How to Prepare Your Dog for Your Newborn Baby

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If you are like much of the population, your four-legged friend is your first “baby.” Many people worry needlessly about how their dog will handle a baby in their life. Many owners think of getting rid of the family pets because of fears that they will harm the baby. Please do not do this unless there is no other option. Most dogs, when treated and trained properly, can handle life with a newborn very well.

Children and pets make wonderful companions when raised properly together and taught how to behave with each other. Children that grow up in a home with pets learn respect and love for animals, and more importantly, respect for life. As the children grow older they can learn responsibility by helping to care for the animals. Animals enrich our and our children’s lives beyond belief.

Having a baby can cause problems for both humans and dogs, as the dog tends to be treated differently, and because of this, may act differently. Some owners baby the dog more, causing the dog to become spoiled and hard to handle. Other owners get over-stressed and punish the dog for normal, curious behavior toward the baby. Often our pets are the center of our world, our “babies” if you would, and can get “jealous” if not equipped to handle losing that status to the new baby. If you are willing to make the time and effort to prepare your pets for the new arrival, everyone can live in harmony.

Sometimes the dogs become overprotective of the baby. Many owners enjoy and even prefer the dog being a guard for the baby. While it is normal for the dog to become protective of the baby, it is dangerous for the dog to become overprotective and not let anyone near the baby. All of the above scenarios can lead to the dog being kicked out of the house!

As you are making preparations to bring home baby, you need to prepare your dog(s) for the same in advance if possible. While most dogs will be very gentle with the baby, many dogs do not see babies as humans because of their size, smell, and the strange noises they make. By taking the time to give your dog some extra love and attention he should be fine and not turn to bad behavior to get your attention. You need to prepare and educate your dog for what lies ahead. This will ensure that they are ready and willing to accept the new family member with open and loving paws.

Using calming remedies (herbs, aromatherapy, oils) and or prescription medications are also an option to help facilitate a better behaved dog. You can talk to your veterinarian to inquire about these products and the implications associated with their use. I am a believer in the holistic approach whenever possible, instead of using drugs.

Please, please always be aware that your dog is an animal and animals can bite or do harm to a baby, intentionally or unintentionally. No matter how well-behaved or loving your dog is NEVER LEAVE YOUR DOG ALONE WITH YOUR BABY! I cannot stress this enough. Accidents can happen. You do not want to harm your baby or have to get rid of your dog because of an unfortunate, and possibly avoidable, incident.

If you are unsure that your dog will accept your new baby, please seek the advice of a professional trainer or behaviorist before making any decisions.

Believe it or not, your behavior with, and toward your dog matters. It can make or break your dog’s acceptance of and respect for your baby. If you act like a leader, you will be treated like a leader. You want your dog to respect every human being in your household, including your baby. You must teach your dog respect for the baby. This will make life easier for all those involved.

Be firm but fair-

Do not let your dog get away with things, but don’t be a drill sergeant either! Try to make any corrections as gentle as possible, but make sure they are effective. Try to have fun with your dog and the training – you both need to enjoy it or neither one will want to continue!

Your tone of voice matters-

DO NOT YELL at your dog! Convey the meaning of the command through the tone of voice – match your voice to what you are telling your dog. Commands should be short and succinct, in a low, almost growling voice. Your voice should not get higher as you give the command. Do not sing to your dog or ask the dog a question! You will not get the answer you want! When giving praise, sound like you mean it! It should be the opposite of a command – higher pitched and enthusiastic. If your dog gets overly excited when you praise him, tone it down a bit and speak softly. Your dog will still understand that he is doing a good job, but he will be less likely to jump around and be crazy.

Be calm and assertive-

Our dogs feed off of our energies and emotions. This affects their behaviors and reactions. If we are relaxed and confident, our dogs will feel the same, and know that we are LEADING them, and they do not have to lead us.

Use a crate-

If your dog does not already use a crate, now is the time to start. A crate is not cruel, it can actually be a wonderful and safe place for your dog. Confining your dog at certain times, such as for sleep or times when you cannot supervise, is no different than putting your baby in its crib for the same. It is actually very easy to teach your dog to accept being in the crate. Most people think that a dog who has not used a crate before will have a hard time, but that is not usually true. My two older dogs started using the crate when they were 7 and 8 years old, about the time my son started crawling and exploring on his own. This allowed me to know that both my child and my dogs were safe and nothing bad could happen. Your child can be hurt by your dog as easy as your child could hurt your dog. The problem lies in the fact that if the dog makes even the slightest threat to your baby or even inadvertently hurts your baby, it is your dog’s fault. It is not fair to the dog for something like that to happen because you were not supervising the two together at all times!

Eliminate bad manners-

Bad manners cannot be accepted as they can be dangerous to a new baby and a new mom. Jumping and nipping are behaviors that need to be stopped right away. Stealing and rough-play also need to be nipped in the bud immediately.

Teach your dog how to be calm and gentle, by praising and treating this behavior.

Working commands into everyday life and play makes listening easy and normal for your dog. It becomes natural to the dog and it is less-likely that your dog will be out-of-control. It is also good for you too, as it makes sure that you are training your dog everyday, making you the leader – not the follower.

Exercise is key for good behavior-

As I stated earlier in the guide, exercise is imperative for your dog. This ensures that your dog will be better behaved because it doesn’t have the energy to misbehave! Regular walks are important. If you do not have the time to walk for miles, using a doggie backpack can make a short walk seem like a long walk for your dog. A dog backpack immediately puts your dog into work mode, which will help to tire her brain. If you evenly balance some weight on each side, such as water bottles, it will further the amount of physical energy that is expended by your dog. Teaching your dog to walk nicely next to the stroller is also important. It is very difficult and dangerous to have a dog pulling and out of control while trying to maneuver a stroller. If you plan to use a baby carrier, sling, backpack or car seat your dog needs to behave on the leash and walk with you, not pull you. It is a good idea to practice with the equipment before baby comes (use a doll in place of the baby) so that you can work out any kinks or problems.

Have regular obedience sessions with your dog so that she does not forget her commands and remembers that she has to listen at all times. This also helps to tire her brain! Try to work the commands into everyday life so that it becomes second nature to her.

Is your dog allowed on your furniture?-

If your dog is currently allowed on the furniture you may want to reconsider this as your baby will likely be on the furniture a lot. Dog hair and dirt can irritate your baby. You also don’t want to have to constantly clean up after the dog. Your dog could also inadvertently injure the baby jumping up on the furniture or repositioning himself. It’s best to restrict access to the furniture so that problems do not occur.

Time-out for your dog-

Be sure you give your dog time away from the baby to settle. Time outs are an effective tool to allow your dog to keep its sanity and also for when they are doing something wrong.

Your new schedule and your dog-

It is time to readjust the dog’s schedule to acquaint her with the upcoming changes. Think realistically about the time you will have for the dog for things such as walks, feeding, potty breaks, play and attention. Try to keep the schedule consistent for your dog so that she does not feel unnecessary stress from the changes that are happening before your baby arrives. Having as little disruptions as possible will help to accomplish this goal. Once your dog feels secure and is used to the new routine, try to start having slight variations in your daily happenings. When your baby arrives things do not always go as planned. You can have every intention of staying on schedule and inevitably something will change that schedule! Babies do not follow schedules! Do try to stay on schedule, when possible, so that your dog is allowed some semblance of a routine. Dogs feel safety when the rules and routines stay the same.

Pay less attention to your dog-

It is now time to teach the dog to expect less attention from you in one sitting. Once the baby arrives you will not have the same amount of quality time to spend with your dog, but it is still essential to make time for your dog. Schedule regular 5 to 10 minute sessions each day where you pay full attention to your dog. You can do things such as play, grooming, petting or just talk to your dog. This allows your dog to understand that he is still an important part of your life. You need to teach the dog that this time may be with or without the baby. This is also a good time for you to relax and unwind as pets are very therapeutic. Be aware that if you have more than one pet, each will need individual attention if possible. You can also give the pack the attention at the same time, providing they get along, or allow them to play together to burn energy.

Your dog needs to be calm and balanced-

You need to make sure that your dog is calm and balanced before baby comes into the house. It is very important for your dog to learn how to be calm so that he does not hurt you or the baby. Your dog needs to be balanced so that he does not stress needlessly and act out inappropriately. If your dog is not calm and balanced there are ways to help you accomplish this. Training and exercise are good places to start to achieve a calm and balanced dog. If these do not work your dog may have something wrong with him, such as a mental or physical problem. Consult with your vet and local canine behaviorist or trainer. They should be able to steer you in the right direction. They can help advise you of the route you should take, whether behavior modification, medication, or holistic remedies.

Is your dog gentle?-

Teaching your dog how to be gentle is extremely important so that he will not inadvertently hurt the baby. Many dogs use their teeth too much and need to be taught the proper way to use their mouths – without the teeth!

Does your dog jump?-

If your dog is a jumper, teaching proper greetings will help to curb this problem. It is vital that your dog can see people without jumping or getting overly excited. When the baby comes home there will probably be lots of people visiting and he will need to be on his best behavior. It also facilitates the proper, gentle behavior your dog should have around the baby.

How will my dog handle the baby being rough with her?-

Teaching your dog what to physically expect from your baby is extremely important so that she is able to cope with and know what to do when baby pulls, hits or pushes her. Infants and children are not necessarily gentle by nature, and have to be taught how to be so. Your dog also needs to learn how to deal with these behaviors from his small leaders. Start to gently handle your dog in a rougher fashion while praising good behavior and gently, if possible, correcting inappropriate behavior such as nipping or mouthing. Children tend to pet roughly, pull ears and tails, put their hands in the dog’s face and touch sensitive areas on the dog. You need to mimic these behaviors in order to teach your dog what to expect and how to deal with it appropriately. Make it a daily habit to have time on the floor with your dog touching every part of his body in a loving fashion. This is good because it allows the dog to accept touch in areas that it may not want touched. It also teaches the dog to be gentle while on the floor and to be submissive to you and your baby. Do this slowly and your dog will understand

Obedience training your dog-

Your dog needs to be obedience trained and have basic manners. I suggest that you enroll in a training class if you can. Check your local training clubs, or facilities, for classes and make sure to observe a class so that you can see how they train. Make sure that you are comfortable with their techniques and the instructors. If you are not allowed to observe a class, please look elsewhere. Trainers who are legitimate should have no problem with this and encourage you to do so.

The following are some basic commands and actions that your dog should be able to do to ensure that he will listen and be under control:

  • Walk nicely on a leash
  • Sit
  • Down
  • Stay
  • Leave-it
  • NO
  • Understand boundaries
  • Quiet
  • Attention/Look
  • Drop-it
  • Go to Your Spot/Place

Teaching the dog to respond to hand signals will also be beneficial. A sleeping baby is less likely to get woken up if you are not talking.

It is also a good idea to teach your dog to accept wearing a leash – in and out of the house. This ensures that you have control over your dog and tends to help make the dog better behaved. Most towns and cities have leash laws so it is imperative that your dog get used to the leash. You should also walk your dog everyday. This gives your dog mental stimulation, as well as physical exercise, which helps to tire them out, thus making them less likely to get into trouble and an overall better behaved dog.

Spot, Go To Your Spot!-

The “Go to Your Spot” command is a great command to have in your arsenal for a well-behaved dog. You can use this exercise to allow your dog to be with you and not underfoot, or keep your dog at a distance and still know where he is and what he’s doing. It teaches your dog to go lie down on a rug or blanket and stay until released.

Long down stays are important in general, whether or not he is “in a spot”, because they help you to maintain control over your dog. By your dog having to work for you, it facilitates a relationship in which you are dominant (in charge or the alpha figure) in your and your dog’s mind.

Teach your dog what he can chew on-

All dogs chew. Each has a specific reason for it, and has a physical need to chew. They need to chew to exercise their jaws as well as to let out pent up frustrations. Excessive chewing can also be a breed trait. To help avoid problems, do not set yourself up for failure.

Soiling in the house-

If your dog has an accident in the house, or is not housetrained, you need to clean it properly to avoid further “accidents” or remarking of the same areas and to maintain a sanitary environment. Dog feces can contain parasites and other unwanted disease. Giardia, E-Coli, other worms and parasites are sometimes present in the feces and many are transferrable to humans.

Use high-value treats-

Use treats of high value – treats your dog loves and doesn’t normally get – when dealing with new baby sights, sounds and scents. This tells your dog that these are good things, and that he should like them and associate them with rewards, instead of feeling malice or fear towards them. Make sure to keep the treats special, and only use them for the purposes of getting your pup familiar with what the new baby will be like.

The health and cleanliness of your dog is vital-

It is essential that your dog has a clean bill of health and is clean before you bring your baby home. Take your dog to the vet for a check-up to make sure that he has no health problems as these can cause unwanted behaviors in your dog that will interfere with his life with your baby. Make sure that he is up-to-date on all shots, or that his titer levels are good, and that he is worm-free.

The next thing you need to make sure of is that you bathe your dog or have him groomed BEFORE the baby comes home. If your dog sheds, it is a good idea to start a de-shedding program, such as regular grooming and adding a product such as Linatone (which you can obtain at your local pet store, online or at some groomers) which has a special combination of oils to help the skin and coat. Be careful not to over-bathe your dog as this can cause skin problems in many dogs. Make sure that he has no fleas or ticks as this is unsanitary and can expose your baby to health problems. It also creates problems as you will not have much time to bathe him once the baby is around. Using special flea and tick medication will help to ensure that he remains flea-less and tick-less.

Start teaching your dog to accept his paws and body wiped when he comes in from outside will aid in reducing the amount of dirt he tracks in the house. It also reduces the chance that your dog will carry in something that will cause an allergic reaction in you or your baby

Also, make sure to vacuum or sweep regularly as dog hair accumulates fast. This is especially important once your baby starts to crawl or be on the ground a lot, unless of course you want the baby to be a human Swiffer!

Carry a doll-

The idea of carrying around a doll (preferably one that cries) may seem silly, but it is a very good way to get your dog used to an addition to the family. Everything is different with a baby. Holding a baby changes your posture, and your mannerisms, so your dog needs to be comfortable and accepting of this. The dog also needs to follow commands and be obedient when you have the baby or the baby is out and about. Using a doll while practicing everyday commands will help your dog respond better when the baby arrives. Take the dog for walks, play with the dog, and all the normal things you do with your dog with and without the baby equipment and doll.

Baby sounds-

Getting your dog used the sounds of a baby is also a good idea. This allows your dog to familiarize herself with the alien noises that it may not have heard before so that it is not a surprise when baby comes home. Things like crying, gurgling, yelling/screaming, and baby babble are not necessarily normal for a dog to hear. There are many cds and tapes that you can purchase for this purpose. Start the volume low and expose your dog for short periods of time at first. Gradually increase the volume and amount of time you play the sounds. Try to play the recording everyday until the baby arrives.

Real babies and children-

Another good idea is to expose your dog to the real thing – real babies and children. If you have friends or relatives who have babies you can ask if they will allow your dog to listen in or even record them for you. You can visit places like parks, if your dog is well-behaved, so your dog can hear all of the noises children make. Make sure to start this away from your house so that your dog does not feel threatened in her own territory. The next step is to expose your dog in your yard, and then in your house. Make this a gradual process so your dog can slowly accept it.

Baby smells-

The smells of a baby are often unfamiliar to a dog. Slowly start to get your dog used to these new smells by using the products you will use on your baby, such as baby oil, powder, baby wash and diaper cream. Putting these products on baby blankets and baby clothes will also help. If you have friends or relatives that have babies, ask to borrow used and unwashed blankets and burp cloths so that the dog can get accustomed to the real smells of a baby.

The Nursery-

Setting up the nursery allows your dog to become acquainted with changes in the house. It allows your dog to become comfortable with the sights and sounds associated with baby equipment, thus avoiding shock when baby arrives.

If you don’t want your pup in the nursery you need to start restricting access now. Keeping the door shut or a baby gate in the doorway helps to achieve this. Your dog will not feel left out or anxious about no longer being allowed in that room. Another good idea is to put a dog bed outside of the nursery so that your dog is still close to you, but not in the room. He will not feel banished, but will feel more included. Spend time in the room without your pooch so he understands that this will be normal, and that it is no longer his territory. As he starts to understand that the room is no longer his, he will accept it and be less likely to try to get in there when the baby comes home. This also helps to keep the room clean and free of dog hair and dirt. You will have more than enough to clean in the nursery as it is!

If you plan to allow your dog in the nursery start to teach the proper behaviors as soon as possible. Train her to be calm in there and not to jump up on the furniture and baby equipment. It is also a good idea to teach her to do down-stays when in the nursery so that she is allowed to be with you and the baby, but is out of the way and behaving. You may also want to have a bed or rug in there that your dog is allowed to lay on (remove it when you and the dog are not in the room). When the baby starts to crawl and move about you may want to limit the amount of time the dog spends in there and never leave the baby alone with the dog.

Baby’s things are off-limits-

Make sure to constantly reinforce that the baby’s things are not the dog’s things. Even though you may have practiced this before the baby came home, dogs do need reminders.

It is important to dispose of dirty diapers properly to ensure that your dog does not get them. Dogs love things that have human waste on them, such as dirty diapers and feminine products. Keep these products out of reach as they will make an awful mess and are very unhealthy for your dog to ingest. They have chemicals that are not good for your dog and can cause blockages. Besides, the consuming of human waste can also make your dog sick (and have disgusting breath!).

Teach your dog to leave baby blankets alone and not to lay or step on them. Lay them on the furniture and the floor to teach your dog that they are off limits. If your dog tries to walk or lay on them use a firm “NO” and redirect your dog to a proper spot and have him lay down. When your dog avoids these on his own, praise him for his good behavior with a treat or petting and he will understand that these items are not something to go near. You want to prevent possible injuries to your baby from your dog while baby is lying on or hiding under the blankets (as often babies do!).

Teach your dog which toys belong to him-

It is recommended to teach your dog what toys are his and what toys are the baby’s before baby arrives so that you will not have problems after. This is also a good idea because you can purchase toys similar to what your baby will have and not worry about using baby’s actual toys for these exercises. An easy way to do this is to use peanut butter (or something like it such as cream cheese or cheese spread) and bitter apple (you can purchase this online or at pet stores). Put bitter apple on the baby’s toys and peanut butter on the dog’s toys. Before you give your dog the choice about which toys he wants, take a little bitter apple on your finger and wipe it around in your dog’s mouth. This will help your dog to immediately identify the nasty taste on the baby toys. If you do not do this the bitter apple often dilutes and the dog will be able to get the baby’s toys because the taste is bearable. Make sure to have some treats ready to reward your dog when he chooses his toys over baby’s. Put the dog’s leash on and you are ready to begin. Put the “marked” toys on the floor and let your dog decide which toys he prefers. If he still tries to take the baby toys, tell him “no, leave-it”, and if necessary pull him away with the leash with a quick jerking motion. Do not try to hurt the dog, just give a quick correction as you repeat “no, leave-it”. When your dog does “leave” the baby toys alone, praise and treat. You can also teach the dog the concepts of “Mine”, “Baby’s” and “Yours” by adding these phrases to the training sessions. When the dog goes for his toys you can say, “Good! Yours!” When the dog goes for the baby’s toys say, “No, Leave-it, Baby’s”. You can use the same principle as used for the baby’s toys when the dog goes for something that is yours by substituting “Mine” in place of “Baby’s.”

Please remember that if you leave your baby’s toys lying around your dog will most likely try to steal them. The temptation is too much for her to handle and she probably will fail. Do not set her up for failure! Try to get toys for the dog that are not like the baby’s – no stuffed animals and things that rattle. There are plenty of good dog toys that are very different from baby toys. Lastly, only keep a few of the dog’s toys out at a time. This will avoid her falling prey to the syndrome of “everything within my reach is mine!” If she understands that the three toys on the ground are hers, she will be less apt to take things she shouldn’t.

If you follow the guidelines set forth in this article you should be able to accustom your dog to your newborn without much difficulty. Remember, when in doubt, always consult a professional trainer!

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