When you’re getting close to that big day when your baby comes home, there are a million things to do. Buy a crib, paint the nursery, baby proof. But one thing that you do NOT want to leave to last minute or put on the back burner for later is setting your dog up for success with your new baby.
Every year, hell, every day, dogs are surrendered to shelters and rescues around the world because couples bring home a new baby. They either return them out of fear, because they simply think their baby is suddenly the only important thing in the universe, or because they didn’t take the time to prepare their dog(s) for their new human sibling. Don’t get me wrong, My daughter is my world, but my furry family members were here long before him and I am not about to dump them because my life just got a bit more complicated. So what do you do? You put in some time and effort BEFORE baby comes home to ensure as smooth of a transition as possible.
Introduce your dogs to other babies. Babies are WEIRD little creatures to dogs, especially if they have never seen one before. They don’t smell like the rest of us humans, they cry a lot, they’re loud. Your dogs are bound to either be curious or a bit put off by your new addition. If you have a friend with a baby or young child (and your dog is calm enough), try slowly introducing your dogs to them in a safe, relaxed way over the course of a few weeks before your delivery date. This will make the sudden appearance of their own little guy or gal a lot less startling.
Dogs, as we know, rely heavily on their sense of smell. After your baby is born, wrap them in a blanket and let them get all those delicious baby smells all over it. Then, before you take your baby home from the hospital, have someone bring it back to your house for your dogs. This way, they can smell it, lay on it, and just get used to having this new scent in their home. Then when the baby comes home, they will already be familiar with his/her scent.
You go in first
If your dogs are anything like mine, they probably get a BIT excited when you walk through your front door. Whether I’ve been gone for a few days or I just walked to the end of the driveway to check the mail, all four of our mutts get a little overly happy to see me. I think it’s awesome, but I also wanted the energy level to be much lower and more relaxed when they first met the baby. So, I went inside first and had someone stay in the car with my daughter for the first few minutes. I went in, greeted my overly excited pack, let them outside to run around and get some energy out, and THEN brought the baby inside.
One at a time
If you have a multi-dog pack like we do, it can be helpful to do introductions one at a time. We do this with visitors too, because Ringo is/was fear reactive. It just helps to again keep the energy in the room calmer and quieter during this important first meeting. We let our dogs out in the yard and then let them in one at a time, starting with our calmest, most trustworthy dog first (aka Boomer). Once one dog has sufficiently sniffed and examined the baby and is “over it” for the most part, repeat the process with your next pup.
This one sounds like a no brainer, but it really is a crucial component in this introduction process, as with most any situation involving your dog(s). Even with all the preparation, our dogs were OVER THE MOON excited to meet my daughter when we brought him home. In order to make sure there was no jumping and no accidents, we used three of our favorite commands. Sit, stay, and leave it. Every aspect of this process should be under your strict control.
Once the dogs were let in and smelled my daughter from afar, they were instantly very curious and couldn’t wait to get their noses all up in his business. To keep things running smoothly, I’d ask them to sit and stay and then bring the baby to them to smell. This way, if they get too excited, you can just stand back up and give them some time to calm down before trying again. Or if they get too wiggly and stand up, put them back in a sit/stay. If they try to pull a Boomer and lick your baby’s entire face in one swoop, this is where the leave it command comes in handy! LOL
Baby (Dog-Free) Zone
Once the initial introductions are done, your dogs are bound to continue to a little extra excited for the first few days. Keep interactions safe, short, and on your terms. It’s super important to monitor all interactions closely, now and for the foreseeable future. This is easy to do when the baby is in your arms, but they obviously can’t be there all the time. During naptime and at night, make sure you have designated baby areas that your dogs can’t get to without an invitation.
For us, we have a baby gate on the hallway to the nursery for night time and a Pack ‘n Play set up in the living room. While the dogs technically COULD get into the Pack ‘n Play if they wanted to, we made it clear right away that this was off limits to them. They can stand near it and look at the baby, but cannot jump up or put their paws up on the sides. This is where that training comes in. Be consistent and they will catch on quick.
Set Aside Time for your Dogs
Babies are time consuming. They need you for everything, pretty much all the time, especially in the beginning. If this is your first baby, your dogs are probably used to getting all of that attention. Now that your baby is home, your dogs are probably feeling a little ignored.. and bored. Do your best to set aside some time just for them.
When my daughter takes a nap during the day, I take the baby monitor outside with me and play outside with the dogs. Now that he’s getting a little older, we have started taking him and the dogs on hikes together as well. Short ones, but it’s been so great to get everyone out together. As he continues to grow, the adventures will get longer and the dogs will get more and more exercise. For now, I’m grateful that they’ve been so patient and well behaved, even without the crazy hikes that they’re used to.
Bringing home your new baby should be a joyful time, but it can be stressful too. I hope that by sharing these tips, we can help make the transition an easier one for people with furry family members waiting at home. With proper planning and the right mindset, it really can be an easy transition.