When you bring a new baby home, your dog will face an overwhelming number of novel sights, sounds and smells. She may find some of them upsetting, especially if she didn’t have opportunities to spend time with children as a puppy. You’ll drastically alter your daily routine, so your dog’s schedule will change, too. And, out of necessity, she’ll get less of your time and attention. It may be a difficult time for her, especially if she’s been the “only child” for a while.
To make things go as smoothly as possible for everyone, it’s important to take some time to prepare your dog for the arrival of your new addition. In the months before the baby comes, you’ll focus on two things:
1. Teaching your dog the skills she’ll need to interact safely with her new family member
2. Helping your dog adjust to the many new experiences and changes ahead
Making a Plan
If your baby’s arrival is still many months away, that’s great! Sticking to the following training plan can help you reach your goals, right on schedule. If you’re getting started a little late in the game, don’t worry. It’s not too late to start working with your dog. She’ll still benefit from any training you can accomplish before your baby’s birth.
- Right now Teaching your dog some basic obedience skills will help you manage her behavior when the baby comes. Please see the section below, Teaching Your Dog Important New Skills, for specific training guidelines. Consider enrolling in a group class to get a head start. (To learn how to locate a qualified trainer in your area, please see our article on Finding Professional Help.)
- Four months before the baby comes Gradually introduce your dog to the new experiences, sights, sounds and smells she’ll encounter when you bring your baby home, and associate these new things with rewards. This will help your dog learn to love life with the baby.
- One to two months before the baby comes Anticipate the changes you’ll make to your dog’s daily routine, and start making those changes.
Teaching Your Dog Important New Skills
Having good verbal control of your dog can really help when it comes to juggling her needs and the baby’s care. The following skills are particularly important.
- Hand targeting If your dog is nervous or timid, teaching her to target your hand with her nose will give her something to do when she’s around the baby, which might make her feel more comfortable and confident. Please see our article on Teaching Your Dog to Hand Target to learn how teach this skill. After your dog learns how to target your hand, you can even teach her to gently touch the baby with her nose!
- Please go away Teaching your dog to go away when you ask will enable you to control her movements and interactions with your baby. For example, you can use this cue to tell your dog to move away from the baby if he’s crawling toward her and she seems uncomfortable. Many dogs don’t realize that moving away is an option! If she learns that she can simply walk away from the baby when he makes her nervous, she’ll never feel trapped in a stressful situation—and she won’t be forced to express her anxiety by growling or snapping. Here’s how to teach your dog this invaluable skill:
1. Show her a treat, say “Go away,” and toss the treat four or five feet away from you. Repeat this sequence many times.
2. The next step is to refrain from tossing the treat until your dog starts to move away. Say “Go away,” and move your arm as though you’re tossing a treat. pen your dog moves in the direction of your gesture, even if she only takes one step, say “Yes!” Then immediately toss a treat four or five feet away, in the direction your dog started to move.
3. After more repetitions, try waiting until your dog takes several steps away before you say “Yes!” and toss the treat.
- Play fetch Teaching your dog to play fetch with a toy can prepare her for safe, fun interaction with your child. Please see our article on Teaching Your Dog to Play Fetch to learn more about this great game.
If You Need Help
Dog training is a lot of fun, but it can be challenging sometimes. Don’t hesitate to get help from a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) if you need it. A CPDT can help you teach your dog all kinds of new things in a group class or private setting. Please see our article on Finding Professional Help to locate a CPDT in your area.
Preparing Your Dog for Lifestyle Changes
Many dogs experience anxiety when their lifestyles are drastically altered. Although things will change with the arrival of your new baby, you can minimize your dog’s stress by gradually getting her used to these changes in advance.
Plan and Practice Changes to Your Daily Routine
- If you can predict how your schedule will change when the baby comes, begin a slow transition toward that new schedule now. If you plan to nap in the afternoon when the baby is sleeping, start taking occasional afternoon naps. If you plan to walk your dog at different times of day, gradually switch to the new routine.
- Life with a baby can be hectic and sometimes unpredictable. It may help to prepare your dog for a less consistent daily schedule. Try varying the time you feed your dog. For example, if she gets breakfast every morning at 7:00 am sharp, start feeding her at random times between 6:00 am and 10:00 am. Alternatively, you can plan to stick to your dog’s regular schedule with the help of an automatic feeder, such as the Furry Feeder® or the KongTime™ feeding toy dispenser. These products have built-in timers, so you can set them to deliver food at set times each day, whether you’re around or not.
- Consider hiring a dog walker to take over the responsibility of exercising your dog, at least for the first few weeks after the baby arrives. Interview dog walkers and choose one now. To help your dog get used to leaving your house without you, you can have the dog walker start taking her on occasional walks.
- If your dog enjoys playing with other dogs, consider taking her to a doggie daycare once or twice a week after the baby comes. Investigate your options now, and have your dog spend time at the daycare so that she gets used to this new activity. (To learn more about dog daycares, please see our article Daycare for Dogs.) Alternatively, you can plan to take your dog to friends’ or family members’ houses once or twice a week for some quality time with people she knows and likes. Begin these visits now.
- If you’re really ambitious, you can practice getting up in the middle of the night with your dog. Teach her to settle quietly in an area where you plan to nurse the baby.
Minimize Changes in Attention
Resist the temptation to lavish your dog with extra attention in the weeks before the baby’s due date. This will only set her up for a bigger letdown when the baby comes and takes center stage. Instead, start scheduling short play and cuddle sessions with your dog, and gradually give her less and less attention at other times of day. Schedule your sessions randomly so that your dog doesn’t come to expect attention at any particular time.
Make New Rules Now
When the baby comes home, some of your dog’s privileges will likely change. It will be easiest for her to accept these changes if you institute new rules in advance.
- If you don’t want your dog on the furniture or the bed after the baby arrives, introduce that restriction now.
- If you don’t want your dog to jump up on you when you’re carrying your new baby or holding him in your lap, start teaching her to keep all four of her paws on the floor. Please see our article on Teaching Your Dog Not to Jump Up on People for specific training guidelines.
- If your dog is used to sleeping in bed with you and you want that to change with the baby’s arrival, provide a comfortable dog bed that she can use instead. If necessary, you can place the new bed in an exercise pen or a crate to prevent her from jumping up onto your bed during the night. (For information about teaching your dog to sleep in a crate, please see our article on Weekend Crate Training.) Likewise, if you want your dog to sleep in another room when the baby arrives, establish this habit well in advance.
- Even if your dog adores children, she might accidentally scratch your baby’s delicate skin while riding beside him in the car. Consider installing a car barrier, purchasing a dog seatbelt or teaching your dog to relax in a crate when she’s in the car. You can find barriers, special seatbelts and crates at most major pet stores.
- Having a vocal dog in your home can be a great deterrent to burglars, and many people appreciate their dog’s watchdog skills. However, when your baby’s trying to take a nap, your dog’s barking at falling leaves, neighbors and scurrying squirrels outside will get old very quickly. Now is the time to start teaching her that she doesn’t have to be quite so vigilant. To learn how to discourage her from continually sounding the alarm, please see our article on Barking.
If the Baby’s Room Will Be Off-Limits
- Some people decide that they’d like their dog to wait outside the baby’s room unless invited in. The easiest way to accomplish this is to teach your dog to sit-stay or down-stay by the door. (Please see our article on Teaching Your Dog to Stay for training help.)
- When you’re not training, keep the baby’s door closed or install a tall baby gate in the doorway so that your dog gets used to restricted access.
If the Baby’s Room Won’t Be Off-Limits
- Put a dog bed in an out-of-the-way spot in the baby’s room, and keep a container of dog treats in the room. Every once in a while, leave a few treats on your dog’s bed when she’s not looking. Later on, she can discover them on her own. She’ll learn to love her new spot in the baby’s room!
- You can train your dog to settle on her new bed in the baby’s room when you need her to stay out of the way. (For training tips, please see our article on Teaching Your Dog to Settle.)
- If you plan to spend time in the baby’s room when you’re nursing or rocking him to sleep, teach your dog to spend quiet time in the room with you. While you sit in a chair, your dog can relax on her bed. Try giving her a new chew bone or a stuffed KONG to work on during your quiet-time sessions. (Please see our article on How to Stuff a KONG Toy to learn about using food-puzzle toys.) After the baby comes, when you rock or feed him, you can occasionally toss a treat to your dog while she’s lying on her bed. This practice will make her happy to be around the baby and reward her for staying in her spot during quiet time.
- If you don’t have time to teach your dog the Stay cue, you can use a leash or tether attached to a heavy piece of furniture to remind her to stay on her bed. If you prefer, you can screw an eye hook into a baseboard to secure the tether. This practice will allow your dog to enjoy time with you and the baby but prevent her from jumping up or pawing at you.
- To some dogs, a crib might seem like the perfect place for a cozy nap! If your dog is agile enough to climb into your baby’s crib, it’s important to let her know now that she’ll never be allowed to curl up there. If she approaches the crib and spends more than a few seconds investigating it, simply call her to come to you. If she complies, praise her warmly. (Please see our article on Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called for training tips.) If your dog tries to jump up to put her front paws on the crib, immediately clap your hands and say “Off!” in a firm tone of voice. Then take her by the collar and lead her away from the crib. If you think she might try to sneak into the crib when you’re not supervising her, keep the baby’s door closed or use a baby gate to block the doorway.
Preparing Your Dog for New Experiences
For dogs who haven’t spent much time with them, babies can seem like pretty bizarre—and even frightening—creatures. They make loud, screeching noises, they smell different, they definitely don’t look like grown-up humans, and they move in strange ways. It’s a good idea to introduce your dog to as many baby-like sights, sounds, smells and movements as possible so that some aspects of the baby are familiar when you bring him home.
Introduce Your Dog to Baby Sights, Sounds and Smells
- Unwrap new baby supplies, such as toys, car seats, highchairs and swings, from their packaging and introduce them to your dog one or two at a time. You can also place smaller items on the floor when you’re around to supervise your dog. Let her investigate them, but if she picks them up, immediately redirect her attention to one of her own toys or chew bones. (Keep in mind that it might be difficult for your dog to tell the difference between her things and the baby’s! That’s why it’s important to help her start learning now.)
- Start to use a little bit of the baby’s lotions, shampoos, creams and powders on yourself so that your dog associates them with a familiar person. If you can, borrow clothes and blankets that smell like a baby to get the dog used to that smell, too.
- If your dog is sensitive to strange noises, she might become agitated or frightened when she hears the baby cry. To help her get used to the sound in advance, purchase a recording of realistic baby noises and play it frequently. (You can find these recordings at www.amazon.com, www.puplife.com, www.soundtherapy4pets.com or www.dogwise.com. We recommend Terry Ryan’s CD, Sounds Good CD: Babies.) Whenever you play the recording, give your dog plenty of attention, treats and anything else she likes. After 5 to 10 minutes, turn the recording off and ignore your dog for half an hour or so. Do this several times a day. Instead of becoming afraid or upset when she hears baby sounds, she’ll learn to look forward to them because they predict attention and treats for her! If you try this procedure and find that your dog seems really afraid of the recorded baby noises, you may need to start with the volume very low. When she gets used to the sound at a low level, you can gradually increase the volume. Remember to give her plenty of delicious treats, like bits of cheese, hot dog or chicken, every time she hears the baby sounds.
Practice with a Doll
Some behaviorists recommend purchasing a lifelike doll and using it to simulate common activities you’ll do with the baby, such as feeding, carrying and rocking. Of course, your dog will quickly discover that the doll isn’t a real baby, but her initial reactions to it may help you determine which obedience skills you should focus on before the baby’s arrival. The doll can also help you practice caring for the baby and interacting with your dog at the same time.
- Some dogs will jump up when you lift a doll and hold it your arms. It’s important to plan what you’ll do if this happens. A good solution is to ask your dog to stay in a sit or down whenever you hold, lift or handle the doll. (Please see our articles on Teaching Your Dog to Sit, Teaching Your Dog to Lie Down, Teaching Your Dog to Stay and Teaching Your Dog Not to Jump Up for training help.)
- You can use the doll to teach your dog to gently give kisses. If you have sanitary concerns, you can teach her to lick the doll’s feet only. Praise your dog for any kind of gentle contact with the doll, and give her plenty of treats.
- If your dog tries to bite the doll (knowing that it’s not a real baby, she might think it’s a toy), say “No.” Then immediately redirect her attention to an appropriate toy, and praise her enthusiastically if she plays with that instead. Teach her to be extremely gentle with anything you’re holding in your arms like a baby.
Prepare Your Dog for the Baby’s Touch and Movement
When your child is old enough to understand the lesson, you’ll teach him to handle your dog gently. However, not knowing any better, young babies often grab dogs’ fur, ears, tails and anything else within reach. To prepare your dog for this inevitability, accustom her to the types of touching you can expect from your baby, including grabbing, poking, pushing and pulling. If you teach your dog that good things happen when she gets poked and prodded, she’ll be able to better tolerate potentially uncomfortable interactions with the baby.
Poke the pup Poke your dog gently and then give her a treat. Gently tug on her ear and then give a treat. Gently grab her skin or pinch her and then give a treat. In a cheery voice, say something like “Oh, what was that?” each time you poke, pull or pinch your dog. Later on, when the baby does these things, you can say the same phrase. With repetition, your dog will start to anticipate tasty treats and simply look to you each time she gets pinched or grabbed. Practice these handling exercises four to eight times per day, and use especially exciting treats, like cheese, chicken or hot dogs. (Training sessions can be short—about five minutes long.) When you start your training, be very gentle. Over time, make your touches more intense, like they will be when the baby delivers them.
Some dogs have never seen a human crawl, so it can be an intimidating experience—especially because crawling puts a person right at their eye level. So it’s a good idea to help your dog get used to crawling before your baby starts to become mobile. Accomplishing this is easy! Crawl toward your dog. As soon as she lifts her head to look at you, pet her and give her treats. Eventually, she’ll start to anticipate fun and goodies when she seems you crawling in her direction. Everyone in the family should participate in this exercise. When your baby comes and your dog is completely comfortable with this new game, incorporate the baby into the picture, too. Have him sit on your back, supported by your partner, when you crawl. Remember to cuddle your dog and give her treats so that she continues to enjoy this strange, new human behavior!
After the Baby Comes
If your dog has never lived with children before, it might be difficult to predict how she’ll behave when you bring home your new baby. To ensure a good first impression, please follow the guidelines in our article on Introducing Your Dog to Your New Baby.
Most dogs quickly view a baby as an integral part of the family. They easily adopt the roles of protector and playmate, and they’re thoroughly tolerant of children’s antics. However, some dogs find toddlers unpleasant and frightening, especially if they haven’t been well socialized to children during puppyhood. To increase the likelihood that your dog will adjust well to your baby as he grows up and becomes more mobile, please follow the guidelines in our article on Preparing Your Dog for Life with a Toddler.
- Kids and Dogs: A Professional’s Guide to Helping Families by Colleen Pelar
- Living with Kids and Dogs…Without Losing Your Mind by Colleen Pelar
- Raising Puppies & Kids Together: A Guide for Parents by Pia Silvani and Lynn Eckhardt