Having a baby is truly one of the greatest joys in life. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to share this experience with a loyal canine helper, it is important to introduce babies and dogs correctly from the very start to keep everyone happy.
It’s been six months since we brought our son Luca home from the hospital and I am constantly amazed at how caring our poodles Mia and Monty have been to their rapidly growing baby brother. The process of introducing existing canine kids to a new baby doesn’t have to be a burden, provided you follow a few basic steps.
Firstly, try not to think of your pooch as being demoted but rather gaining a sibling. Imagine the two of them being best friends in the future and then add a bit of good old fashioned wisdom and a little pre-planning to turn this into a reality.
Prepare your dog
If bubs hasn’t arrived yet, you can get in early by creating a positive association. Play a baby noise (the internet is full of them!) while your dog is eating, getting a pat or playing. Involve your dog in nursery preparations, talking to them reassuringly and giving them treats as the room evolves.
Consider purchasing a DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) collar to pop on your pooch just before you’re due. These last a month and release a calming smell that helps reduce stress levels.
Give a worn item of clothing to your dog straight after the birth so they have plenty of time to get used to the smell. I’m certain that Mia and Monty knew I was pregnant. When they first came home after Luca was born they seemed to completely understand that he was an infant that needed caring for. They can even interpret his cries – when he is really upset, both dogs come running to the nursery to make sure he’s okay, diligently licking his toes and bring him their toys to try and cheer him up (which seems to work – they can get a laugh out of him faster than I can sometimes!)
When you bring your baby home
When you first bring your baby home things can be quite stressful, and I’m not ashamed to say that it does take some getting used to. Mia and Monty stayed at my parent’s house when we were in hospital and we left them there for a week until we’d settled in. This way, when they returned back home it was to a calmer environment and therefore less of a change.
When it comes to the first physical introduction between babies and dogs, my recommendation would be for someone to hold bubs and be in another room. You can then greet your pooch properly, as they most likely won’t have seen you for a few days and will be very eager to welcome you home. Then, once they have calmed down, bring bubs into the room. All the while, talking to the dogs reassuringly in a normal happy tone, adding in a treat if possible (remember to create a positive association as much as possible and when they are reacting well).
First let your dog smell bub’s foot, let them do it on their terms and never force them. Gradually let them smell more of the baby if they’re interested. Newborns don’t move around much so they’re unlikely to do anything unpredictable that will scare or alarm your dog.
Never leave babies and dogs alone!
This should be obvious but it’s often overlooked and needs to be implemented at all times – babies and dogs should never be left together unattended. Dogs can accidentally walk on, knock or scratch a baby without any intention of hurting them (they just presume that they’ll be as hardy as a puppy).
Also, babies can unintentionally be quite rough/uncoordinated and annoying to a dog and of course they can’t interpret the subtleties of dog body language. If a snarl or turned back has been ignored and the prodding continues, your dog may feel that they have no choice but to nip your baby. At worst this can cause significant damage and scarring, at best, it’s a bad experience that is definitely best avoided.
Other things I’ve learned about introducing babies and dogs:
1) Involving your dog in night feeds can be a saviour. Dogs love to help and take part in these duties and getting up in the middle of the night can be quite isolating, so having your pooch by your side provides some much needed moral support.
2) Babies generally aren’t woken by your dogs bark – they must have become accustomed to it in utero.
3) Canine guarding behaviour over you will increase when you’re pregnant and then increase further once baby arrives, so be prepared for some anti-social behaviour to passers by when you go for a walk and nip it in the bud early with some training and food distraction. You don’t want any of this guarding behaviour to develop into a long-term behaviour problem by allowing it to continue or even inadvertently reinforcing it.
4) Train your dog to not jump up (even if they’re only 2kg) before baby arrives. This will prevent any unwanted scratches to bubs from an over exuberant canine friend.
5) Before your baby arrives, ensure your dog is up to date with intestinal worming and flea treatments, both of which can affect young children. Also ensure that their vaccinations and medical check ups are all up to date.
6) Expect some toilet training issues, it’s just a sign that your dog is a bit confused and put out by the changes. Don’t punish them, clean it up with an effective urine neutraliser and try to reinstate the training techniques you used initially when toilet training them to remind them of what you want.
7) Set up a safe spot for your dog that’s comfy and positive. Keep this as a no-kids zone.
8) Buy leads that easily click onto the pram handle or a table leg, you don’t want to be fiddling with leads when you’re out and about.
9) If you think your dog will be scared of the pram then, take them for a walk around the house or backyard before the baby arrives. Start with them next to the pram without it moving, then slowly increase the movement to help desensitise them to it
Despite the fact that you will have a lot on your plate, your pooch can be a source of relief and support when you have a baby.
It’s important when introducing babies and dogs to be empathetic to your dog’s needs. If you allow them to be involved in your baby’s life as much as possible, in a safe and positive environment, your child will be able to appreciate the future canine companionship as much as you do.
Dr Melissa Meehan is a highly experienced and respected veterinary surgeon with over 14 years experience. Dr Melissa obtained her Members in Small Animal Medicine through examination in 2008 and now runs her own veterinary ophthalmology service.