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Today's Family Magazine

How to prepare your dog for bringing home your baby

By Pam Moore

Sleep when the baby sleeps.

Take a shower every day, no matter what.

Have date night at least twice a month.

Expectant parents receive lots of advice on how to prepare themselves for life with a baby.  But what about preparing the family dog?  Just like new parents, dogs need lots of support when welcoming a baby to the family.

Before baby arrives
Experts agree, making sure your dog is well-behaved before your baby arrives is key.  According to Daryl Young, a world-renowned dog trainer with over 40 years of experience, “Training your dog establishes a way to communicate what you like and do not like to your dog.  A dog that understands certain behaviors such as jumping, nipping, and pulling on a leash are not permitted will be much easier to control when making the introduction to baby.”  Heather Corum, lead obedience instructor for Canine Company, advises parents to begin obedience training or take a refresher course as soon as they find out they’re pregnant.

Caleb Backe, pet health and wellness expert, says one of the biggest mistakes people make is ignoring the bad behavior their dog is already displaying and expecting it to subside once the baby arrives.  In reality, your dog is likely to have difficulty adjusting to the new family dynamic, which will only exacerbate the issues.  And once the baby arrives, you won’t have time to train your dog.

Even the most well-behaved dog will need help acclimating to a new routine (or lack thereof) when your baby comes home.  According to experts, there are plenty of ways to prep in advance.  Young recommends taking your dog on walks or feeding him at different times than usual.  Veterinarian Dr. Lisa Lippman recommends giving your dog less attention as your due date draws near.  “Getting used to not constantly being the center of attention will enable your dog to cope better once the baby arrives and takes up much of your time and energy.”  It’s especially important to establish new routines well in advance, in order to minimize the likelihood of your dog associating his schedule disruption with the baby.

Experts also recommend getting your dog used to baby dolls and baby items in advance.  Exposing him to dolls, strollers, onesies, blankets, and even baby sounds (with the help of an app) will not only help your dog get accustomed to the baby, but it will also create an opportunity to troubleshoot any issues (i.e. your dog nipping at the doll).  Once the baby is born, Dr. Lippman encourages parents to bring home something the baby has worn before bringing the baby home.  “Let the dog sniff it from a distance, and then allow them to get closer and closer.”

Parents should also practice creating rules and boundaries in the nursery while it’s still unoccupied.  Young advises parents to make certain things clear using a doll.  “No jumping on crib.  No pulling blankets or sheets that may hang down from the crib.  Do not enter baby’s room unless invited by parents.  Once the baby is home go through the same routines you practiced with the doll.”  

Once you bring baby home
It’s never a good idea to leave your baby and your dog alone without parental supervision.  No matter how well you know your dog, you can never assume he’ll react as you expect in any given situation.  Says Young, “babies look feel and may smell like a dog toy.  Dogs can easily and unintentionally injure or even kill a baby.”  Corum cautions that even the most well-behaved dog “can become alarmed by a newborn’s strange noises and flailing arms and legs and react suddenly, putting the baby in danger.”  She advises parents to always stay between the dog and the baby and to keep the baby elevated in case of sudden moves.

Even the most loving dog will feel miffed by the new baby’s arrival.  To minimize jealousy, professionals encourage parents to give dogs as much focused attention as possible.  Corum advises new parents to continue to praise their dog and maintain their functional obedience.  Dr. Lippman says parents should make an effort to engage with their pup while the baby is in the room.  “You don't want your dog to think that good things happen for them only when the baby is out of sight or asleep.”

While you can give your dog snuggles, treats, and positive reinforcement without taking too much time out of your hectic day, Backe says not to skimp on giving your dog adequate exercise.  He suggests hiring a dog walker a few times a week if getting out with your dog isn’t realistic.

As eager as you may be for your newborn to snuggle up with your four-legged baby, you should never force a relationship.  Backe reminds parents that it’s natural for dogs to be wary of a new baby initially.  He says to be patient and remember they’ll have plenty of years to become buddies.  Dr. Lippman advises parents to take it slow when introducing your dog and your baby.  “Allow your dog to sniff the baby from a distance, then gradually work up to closer contact.”

To teach your dog how to be safe with the baby and to encourage bonding, Corum has specific guidelines:  “Praise him when he sniffs or gently nuzzles the baby.  Say “no” firmly if he gets too excited, then immediately give praise when he calms down to help him understand what type of behavior is appropriate around this tiny new friend.”

Dogs know when you’re pregnant (or scared, sad, or about to take them to the vet).  But your dog’s unique ability to tune into human emotions doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll become a baby whisperer once Junior arrives.  Your dog will need plenty of help managing the transition. But with pro tips up your sleeve, love in your heart, and treats in your pocket, you’re just the one to help him.