when the baby is around, good things happen.
Your dog might want to keep sniffing the baby, after all, it’s a new thing that their owner is now obsessed with, they’re bound to be intrigued what all the fuss is all about. Even though you might be wary of your dog’s face being right near your baby, allow this investigation to happen as your pup will soon get bored.
If you’ve got a senior dog, it can be hard to adjust if they’ve lived as an only child for so long. If your dog reacts in an undesirable manner, never punish them for it. This will only make things even worse as they’ll start to associate punishment and bad things with the baby’s presence, so just take the same approach as before, reward them anytime they’re near the baby without expressing any bad emotions.
Try using distractions, direct their attention away from the baby with a chew toy. A new baby in the house is a strange, scary thing for both you and your dog, and they’ll need some time to adjust.
When a new baby enters the world, there will likely be a whole load of visitors popping by to meet them. Grandparents, friends, aunties, uncles and whoever else wants to join the party, it can be a lot. Your dog might be thinking, ”why are all these people here to see this strange, tiny creature and not me?”. Some dogs will be so excited that all these people are coming to the house, but they end up dismayed when they realise the visitors are not actually interested in stroking or playing with them, they’re more bothered about holding the baby.
They might start acting up in the process to get some attention. Tell visitors to greet your dog to avoid any jealousy as realistically, the baby isn’t going to know that the dog got a greeting before them!
On the other hand, this constant stream of visitors could create a lot of anxiety for your dog, especially if they were quite a nervous pup before. This is where it’s really key to make sure your dog has a safe space where they can retreat and get some peace.
Other things to think about
No two dogs are the same and their reactions to a new baby could range from, joy, excitement, bewilderment, fear, jealousy, annoyance and anger. Usually, the novelty of the baby will diminish as time goes on, and any intense reaction your dog had initially should decrease, even if they just end up tolerating the baby rather than liking it.
If you know you want a dog before you have a child, it’s worth researching dogs that work well in family situations. Some breeds are renowned to be excellent with children, and we’ve got a full post about the best family-friendly dog breeds here.
Be patient with your dog whatever their reaction is to the baby, and make sure you allocate some time to give your dog some quality attention. However, when you need some time alone with the baby, it’s a good idea to keep your dog quiet, settled and entertained with a Kong or lickimat.
Dogs and small children
Some dogs find toddlers and small children absolutely terrifying (understandable), they run, kick, scream, pull, poke and prod. Luckily, with babies, they start by doing basically nothing and then they slowly start becoming more mobile as they grow into screaming, raging toddlers. These steady changes allow your dog to get used to this new member of the family, so they’ll probably have a much higher tolerance to the toddler antics.
This is where you’ll have to do lots of work by always supervising your moving child around the dog, keeping them away from your dog’s food bowl and trying to encourage only gentle play. If they’re old enough to understand directions, teach your child how to act around a dog. They should never torment them, be too heavy-handed or pull at their tail.
Having both a dog and a child at the same time can be tricky, but if they get along, it makes it totally worth it to see their friendship grow. Bringing a new baby home is going to be a big shock for your dog, but with lots of preparation you can make welcoming home your new family member a lot easier for your dog.
- Cat and Dog Ownership in Early Life and Infant Development: A Prospective Birth Cohort Study of Japan Environment and Children's Study International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17, (1), Dec 2019, doi:10.3390/ijerph17010205