Preparing for a new baby is a whole job in itself. But while you’re in the midst of baby prep, your dog may be blissfully unaware that their world is about to change.
Sometimes dogs and newborns can take to each other immediately, but that Instagram-ready scenario is not as common as you think. When it comes to welcoming a newborn into the family, the change can literally feel like it’s happening overnight for your dog, and any kind of change can be rough on a pet. There are some things you can do, though, to help ease the transition—and set your dog and your kid up for a forever friendship.
Take advantage of the time leading up to your baby’s arrival to brush up on some basic commands and make gradual adjustments to your living space and daily routines.
Review basic commands: Once your baby arrives, your hands will be quite literally full. So, it will be extremely helpful if your dog can understand basic cues such as “go to,” “leave it,” “stay,” and “drop.”
Encourage positive associations: Dogs learn by association, so try to ensure that everything to do with the baby is associated with good things, instead of disruption, deprivation, and annoyance. For example, you might bring a blanket or other item that contains your baby’s scent home from the hospital ahead of the baby’s arrival for your dog to sniff as you give them praise.
Make changes in advance: “Dogs are very sensitive to environmental changes and moveable objects, including anything that changes the human form,” says Jessica Gore, animal behaviorist and certified professional dog trainer, and founder of Competent Pup. “Your pup may be curious or fearful about all this new baby stuff, so be sure to get them used to it well in advance.” And if your dog’s sleeping arrangement is going to change, make that adjustment before the baby arrives.
The meet and greet
When the moment finally arrives for your pet and baby to meet, try to stay calm. It’s an exciting, memorable time, but your dog will feed off of your emotions so it’s best to be cool and not overly animated.
A tired dog is a good dog: If possible, have someone take your dog on a long walk, or give them some other form of exercise to burn energy. Exercise can relax your dog and it also releases mood-stabilizing serotonin that can have a calming effect.
Say hello to your pet first without the baby: Whether you were away from your pet for one night or five, they’ve missed you. They’re going to be excited and may jump or bark, as they usually would. Avoid having to correct them, by walking in by yourself first and let your partner or support system wait outside with the baby.
Make the meeting controlled: Just like when you introduce pets to each other, you want space and control so that physical separation is easy if needed. Small tight spaces, like entryways, aren’t ideal. Have the baby in a car seat, crib, or in your arms, with all limbs safely tucked in. Allow your dog to sniff, starting with the feet. After a few seconds of calm sniffing, call the dog’s name in a happy voice, and give treats.
Leash your dog or use a baby gate: During the first exposure, keep your dog on a loose leash; when the dog is calm and relaxed approach the other person holding the baby. Keep in mind that you can also keep your dog completely separate for a few days or longer. “It’s perfectly okay not to initiate contact at first,” says Dominika Knossalla, certified dog trainer and the co-founder of Dog Meets Baby. “During this time your dog will be able to observe and smell the baby from a distance.”
Once the baby is home
Keep in mind that not all pets will react the same or follow a prescribed timeline. Multi-pet households will see this firsthand, with one pet gravitating toward the baby and the other perhaps ignoring the baby altogether. No matter, you can help your pet and baby bond with time, patience, and the same amount of love you’ve always given them.
Keep up with routines: It won’t be easy all of the time, but try to mirror the same amount of attention your pet would typically get. If your dog is used to daily walks or fetch time, enlist your partner or someone in your support system to take over for a while. You might also consider using a dog walker if you’re able.
If your dog is fearful, help them work through it: Some dogs may not be socialized to babies or have much experience with them at all, which can lead to a natural, fearful response. If your pet seems excessively fearful of your baby, you may want to consider hiring a certified professional trainer who can work with counterconditioning and desensitization exercises.
Always supervise when they’re together: The truth is, your pet could unintentionally harm your baby, even if they love each other from the start. They might not realize their own strength and their curiosity might get the better of them. So unless you’re using a pet gate, always stay alert when they’re together.
Follow your pet’s lead and encourage their interest: New parents can observe when their pup seems intrigued or willing to participate, give them a task to do, and reward accordingly. It’s important to pay attention to your dog when the baby is awake and this is one great way to acknowledge them both in a positive way and help their bond grow.
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