Bringing home a new baby is of course a time of joy, but it can also be very stressful for new parents as well as their dogs. From the time a new baby comes home, everything is different — the schedule, sights, sounds, and smells. Last but not least, the lion’s share of what was the dog’s attention and affection get bestowed on the newcomer instead. With a little planning, good management, and a conscious effort to meet the dog’s needs as well as the baby’s, the transition to the new pack order is made much easier.
Preparing for the New Arrival
Don’t wait until the baby comes to practice how you’re going to manage your dog. Where will he be when you’re nursing or providing for the baby’s needs? Is he even allowed in the nursery? Make those decisions and practice with a doll long before your real baby comes home. Go ahead and set up the nursery, bouncers, and other baby equipment as soon as you can so your dog is already familiar with them before the additional impact of a baby.
Take a walk with your dog and your empty stroller to work out any leash-walking kinks before you actually need to walk your dog while pushing a stroller with your baby in it. Make sure your dog is responding reliably to the commands “sit,” “wait,” and “settle,” no matter what position you’re in when you give the command — sitting or lying on the couch or in the rocking chair, or with a baby carrier strapped to your chest.
There are quite a few baby-noise CDs available to help you accustom your dog to the new and unusual sounds that he’ll hear when your new baby arrives. Start playing the recordings at a low volume to start, gradually increasing the volume as your dog gets better at following commands and remaining calm in spite of the racket.
When the baby is born, sacrifice an old T-shirt or sweatshirt to the cause. Let dad wear or sit on it for a little while, then mom, and then wrap the baby in it (or roll it up with the one of the baby’s hospital swaddling blankets). Give it to your dog to use as a bed or crate mat before you bring the baby home. The mixture of scents will familiarize your dog with the scent of the new baby, along with reassuring him that mom and dad have already accepted the baby into the pack.
After Baby Comes Home
Some dogs will quite happily accept anyone their people do, but others will need some assistance and reassurance during the adjustment period. To hasten the acceptance process, include your dog in the baby-care process just by allowing him to be present. Don’t isolate your dog, but instead make sure good things happen for him when the baby is around. The dog should get some special treats whenever he responds calmly in the baby’s presence.
Your infant should never be left unattended with your dog, even if your dog is normally very good and gentle with your baby. Even the nicest dog can unintentionally hurt an infant, along with the possibility of the sounds and movements of an infant inciting the dog’s natural prey drive. It only takes a moment for tragedy to occur — it’s just not worth the risk.
Your time will be precious, especially the first few weeks, while you all adjust to the changes in the household. Be creative and find ways to productively occupy your dog to replace some of the attention and exercise that he’d normally receive. Feed him from a treat-dispensing toy like a Buster Cube, Leo puzzle, or stuffed Kong toys, instead of from a bowl for a few weeks to occupy his attention and energy without making him feel left out.
If you have a high-energy dog, arrange for someone (a family member, friend, neighbor, or paid dog walker) to come and exercise your dog once or twice a day for at least the first few weeks until you’re adjusted to your new routine. It’s not unusual for dogs to revert to grabbing inappropriate objects like they did in puppyhood just to get some attention.