Bringing a new baby home for the first time can be daunting for a whole range of reasons. Just as an older sibling can feel somewhat displaced and anxious when a new baby arrives, a dog can also be affected by the inevitable shift in the family dynamic. However, there are some simple steps that you can take to ease the transition and develop a strong bond between your baby and your fur baby.
1. Get your dog used to babies (and baby things!)
Babies can be loud and unpredictable, especially when they become walking, talking toddlers with a penchant for grabbing, poking and biting. If your dog simply isn’t accustomed to babies, or small children, it may be wise to help him/her ‘acclimatise’ in the months before your baby is born. Invite friends with children to your home, take walks via playgrounds, or arrange to meet other families with dogs and small children. Get your dog used to the sounds and cries of small humans, so they’re less likely to be startled when similar sounds emerge from your own!
You may also with to introduce your dog, in the months before your baby is born, to all of the strange collateral and equipment that goes with having a baby - including the stroller, highchair, change table and cot. At the risk of looking a little odd, you may even want to practice walking your dog outside with the stroller before baby arrives, so it’s not a complete shock when this giant contraption suddenly needs to accompany you on your daily walks.
2. Set clear limits
As nice a temperament as you think your dog has, your baby’s safety needs to come first and foremost. For this reason it’s very important to set clear and unambiguous rules about where your dog is allowed to go within your home.
Before your baby arrives, make it very clear that the baby’s room - or your room, if the baby will be sleeping with you initially - are most definitely off limits. You may wish to allow your dog to enter the room, but only on your terms, and be very clear that he or she has to leave as soon as you wish. If your dog sleeps in your room, it would be wise to start training it not to do so for the nine months leading up to the birth of your baby.
3. Introduce the baby gradually
Dogs are very sensitive to smell, and the smell and sight of a new baby may be confusing and threatening. For this reason, many experts recommend introducing your baby’s scent to your dog before the actual meeting takes place.
For instance, a member of your family could bring home a towel, blanket or a piece of the baby’s clothing from the hospital, and you could gradually encourage your dog to sniff it - but only for short periods at a time to establish that it’s largely off limits.
Then, when introducing your baby to your dog for the first time, ensure your dog has been well exercised, and is calm and relaxed. Stay calm yourself, and allow the dog to inspect and sniff your baby- but from a distance. Over time, you may allow the dog to get closer, but only on your terms.
4. Maintain your routine
So your dog doesn’t feel displaced, it’s important to stick to whatever routine you had before the baby arrives- such as a morning or afternoon walk - to ensure he or she continues to feel secure and important.
If you think your walk time will diminish once the baby arrives, you may wish to scale back in advance, so your dog doesn’t associate the reduced walking time with the new baby. It’s also important to make sure that whoever will be looking after your pet while you are in hospital sticks to the routine too. Try to line up care for your dog way before you have to go to hospital so that you’re not scrambling for options at the last minute.
5. Teach your baby to respect your dog
Establishing a loving and respectful relationship requires kindness from both sides.
Once your baby begins to crawl or walk, it’s important to teach him or her to respect your dog - by not pulling its tail, pulling its fur, riding its back, or hitting - no matter how playful the intentions.
Always make an example of how you treat your dog in front of your growing child, so he or she mirrors your behaviour.
6. Make feeding time treat time
Feeding a newborn baby can require a lot of time and focus - and can be difficult with an attention-starved dog in the background. At least initially, you may wish to get a friend or another family member to provide your dog with a small treat - such as Farmers Market Meaty Bars - when you sit down to feed, to encourage him or her to feel part of the process.
If you’re still nervous about introducing your pet and your baby, it’s worth talking to your vet or dog trainer (if you have one). While many babies and dogs live together very happily, many dogs will require extra discipline and rules around this precious time. And even if you’re completely confident about your dog’s temperament, be sure to never, ever leave your baby alone with your pet.