Why should you prepare your dog for your new baby? From your dog’s point of view, a baby is a strange creature. It screams and thrashes, coos and gurgles. It smells funny. It also consumes the energy of previously devoted pet owners. Weeks go by and suddenly your once well-behaved dog is chewing on the furniture. There you are, sleep deprived and overwhelmed by diapers and feedings. What do you do? Do you put the dog in the yard all day? Ask family to take him, even if it breaks your heart?
The key is preparation. You need to decide well ahead of time how your dog’s routines will change and how he will get the exercise he needs. Babies and dogs can and do live together in harmony, but not by chance.
Before Baby Arrives
8 weeks before due date:
- Holding a doll, practice having your dog sit for people coming in the door.
- Start walking your dog with the stroller.
- Brush up on your dog’s basic manners.
6 weeks before due date:
- Call dog sitters and arrange for care while you are at the hospital.
- Add sitters’ names to your Hospital Contact list.
- Put up ex-pens and baby gates in appropriate areas.
- Begin confinement practice. Put your dog in the confinement area for 10–15 minutes with a stuffed Kong or chew bone.
5 weeks before due date:
- Create dog care instructions for your sitter and include your vet’s name and number.
- Call dog walkers and schedule interviews.
- Give your dog a stuffed Kong on his mat while you read a book in your nursing chair.
4 weeks before due date:
- Choose a dog walker and add him or her to your Hospital Contact list.
- Finalize your dog walking schedule.
- Put a doll in the baby swing and have your dog practice doing a stay on his mat.
3 weeks before due date:
- Hide your house keys in a safe location for your dog sitter or be sure they have an extra set.
- Write care instructions for your dog walker. Include where your dog should be left if you are not at home when your dog is returned.
- Arrange for your dog walker to receive your house keys and schedule a trial run.
2 weeks before due date:
- At this point, you may want your dog to begin his schedule with the dog walker.
- Schedules are great for babies and dogs. Try to anticipate and practice your new daily routine and to get your dog accustomed to less of your attention.
1 week before due date: Take a deep breath and relax!
Questions to answer before baby arrives:
Will your dog be allowed in the nursery?
- No? Buy a baby gate and block your dog’s access to the room now.
- Yes? Choose a safe spot for your dog to hang out and place a doggie mat or bed there.
Will your dog be allowed on the furniture in the living room once baby arrives?
- No? If he’s currently allowed on the couch/chairs, make the change now.
- Yes? Where will your dog be while you are on the couch with the baby?
- Also consider where baby’s toys will be stored, and where your dog’s toys will be stored.
Will your dog be sleeping in your bedroom?
- No? If he currently does, make the change now.
- Yes? Will he be on a dog bed? In a crate? Work on the change now.
Will your dog be allowed in the kitchen during mealtimes?
- No? Where will he be instead? Do you need a baby gate?
- Yes? Where will he be and what will he be doing?
Arriving Home with Baby
If you are having the baby outside of your home save the first blanket you use to swaddle the baby or the first hat the baby wears. Send someone home with the blanket or hat and have them place it on the arm of the couch or somewhere else that the dog will be able to investigate the scent, but not confuse it for a toy.
When you arrive home, if possible, have another person hold the baby and carry her into the house while you go in and give your dog attention. Remember that you may have been away for several days and your dog will probably be excited to see you.
After you’ve greeted your dog and allowed him to settle, take your new baby in your arms and allow your dog to sniff the new family member while swaddled.
After Baby Arrives
The number one golden rule: never ever leave your baby alone with your dog! Babies are out of control. Their feet kick, arms flap, fingers grasp, bodies roll. Such actions may frighten or harm your dog—and no matter how wonderful your dog is around your baby, it is not safe to leave them alone together.
When you allow your dog to sniff the baby, make sure baby is well swaddled and protected.
Dogs don’t feel human-style jealousy, but your dog will certainly notice if he is getting less love and attention. He also may form negative associations about the baby if someone yells, “No! Down!” every time he comes close to the baby. Give your baby and your dog attention at the same time: feed your dog before feeding the baby in the same room or just outside. Give your dog eye contact and verbal praise while carrying the baby. Whenever you buy a new baby toy, buy a chewy for your dog as well. Insist that visitors fuss over your dog along with fussing over the baby.
Toddlers and Kids
To dogs, toddlers are very different from babies. They crawl, throw food, and then suddenly, they walk. During each of the different development stages your child will go through, you need to reinforce the positive associations you have established between dog and child.
The golden rule counts more than ever: never leave your child alone with your dog. Toddlers are too young to understand how to ‘pet nice’, no matter how patiently you explain and show them. Here, you are protecting both your child and your dog. The wagging tail of a friendly dog can knock over a toddler, and the sharp nails on little fingers can hurt dog noses and ears.
As soon as your child is old enough to learn by your example, teach them how to treat your dog. Dogs are frightened by shouts in the face, sudden movements, and grabs at tail, ears, or nose. Dogs should always be treated with respect and kindness. These skills take time to perfect. Remember that children don’t realize that animals feel pain or that living pets differ from the cuddly and furry stuffed animals they get to squeeze and throw around. Teach your child never to squeeze or grab your dog, and never to approach any dog that is eating or sleeping.
For more information about dogs and kids, check out these handouts:
A Parent’s Guide to Body Language: https://www.oregonhumane.org/wp-content/uploads/A-Parents-Guide-to-Body-Language2.pdf
Children and Dogs: Important Info for Parents: https://www.oregonhumane.org/wp-content/uploads/Children_And_Dogs_Info_For_Parents_9.10.17.pdf
Puppy Nipping and Rough Play: https://www.oregonhumane.org/wp-content/uploads/4.8.17_Puppy_Nipping_And_Rough_Play.pdf
Pet Meets Baby by American Humane Association: https://www.americanhumane.org/publication/pet-meets-baby/
Need help? Call our free pet behavior help line at (503) 416-2983.