By Sandy Modell
Alexandria, VA – Congratulations, you’re having a baby! For many people, their dog is their first “baby.” When you bring your new human baby into your home, the family dynamics change. Your baby is now the center of your universe. How will these changes affect your dog’s emotional state?
Too often, this is left to chance. I hear, “Oh, Murphy’s a dog, he’ll adapt,” or “Rosie’s normally good around kids.” Although some dogs are more adaptable than others, and some dogs love children, this is not always the case. Remember, dogs thrive on routines, and changes to their routines can affect behavior.
The best way to ensure a safe and successful integration between baby and dog is to prepare your dog well in advance. Many new parents start by bringing home the baby’s blanket so that the dog can get used to the smell. But while the baby blanket thing may make you feel better, it has little effect on your dog.
Dogs accept new family members over time as they develop a bond through familiarity and positive associations.
Build Positive Associations
In the weeks and months before the baby arrives, play sounds of babies crying, screaming, cooing, and laughing, beginning at low volume. Pairing these noises with treats familiarizes your dog to these noises while making positive associations. Walking around the house with a baby doll or a sack of potatoes in a baby blanket is an effective way to create a picture of what your dog will eventually see. By pairing baby sounds, smells, and visuals with tasty treats and praise, you will desensitize and condition your dog to these stimuli by making positive associations to them.
Crawling and Walking
Often the early stages of having a new baby at home only pique your dog’s curiosity. It’s when the baby starts crawling or walking around that problems arise. So, what’s changed?
A toddler’s sudden mobility can startle a dog. Toddlers are notoriously unpredictable creatures, even for the calmest of pets. They crawl, which is something your dog is not used to seeing humans do. They change speed and direction frequently. They fall a lot. They screech and cry. And if they’re able to catch up to a dog, they often hit, pull its fur, or try to climb on its back. It’s a lot for a dog to take.
To help navigate through these changes and keep both your toddler and dog safe, here are some helpful tips:
Create Success Stations for Your Dog: Whether it is teaching your dog to stay on a mat or using a tether, crate, or baby gate, having a location that provides separation from the baby keeps your baby safe and sets your dog up for success. Baby gates across doorways allow dog and toddler to see each other but gives them both the freedom to play and nap without interference from the other. These are places where your dog can enjoy their frozen Kong or bullystick and not have the baby get too close for comfort. It keeps both dog and toddler safe.
Safe Zones for Your Baby: Baby toys and dog toys look, sound, and feel the same these days. Having areas in your home where your baby can play, relax, and be safe without your dog competing for attention or toys is an essential part of the planning.
Never Leave a Dog and Toddler Unsupervised: This is a critical step in keeping the toddler and dog safe. To ensure all your family members are safe, never leave a dog alone with an unattended toddler for even a minute.
Toddlers are unpredictable and uncoordinated. Dogs can hurt a child, unintentionally or otherwise. All dogs can bite, even friendly dogs when pushed to their limits. It only takes seconds for a toddler to pull the dog’s tail or fall on a sleeping dog. Active and proactive adult supervision should be constant when your dog and baby are together.
Teach Your Child to How to Pet Your Dog: Spend time each day teaching your toddler how to interact with your dog. Have the toddler on your lap and ask the dog if he wants to join you. Teach your toddler the “gentle” one-hand stroke long ways on the dog’s back. Never over the head.
When to Get Help
Ideally, you should start preparing your dog at least six months before the baby’s arrival and longer if your dog is timid, shy, fearful, or reactive. If you are not comfortable with your dog’s body language around your baby or toddler or your dog has growled, snapped, nipped, or bitten your toddler, you should consider contacting a positive trainer experienced in this area. Wholistic Hound Academy has licensed Family Paws Parent Educators who can help.
Sandy Modell, CPDT-KA, is the Founder, Owner, and Head Trainer of Wholistic Hound Academy, Alexandria’s award-winning, premier canine training and learning center, offering classes and private lessons in puppy training, adult dog manners, behavior modification, agility, dog sports, and canine fitness and conditioning, kids and dogs, pre-pet planning and pet selection. Classes are starting soon! Visit www.wholistichound.com to enroll in our programs, and like us on Facebook.com/wholistichound.