The time to prepare your dog for a new baby in the house is months before the happy event happens. How to do this largely depends on the type of dog you have and her temperament. If you have an active puppy, you might need a lot more prep than you would with an older dog. If your dog seems very calm around other children or babies, the transition may be easier than a more high-strung dog who seems anxious around little ones.
Most people have experienced that dogs somehow recognize that babies are helpless and the dogs exhibit nurturing behaviors. However, do not presume; you want to take every precaution to ensure the safety of your newborn child. Never leave the baby alone with the dog, and begin preparing your canine friend well in advance, in order to ensure a positive introduction and transition.
Prep your dog’s behavior
Now is the time to reinforce your dog’s obedience to commands and perhaps introduce new ones. The command “go away” can be helpful if you need the dog to quickly back off from the baby. You can start by throwing a treat and saying “go away.” Gradually, begin saying “go away” first, then throw the treat when the dog goes. Gradually decrease the dependence on a treat and replace it with high praise, but still treat occasionally to keep the command well established. Follow this pattern to strengthen all other commands your dog needs to know in order to keep your baby safe.
Decide if you want the dog to be allowed in the nursery. Some trainers recommend the room be off-limits. Begin early to establish that the dog may not enter that room, or may not enter without permission. This takes more training.
Prepare your pet for the sound of a baby’s cries by getting a CD of a crying baby and playing it very quietly, barely audibly. Pet your dog and keep her calm. As you increase the volume gradually over time, help your dog to stay calm and treat her when she is good.
Accustom your dog to baby stuff
Set up baby items as soon as possible - swing, playpen, crib, stroller. You can even get a doll and pretend to be using these items with the doll. Wrap the doll in blankets that have been washed in or scented with the shampoo, lotion, or special baby detergent you will be using. This, of course, is not the same as the smell of the baby, but it’s a start.
Take your dog for walks with the stroller to get her used to it and teach her not to pull on her leash.
If you will not be able to give your dog as much attention when the baby comes, begin to gradually decrease attention now, so that she won’t associate the lost attention with the baby. Also, begin to put a leash on the dog in the house and let it drag. In the first few days of bringing your baby home, you may want to be able to pull the dog back quickly, especially if the “go away” command is still being worked on. Remember to treat! Positive reinforcement will keep your dog happy and will work better in the long run.
Accustom your dog to the baby
After the first few baby-changes in the hospital, keep one of the blankets that your baby has been wrapped in and bring it home for your dog to smell. If you’ve already introduced her to certain baby products, use them in the hospital to wash the baby.
When it’s time to bring the baby home, greet your dog first before bringing the baby in. You can have dad go in first, greet the dog, then come back out. Then mom can go in, leaving the baby with dad, then greet the dog and come back out. Then you can both bring in the baby and let your dog sniff his toes. Introduce them to each other gradually. If your baby begins to cry or kick, that could startle your dog, so start slowly. This is a good time to have the leash on the dog in the house, as an added precaution.
Mix commands in with the sniffing. You can let your dog sniff, then say “go away” and “sit.” Treat her, then let her come back and sniff again. This gentle introduction can set the stage for a positive relationship.
Give the dog attention while the baby is awake, if possible, so that she associates an awake and happy baby with attention.
Plan and plan some more in order to ensure a healthy transition and hopefully a lifelong bond of friendship between your dog and your baby. Make sure you have plenty of healthy dog treats on hand to sufficiently reward your dog for her good behavior, and enjoy your new baby!