BEFORE BABY ARRIVES
The earlier you can help prep your dog to your upcoming baby’s arrival - the better! A lot will change, and prep work can go a long way to help your dog slowly acclimate and transition!
Set up supplies months in advance before baby’s arrival. This will minimize trigger stacking as you navigate a new routine.
Practice walking with a stroller, carrying a doll like a baby, and practice “quiet time”.
Play baby sounds while your pup eats meals, chews on toys, or is playing to help create positive association with baby sounds. Watch for inappropriate or unwanted behavior too!
Address any behavior issues immediately, as your new arrival will inevitably cause some stress (especially for anxious or impulsive dogs)! Get ahead of a potential nightmare, now!
CONTROL BEHAVIORS AND COMMANDS
Work on commands to better control and manage your dog and teach your dog the context before baby arrives! Practice skills every day, and begin incorporating them into your daily routine. The more consistently you practice, the easier it will be! (No more waiting until ‘later’!)
Teach and practice the following skills:
Wait / barrier control: stay behind the line
Self-entertainment with food / chew toys (meals = work … no bowls!)
Loose lead walking: no pulling, walk with handler
Leave-it!: disengage and walk away
Place!: get on your bed and stay there
Settle-down: shift your hip, lower your head, and go to sleep
Back up: move back and wait there
Revisit crate training to give dog a chance to decompress / safe space
BRINGING HOME BABY
The first few days home may be a challenge, here’s a few things to do as you get closer to your due date (and beyond):
If you get a chance, have someone bring the baby’s blanket to the dog prior to your arrival. This way the dog will be familiar with the baby’s scent without the over-stimulation of the owners coming home.
Ensure dog has been exercised, does not need to be relieved, and is managed (crate, baby gate, separate room, kennel, etc) or occupied (tethered with. Chew, kong, etc) when you enter the home
Prep frozen kongs etc and fill your freezer so your dog can be entertained and pacified for prolonged periods of time (no bowl!)
Ensure dog is calm, settled, and initially disengaged from baby before allowing your dog to sniff (have a helper hold the dog on leash!)
Let dog drag a “house line” around in order to easily redirect (without being super intrusive)
Consider hiring a dog walker to help meet the dog’s needs while parents settle into a new routine.
Good management and prevention will help everyone settle in with minimal conflict.
Ensure your dog has familiar people in the home before ‘strangers’ enter to meet the baby.
Have someone designated to handle and work the dog as you adjust to your new routine
Keep interactions short and sweet - 2 seconds and redirect the dog!
Never reprimand, punish, or correct the dog around the baby, or they may associate the baby with negative things
Always keep an eye on your dog’s body language. Never push the dog to interact and allow the dog time to decompress!
Fussy baby, lack of sleep, too much to do, other kids to take care of, full time job, random work hours, moving or building a home, health issues in the family, the list goes on and on … as things can be overwhelming, make a reminder to add “check in on dog’s needs” to that list, and review it on a regular basis.
Has your dog exhibited any increase in anxiety since baby’s arrival? Any behavior changes? Any prey drive behaviors?
Are dog’s needs being met? Meals, mental/physical stimulation, affection, play, grooming, veterinary care / vaccines, etc?
Does dog continue to have positive experiences around baby?
Is it time to hire a mid-day dog walker, or ask a friend/neighbor to help with dog?
Is boarding or daycare a viable option to give family a “break”?
RAISING BABY WITH DOG
Prevention, management, training, and reinforcing a new routine is just as applicable to your baby! As your new child grows and matures, there will be different challenges. Supervised interactions are critical, and setting boundaries for crawling babies is critical too!
Teach children to respect the dog’s space (think toddlers reaching, grabbing, climbing, etc…)
Observe body language and ensure to redirect dog before it escalates!
Always give the dog an escape route - so that it has the opportunity to avoid stressful situations. Does the dog come back for more interaction?
Be careful! Do not confuse tolerance with acceptance!
THE TROUBLE WITH TODDLERS
Babies have their own challenges, but things often get exponentially harder when the toddler stage arrives. As kids become more adventurous and curious, the risk to stress or trigger the dog is significantly greater. Issues include:
Sporadic movement and impulsive kiddos
Inappropriate interactions that cause dogs to associate toddler as negative: grabbing dog, pulling on dog, climbing on dog, laying on dog, screaming loudly, etc.
Revisit and work on handling desensitization and counter conditioning
May be time to increase management (gates, confinement, etc)