How to prepare your dog for a new baby
by Tamsin Durston
How to prepare your dog for a new baby
Why some dogs might find it hard to cope with a new baby
Expecting parents generally have plenty of time to get used to the idea, but for dogs a new baby arrives overnight! This can be very dramatic indeed and mean a completely unexpected change of lifestyle for them! Dogs tend to like routine as it means they know what to expect and when. This can help them to feel secure, so unless they’re prepared the changes to their normal routine that new babies can bring about might be very unsettling indeed.
A new baby in the family might mean your dog receives a little less attention or shorter walks than they’re used to, and they might also need to be left alone for a little longer than before, or not allowed into certain rooms. Babies also mean new things in the house, loud and unusual sounds, and unfamiliar smells, plus potentially a lot of visitors too, so it’s easy to see why some dogs might become overwhelmed! But don’t worry, there’s lots you can do to help your dog adjust and feel very positive about their new family member!
How to prepare your dog for a new baby
- Start preparing your dog early on in pregnancy
The earlier you start preparing your dog the more time they’ll have to adjust and feel comfortable with things. You’ll also be able to go at your dog’s pace, which is important for their confidence, without rushing or testing them by putting them in new situations they haven’t had a chance to get used to in advance. The time you put in now will really pay off as once your baby has arrived you’ll be able to devote your time to getting to know them, confident that you’ve already taught your dog useful skills which will help them feel settled too! The transition into a slightly larger family life can be as smooth as possible for all of you!
- Get your dog used to sights, sounds and smells of all things baby!
Don’t wait for your baby to start setting up their new things! Setting up equipment, such as baby gyms, high chairs, playpens, prams and buggies as well as toys and mobiles that move around and make unusual noises, gradually over the months before your baby’s birth allows your dog plenty of time to become used to these. Take care to always make sure that your dog is allowed to approach and smell these things as they wish. Let them investigate at their own pace and build a positive association by giving them tasty treats, chews or a game and a fuss – whatever they really like - whenever you introduce something new.
Don’t forget about noises too! Play our sound therapy tracks. Start off introducing new sounds associated with babies at a very low volume while your dog is doing something they enjoy – playing or eating! - then gradually increase the volume over the weeks and months as long as they remain calm and relaxed.
Asking friends or relatives with babies for some unwashed baby clothes and blankets can be a useful way to introduce this new smell into your home. As with noises and equipment, take care not to overwhelm your dog but introduce these gradually and allow your dog to gently investigate in their own time. Again, associate them with something your dog finds enjoyable such as a fun game, meal or a fuss.
If your dog appears worried at any stage, stop what you’re doing and go back to a point at which they were calm and relaxed for a while longer before progressing again.
- Prepare your dog for changes in their routine
Think about how you and your dog’s routine might change once your baby arrives and gradually start to introduce changes slowly, long in advance of your due date so they have time to get used to a new structure. This might mean:
- less attention from you, or attention at different times of the day
- shorter walks and different routes
- restricted access around the house, for example not being able to go into the nursery, playroom or your baby’s future bedroom
- more visitors including healthcare workers who are unlikely to be interested in your dog at all
Introducing baby gates to restrict access to certain areas of the house, such as the kitchen or your living room should you have visitors coming to see your baby, and teaching your dog that they can be the other side of a gate from you with an extra tasty treat or a long-lasting stuffed Kong toy can teach them to relax and settle by themselves at any point if they have to be popped the other side during the day. Have a look at our training videos on how to teach your dog to settle and how to train your dog for visitors for further information on this.
Teaching your dog that they will receive attention for being calm and relaxed is likely to result in them learning that this is always a good choice of how to behave! Remember that you don’t have to interact with them to give them attention, even just telling them what a good dog they are for lying down and settling can be rewarding for them, but a tasty treat or a chew can be a real bonus! If you want your dog to stay calm, give them a calm reward but at times when you’re happy for them to be a bit more active using a reward like having a fun game with them is great!
- Prepare your dog for real life situations
Think about the situations your dog will need to get used to and practice teaching your dog ready for when these happen in real life.
Useful things to practice:
- Walking nicely along while you’re pushing your buggy will mean you can have more relaxing walks. Pop some treats ready in your buggy bag to use to reward your dog for being next to you as you go along. Watch our training video for more help on teaching your dog not to pull on the lead.
- Carrying around and interacting with a lifelike baby doll so your dog can see you holding and talking to a baby. If your dog jumps up then make sure you don’t give them any attention for this but do get ready to reward them for keeping all four feet on the ground. You could try dropping treats onto the ground whenever you pick up the doll until your dog starts to automatically put their nose to the floor when they see you pick up the doll. Then you can continue to reward them for not jumping up and they’ll learn that keeping their feet on the ground is always a good choice when you’re carrying the baby.
- Recall training will be useful to give your dog exercise knowing you can call them back to you quickly. Always reward your dog for reaching you and practice in the house or garden first until you are confident your dog will come when you call.
- Settling down when you’re unable to give them your full attention such as when you’re feeding or bathing your baby or when you have guests present. Always give your dog something to enjoy by themselves and provide them with their own den to relax in where they are never disturbed.
Always use rewards your dog enjoys, such as extra tasty treats, and make sure you go slowly so your dog has plenty of time to learn, practice and get things right at every stage.
- Get your dog used to being handled all over
Taking the time to get your dog used to being handled all over by teaching them that every time you touch a different part of their body something good happens, such as you’ll give them a delicious treat! Taking this slowly and very gradually getting them used to being handled means that they can be confident wherever and whenever they are handled, and learn that this might happen at any moment – should they have an accident when out on a walk for example and need checking over. This will also prepare your dog better for when your baby starts to reach out to touch things. Have a look at our training video for more information on how to make your puppy feel comfortable being handled.
- When your baby arrives, never leave your dog and baby together unsupervised
It’s important to always be actively engaged when supervising and never leave dogs and babies alone. This means always being interactive with your baby when they’re in the same space as your dog, making sure you can give them your undivided attention without being distracted. For example, you could give your dog a long-lasting tasty treat and leave them completely alone in their bed to enjoy it while you are spending time with your baby in the same room. This way your dog has something fun to do all by themselves, which means you can spend some time having fun with your baby without having to worry about them!
- When it’s time to go back to work… prepare your dog for further changes!
When everything is so new and you’re concentrating on building a happy family, it’s hard to think about going back to work! But when you do start to make returning-to-work-plans remember your dog might find this difficult too, as their daily routine will change again. Help them out by preparing them for their new routine, just as you did before your baby arrived, so it won’t be such a shock for them that you’re no longer at home as much for example.
Keep up the good work as your baby and dog enjoy growing up together!
Want to progress and carry on teaching your dog? Teaching your dog all sorts of useful behaviours to help them fit into family life as your baby grows can be a great deal of fun! Our Dog Schools run informative and helpful seminars on how to introduce dogs and babies; find your local Dog School here.