Your fur baby has been at the top of the heap in your family, but soon there’s going to be a new kid on the block. And the time to start preparing to introduce your dog to your baby is well before the birth.
Getting pooch ready for baby while you’re still pregnant helps your dog adjust to the new family dynamic in plenty of time. It’s the perfect time to introduce new sights and smells and even take them for walks with the pram. The training continues right up to the birth, and even once you bring baby home.
How to safely introduce your dog to the baby
Things are about to get hectic in the family dog’s little world. They’ve been a special family member, and there’s a whole new being about to enter their space. So start around 12 weeks before baby is due and help fido adjust to a world with a new little face.
They love the familiar – their favourite snoozy spot, having their dinner at the same time, cuddling during movie night. They’re a lot like humans that way! But if there are behaviours that may cause a problem once there’s a baby around, so it’s a good idea to address them well before baby comes home. So before introducing your dog and baby, here’s how you need to prepare:
1. Get dog training
If the dog has never been to obedience school, it’s time to get an education. They need to learn to listen to commands, starting with simple ones like sit and stay. Pooch may be used to jumping up to say hello when you get home, but you don’t want this happening when you have a pregnant belly to protect. Also, think about how your dog behaves around children. Are they playful with kids when you’re out walking, or are they fearful of the loud little beings?
The best way to deal with behaviour is to train your dog. And don’t believe the old saying – you most certainly can teach an old dog new tricks, even if they skipped puppy preschool!
2. Teach boundaries
There are lots of changes happening in the house now – new furniture in the nursery and throughout the house. Let your dog become familiar with the new things, but also teach them boundaries. The bassinet isn’t for jumping up on and neither is the nursing chair.
Parenting educator Dympna Kennedy suggests if there needs to be changes made to the dog’s living area, do this now. “If you need to relocate where your dog sleeps and eats, do it well before the new baby arrives, so your pet doesn’t associate the changes with the newborn.”
If you need to keep the dog completely out of certain rooms, install baby gates. But keep your pet happy in the areas they are allowed in by providing new toys and comfy bedding. Amy’s Puppy Preschool owner Amy Smith says it’s also handy to think about where your dog will be sleeping once baby comes home. “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.”
3. Introduce new sounds
It’s time to start getting your furry friend used to the sights and sounds of a new baby. Doing this a few weeks before baby’s arrival means by the time your newborn comes home, your pooch is far more comfortable with the sound of a baby.
Use an app like Sound Proof Puppy Training, to help your dog get used to baby noises. “It teaches you how to introduce a dog to the noise of a crying baby,” explains Amy Smith from Amy’s Puppy Preschool. “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.
“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.”
4. Teach the dog to sit while you hold the baby
It’s also really helpful to teach your dog to sit while you’re carrying a baby. It’s safer and calmer for you, the baby and the dog. 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 (in this case the doll), 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 the perfect 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.”
5. Go for walks with an empty pram
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. But don’t ever tie the dog’s lead to the pram.
6. Introduce new smells
Have your partner or someone the dog knows take home some unwashed baby clothes from the hospital to smell. This helps it become a familiar scent, rather than something new once the new baby comes home.
7. Keep the dog on a lead
The big day has finally arrived – your fur baby is about to meet your newborn. It worth remembering that no matter how much preparation you’ve put in, your dog is going to be super excited. You’ve been gone for a while, so it’s only natural they’ll be a bit hyper.
‘Dog Listener’ Tony Knight recommends keeping a dog on a lead during its first meeting with your newborn. “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 your dog to approach.
“It is fine for a dog to be curious about baby’s arrival, but always supervise the interactions in case the baby does something that spooks the dog (babies make all kinds of weird noises!).”
8. Make introductions indoors
Bring the dog into the house to see the baby, rather than taking the baby outside. It will help your dog feel they’re still important.
9. Introduce the dog with baby unswaddled
When you do finally show your dog the new baby, make sure they’re unswaddled. “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,” explains parenting educator Dympna Kennedy.
10. Reward good behaviour
While your newborn is on your lap, allow your dog sniff away – the scent should now be familiar. After a calm, happy greeting, reward your dog with a squeaky toy, and keep treats on hand. “Every time you are with baby give the dog a treat and the dog will associate the baby with treats and is being rewarded each time baby is with you.”
11. Keep up the learning
There’s nothing sweeter than watching your dog and your baby grow up together. And for your dog, just like your baby, the learning never ends. Each new age and stage brings new things for your pooch to get used to.
Once your baby is walking, get them to help feed the dog every day. This automatically places the child in a higher rank in the ‘pack’ than the dog. Just make sure you never leave your child and the dog alone when feeding is happening. Also, make teaching your child to be kind and responsible for their dog part of the learning process.
Finally, remember that dogs can easily feel neglected if they’re no longer having one-on-one time with you. Carve out special moments with your pet, for grooming, playing, walking, and cuddles. And they’ll reward you by being the best fur-sibling ever.
If you’re a family of animal lovers, you might like to explore our list of animal-inspired baby names.