When a new baby is coming, there is so much to think about, and your dog may be the last thing on your mind. Take some time to consider the changes that are coming, from your dog’s point of view, and plan in advance to make the growth of your family as stress free and pleasant as possible.
The following are general guidelines for introducing any dog to a new baby but I recommend that if you have any concerns at all about your dog’s behaviour, contact me to assess her behaviour as the birth approaches. If you do not feel 100 % confident that your dog will accept a new baby, you will feel anxious when the baby comes home, and this will adversely affect your dog’s attitude, as she will be well aware of how you are feeling.
-Before your baby’s birth, think about where the baby is likely to spend it’s time and accustom your dog to staying in other areas of your house. It will be easier to establish any new rules before the birth rather than trying to prevent your dog from sitting on her favourite sofa, for example, once your newborn is lying there. Get her accustomed to spending at least some time in a separate room from you when you are at home, happily occupied with something good to chew, so she will not object when the baby arrives.
-Bring home something that smells of your baby as soon as you can after his birth for your dog to smell, so she gets used to the scent. To a dog a smell is like a photograph. Introduce her to this scent as if it were the baby. Allow her to sniff it from a distance and then, if you decide she is calm enough, allow her a little closer. She needs to understand that the item belongs to you and that you control her approach and any dealings she has with it.
-Create boundaries that your dog must respect. Preferably do not allow her upstairs anyway but particularly when a new baby is in the house. It is wise to establish this rule before the baby comes home. This will give you a place to relax completely with your newborn. Increasingly however, the baby will be spending time downstairs. Let your dog sniff and investigate any crib you decide to use, before the baby comes home. She may sniff at it but not jump up at it and needs to learn that she must come away from it when you ask her to. Again, this is your possession and not hers. Put the scented cloth in the crib to reinforce both messages.
-When you bring your baby home, make sure that the dog has had a good walk beforehand so she is tired and happy. It is absolutely vital that you are calm and relaxed when you enter the house with the baby. If she is very excited, you can restrain her in her crate or another room until she calms down. Stand still holding the baby and allow the dog to approach you on a lead held by someone, but not to jump up. She will clearly smell the baby but needs to understand that the baby (i.e. you) decides how long the meeting lasts, so ask her to go to her crate/bed after a few minutes. If she won’t go, she should be led there. Don’t get upset or anxious if she is excited and barks, just calmly and silently remove her. Let her be in the room with you for a few minutes at a time and reward calm behaviour by allowing her more time with you and the baby. She should respect the crib as she does any other area of the house where she is not allowed and not go near it without permission.
-On no account ever leave her alone with the baby.
-Think ahead. Your dog needs to understand that there are no areas of your floor or furniture that she has an exclusive right to own. For example, if your dog likes to sleep under the table she needs to accept that she must not defend this space from a crawling infant. Your strong leadership over your dog is the best way to ensure that she understands that the new baby is more important than her and must be respected. If she understands her role in your family she will accept this readily and come to love and respect the baby as she does you. Equally, your baby should learn to respect the dog and her needs, so, as he grows up, take care not to let him abuse your dog or push her patience too far. Make sure she also has a safe place to go where she can’t be hassled by little hands.
-Maintaining routines is hard when a new baby arrives, but do your best as far as possible to maintain your dog’s normal daily activities to avoid jealousy and stress. You could ask friends or family to help you to walk her on a regular basis and once you feel able, walking with your baby and dog is a great way to bond your newly expanded family.