February 27 2012
If you are expecting a baby and you have a dog, you will want to prepare your dog for the day you bring home your child. Dogs can feel shunned and become confused and stressed when parents suddenly shift their attention from dog to baby. A dog does not understand why a baby is automatically elevated above the dog in the pack. In trying to regain his pack position, the dog will often engage in attention-seeking behaviors such as:
- jumping up on his owners when they are tending to the baby,
- stealing items belonging to the baby,
- going into the baby's room,
- barking when the baby cries,
- becoming pushy when the mother is feeding the baby,
- jumping on the stroller or pulling in front of it, or
- barking at passersby or guests.
The following guidelines will help reduce bad behavior and ease everyone's stress.
Before the baby arrives
- Set new rules for the dog. Start by considering the lifestyle changes your new baby will require you to make for your dog. For safety reasons, you will want to keep him out of your bedroom-and also out of the baby's room. Set up a baby gate in front of the baby's room and correct the dog if he enters the room when the gate is open. Go in and out of the room regularly to demonstrate that it is no-go zone. Implement these restrictions several weeks or months before the baby arrives so that your dog does not associate the baby's arrival with exclusion from parts of the home he previously enjoyed.
- Prepare your dog for changes in routine. If before the baby arrives, you make changes in your dog's routine-such as how and when he is walked, fed or receives attention-he will handle those changes better than if they happen all at once. If you are concerned that some of your dog's needs will not be met, consider dog walkers and day cares to assist you when you are very busy. (Test out those options in advance.) Try not to express guilt that the baby will soon take more attention; that can make the transition harder for your dog.
- Prepare your dog for the sights and sounds of a baby. Many dogs bark, jump up or even hide when a baby cries because they are unsure whether something is wrong. The easiest way to anticipate this problem is to buy a doll that giggles and cries like a baby, wrap it in a baby blanket, and carry it with you throughout the house. If the dog becomes upset when the doll cries, correct his behavior to show that you are in control.
- Teach your dog to accept baby scents. Apply to the baby doll the same products (powder, shampoo and lotion) you will use on your baby. Sprinkle some baby powder on the carpeting in the baby room so your dog understands the scent association. Using your changing table or mat, pretend to shampoo or apply lotion to the baby doll, letting your dog smell what you are doing so he learns to accept that these scents are now part of your home. This also gives you the opportunity to correct any bad behavior before your baby comes home. In addition, try to bring home your newborn's blanket or skullcap prior to your baby's arrival so your dog can become accustomed to the baby's scent.
When the baby arrives
- Make introductions on the first day the baby comes home. Your dog will need to "touch scent" the baby to find out what it is. Stand up and securely hold your newborn up high, and let your dog sniff the baby's bottom or feet while another adult controls the dog on a loosely held leash. If the dog misbehaves or is too exuberant, correct his behavior and move the dog away from the baby. Settle the dog down before you attempt to introduce them again.
- Allow frequent supervised visits by your dog. The more the dog and baby are together, the better and less stressed your dog will be. However, be sure to never leave your baby alone in the same room with your dog. Ever.
- Consider crating your indoor dog when you need time alone with the baby. Crating will help you to manage your dog when you're feeding or changing the baby.
- Dispose of soiled diapers thoroughly. The scent will prove very enticing to your dog, so don't leave dirty diapers anywhere your dog can reach them. Dogs have been known to try to get to a diaper when it's still on the baby-another important reason not to leave a dog and a baby alone.
- Keep your dog away from your baby's head. For instance, if you change your baby's diaper on the floor on a mat or blanket, teach your dog to stay off that area and not go near the baby when she's on the floor. Once the diaper is changed, allow your dog to sniff the baby's feet-but never allow the dog to sniff the baby's head or face or lick her fingers. If the baby moves suddenly, the dog can become frightened and his natural instinct will be to duck away or snap at the baby.
- Teach your dog the difference between his toys and your baby's possessions. If you catch your dog stealing or chewing on something belonging to your baby, interrupt the behavior with a vocal correction. Then give your dog an acceptable chew toy and praise him lavishly when he takes the toy in his mouth.
Although it is normal for a dog to be possessive about his toys, food and space, it is NOT acceptable for him to growl or snap at you or your child at any time. If this happens, the situation needs immediate attention.
By following these guidelines, you can make a gentle transition to having a new baby in the house. Your dog will understand that he's still a valuable member of the pack yet there is now a new member, too.
As long as you maintain authority over your dog, and teach your dog and your children the rules of interacting safely and respectfully with each other, your family pack will be peaceful, happy and safe.