Your fur baby has been the top of the heap in your family, but now there’s a new kid on the block. Bringing home baby is a beautiful time, but it can be stressful for the family pet.
We’ve consulted four pet experts to put together a go-to guide for dogs and babies to help both you and your fur baby feel safe and comfortable with the new family dynamic.
Parenting educator Dympna Kennedy
Parenting educator Dympna Kennedy successfully introduced her newborn to the family’s beloved German Shepherd, who’d been the centre of attention for five years.
“Despite fears and warnings from family and friends that we should find the dog a new home prior to baby arriving, the German Shepherd went on to be the baby’s greatest protector,” she tells Mum’s Grapevine.
Dympna says the key to a harmonious relationship between dogs and babies is preparation:
- If you need to relocate where your dog sleeps and eats, do it well before baby arrives, so your pet doesn’t associate the changes with the newborn.
- Bring home unwashed vests from the hospital with baby’s scent for the dog to smell.
First impressions count
Dogs have long memories, and those first moments will create a lasting impression.
- Unwrapping the baby: Babies who are wrapped make it difficult for the dog to see the baby and they may only hear baby sounds which can bring out the hunting instincts in a dog.
- Inside introduction: Bring the dog into the house to see the baby rather than taking the baby out to meet the dog. The dog will feel he is still important by being brought into the home.
- Scent of a baby: While baby is on your lap, allow the dog to sniff (the scent will be familiar to him having smelt baby’s clothes prior to the baby arriving home).
- Reward your pet: Produce a squeaky toy for the dog and allow the dog to go outside again with his new toy (you create a good first impression of baby with a gift for the dog).
- Treat your pet: Keep dog treats on hand so that every time you are with baby you give the dog a treat (the dog will associate the baby with treats and is being rewarded each time baby is with you).
Dympna Kennedy’s top tips:
- Constant supervision is extremely important in the early days and years when baby becomes more mobile and starts to investigate whether the dog’s tail is attached.
- As babies get moving and on their feet, involve them in feeding the dog. This automatically places the child in higher rank in the ‘pack’ than the dog.
- Things only go wrong when owners have not given their dog the proper and necessary training. If your dog’s been allowed to jump on you prior to baby arriving it is reasonable to expect him to jump on you when holding baby, or jump on baby.
- Any punishment or reprimands will be associated with baby and set the dog up for jealousy.
Puppy preschool owner Amy Smith
Amy Smith, who runs Amy’s Puppy Preschool says while you may want to keep certain areas of the house dog-free zones, don’t do it once your newborn comes home, rather start a couple of months in advance.
Here are Amy’s top tips:
- Keep the dog out of certain rooms easily with baby gates.
- Make it very rewarding and worth your pet’s while to spend time in the new designated areas.
- Use dog toys that dispense food, a nice comfy sleeping area and a crate if the dog is crate trained.
- Does your dog sleep in your room? Introduce some variety in your pet’s sleeping space because you may end up changing your mind, especially during 3am feeds. So re- introduce a crate, sleeping in the laundry or outside of your bedroom and do all these things well before the birth.
Amy has a brilliant app, Sound Proof Puppy Training (available through Google Play and iTunes) that helps introduce dogs to the new sounds that come with a baby.
“It teaches you how to introduce a dog to the noise of a crying baby. It’s a pretty simple concept – play crying sounds to your dog while he is doing something he enjoys like eating, playing fetch or tug of war,” Amy explains.
“This will pair the new sound with something pleasant. Always start with the volume very low; we don’t want to startle the dog or make him react to it, however, you do want him to be aware of the sound.”
Amy Smiths’s top tips:
- Teaching your dog to sit while you carry a baby around is far more appropriate than having your dog jumping up to investigate. You can practice this with a doll and use the app to simulate the sound. Reward your dog for keeping his four feet on the floor or sitting.
- Before you sit down to feed the baby, organise your dog with the management of space and the areas you have set up for it. Use a lead and tie your dog to the leg of the lounge or bring in a dog bed or mat so he can be with you, just not on you. If your dog isn’t used to this exercise you can teach it from any age.
- Sitting down to feed the baby is also a nice time to bring out a favourite enrichment toy and give the dog a job. In fact, don’t feed from bowls anymore – only feed from enrichment toys and feed when you feed. Your dog may end up getting six tiny meals to make up his whole day’s food, but won’t feel like baby feeding time is boring – he will look forward to it.
- Make sure your dog is comfortable walking with you and the pram. Walking close to a pram is going to be new to your dog so put some practice in before bub comes along.
- A golden rule – never tie the dog to the pram.
Dog communicator Tony Knight
‘Dog Listener’ Tony Knight says keeping a dog on a lead during its first meeting with your newborn is important for maintaining control.
- The meeting can be a calm affair if parents know the dog can’t just rush up.
- See what the dog’s initial reaction is. If it gets too excited, pop it into another room without a word until it is calm again.
- Repeat this until the dog gets the idea that not getting overexcited means that it can stay. Then slowly allow the dog to approach.
- It is fine for a dog to be curious about the new arrival, but always supervise the interactions in case the baby does something that spooks the dog (babies make all kinds of weird noises!).
Tony Knight’s top tips:
- Once a young child is old enough to be taught the correct way to interact with dogs, the level of supervision can be eased.
- Dogs can play the part of guardian/teacher incredibly well, but they will use their rules to do it. This can include a punitive nip if personal space is not being respected (by far the most common reason for dog bites).
- Parents would definitely supervise their children if they were near a crocodile! Understanding and respecting the nature of dogs means playing safely.
Pet care expert Sharon Moore
Owner of Petcarers Victoria, Sharon Moore agrees that careful planning should go into the first introduction between dogs and babies.
- It’s important to maintain safety first when introducing your pet to your new baby. Choose a time of day when everyone’s relaxed and bub has had a sleep and a feed.
- Always stay with your baby and your pet, don’t leave them unattended.
- If your dog is allowed on the couch, perhaps have bubs in your arms, and your pet by your side. This way they can sniff and listen, and you can prevent them from licking bubs’ face, or being to0 exuberant.
- If there are two adults in the family home, one can sit with your dog or cat and one with bubs. If there is one adult, put your dog’s lead on and tether them to some strong furniture, and take baby to them. Sit on a chair rather than the floor. This will reduce the chance of your dog jumping on bubs in excitement.
- Use terms like ‘gentle’ and ‘good dog’ when they are interacting gently. Praise them and make it as positive an interaction as you possibly can. If your dog is too full of beans, choose another time when they are more settled, such as after dinner.
Sharon Moore’s top tips:
- Pets, like siblings can feel neglected if they no longer have meaningful time with you. Try your best to still have one on one time with them, walking your dogs, grooming your pet, cuddles and play.
- If your pet is curious about bubs, encourage safe interaction, rather than push them away.
- Pets make wonderful companions for children. They teach children so much about being kind and being responsible for another being, and can make the best playmates.
Please remember when it comes to dogs and babies that every pet is different, and may behave unexpectedly in new situations.
If you’re a family of animal lovers, you might like to explore our list of animal-inspired baby names.