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My good friend Al, whose Saint Bernard Hannah passed away a while ago, is recently expecting a baby with his wife. Additionally, after they said their goodbyes to Hannah, they also adopted a gorgeous Great Pyrenees named Harlow. Harlow is a sweet old dude with a gentle temperament who lived with kids before, so I think they’ll all get along just fine. But when Al mentioned to me the other day that he was nervous about introducing Harlow to the new baby, I started to do some digging.
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If you know that your schedule is going to change when baby comes, don’t wait till the last few days to make changes. Instead, adjust when your dog will be walked, when he sleeps, when feeding time is, and any other routines that may change, gradually over the whole nine months. By the time baby gets here, the dog won’t associate the new addition with the changes to their schedule, so there won’t be as much resentment.
In the last couple of weeks before the baby shows up, it’s common for owners to try to “stock up” on dog attention, knowing that it’ll be a while before they can really pay attention to their buddy again. But the problem with this is that dogs will see the sudden lack of attention, after receiving so much lately, as the baby’s fault.
Before the baby comes, it’s very important that your dog reacts to a command to “go to bed” with 100% accuracy, every time. You need to be able to put the dog in a safe, out of the way place, should there ever be a reason that all your attention needs to be on the baby. Work with your dog to go to pet bed by standing at the bed with a treat. When they react to the command, give them the treat. They’ll soon associate going to bed with positive experiences, and will no longer need the treat to obey.
One thing that humans don’t think about is the fact that a baby’s high pitched cry is very unpleasant for a dog. Unless your dog is used to a loud, rambunctious household with lots of activity, consider getting them used to the idea of baby noises by playing recordings a few times. Gradually increase the length of time that your dog hears these recordings until they seem unaffected. Then when your new bundle of joy shows up, their short cries won’t matter.
A dog’s most important sense is his smell. Babies bring all kinds of new smells into a home. From baby powder and shampoo to baby food and diapers, there will be a whole host of new things to smell. Consider sprinkling some baby powder around the nursery or crib area so that your dog can start getting used to it. When the baby comes at the hospital, someone may wish to bring a blanket or a piece of clothing the baby wore back home before you bring baby home – that way the dog can actually smell the baby before meeting him or her.
When you get home, it’s a good idea to greet your dog alone, keeping them apart from the baby for the time being. After all, your dog did just go through a couple days without you home! After your dog has calmed down from the excitement of seeing you, then you introduce them to the baby. Just allow the dog to sniff while on a leash – and it may be a good idea to then take the dog for a walk while the other person gets the baby settled in. The leash introduction is a good idea because dogs may react strangely if the baby suddenly cries or moves.
I know you want your dog and your kid to be best friends, and that can happen in time. But for the first few days or weeks of the baby being at home, it’s a good idea to take a very gradual approach to proximity. Don’t reprimand your dog for trying to see the baby – but use the leash or keep the baby in your arms when the dog is interested, for now. Slowly you can allow them to have closer interactions, until you feel that the dog and the baby are fully used to each other.
Everyone is going to have to make some adjustments in this new life, but a dog is not a person. They don’t understand why things can’t be the same as they always were. One great thing to do for your dog at this time is give them an area of the house where the baby won’t be. Think of this area as a safe zone, where your dog can get a little crazy, jump around, knock into things, and generally just be a dog, without fear of reprimands for being too loud or crazy around the baby. Simply use Extra Tall Walk Thru Gate to block off the laundry room, the den, the basement, or whatever other space you’ve decided to turn into a dog-friendly zone.
The last thing you want is for your dog to start believing that they only get attention and praise when the baby is not around. They’ll start to think that the baby is the reason they don’t get those things otherwise. The best thing you can do to foster the relationship between a baby and a dog is to give your dog attention when the baby is around as well. Then they’ll see that the baby is part of the family, and that the status quo will eventually return.
These nine tips show you that with some forethought and understanding, you can definitely help your dog and your child become best friends. But there’s an important safety note that I feel I have to make, or I wouldn’t be a very responsible blog host.
You should never, under any circumstances, leave even the most trusted dog alone with your young child. Any type of dog, even a small, harmless-looking designer purse pooch, can snap at a baby or toddler. In fact, it was less than 10 years ago that an infant was killed by a Pomeranian’s bites. Any dog can be a threat when faced with a situation that they feel is scary or uncertain.
It’s not necessarily that your dog is a mean bully who was waiting for a chance to bite your child. The problem is that dogs get jealous, and they don’t understand the difference between themselves and the new baby. They were your golden boy or princess girl first; all your attention went to them. Now suddenly you are spending every waking moment with this child, and they are getting the scraps of your attention. To an animal, that presents a very real safety concern. Now they are wondering if their source of food, shelter, and love is going to be stolen by this new intruder.
Additionally, as babies become curious little things that like to make random noises and reach out to grab things, they can easily startle a dog. Dogs tend to react in defense when startled, which can mean snapping. Babies don’t understand the dog’s warnings for “stop poking my eye”, and after the third or fourth time, the dog will snap. That’s not malicious – it’s the way that a dog would teach its own puppies how to behave. Your dog simply thinks it’s teaching the new addition some manners.
That is why it’s so important to follow the steps above that help a dog understand that the baby is not responsible for the changes in your schedule. And that is also why you can never leave any dog, ever, alone with a very young child.
Once your kid gets a little bit older, it’s just as important to spend time with them teaching them how to care for a dog. You’ll want to be sure that your toddler is nice to your dog, that they understand dog warnings, and that they can play with a dog the right way, from the start. This will save you all a lot of headaches.
Teaching your younger child how to play with a dog is a great thing. For example, tug of war might be too rambunctious for a tiny child, but how about teaching them to sit and roll Chew Toys to a dog for a simple game of relaxed fetch? Of course your dog will also need to be taught to be gentle when returning the ball, but with work, you can easily boost their friendship with some quality bonding time.
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The above nine steps are a great start to a beautiful introduction, but I do have just a few more tips up my sleeve. For example, it’s a good idea to get your dog into a vet before the baby comes, because any untreated health problems could make them act out right at the worst time.
Consider going out of your way to keep baby toys and dog toys separate, but don’t reprimand your dog for picking up a baby toy. To him, all the toys are just toys, and he won’t understand why he can’t play with a new one. Be sure your dog is trained well with the “leave it” or “drop it” command if you foresee a problem.
If you have nieces or nephews, or child cousins, or neighbors, or any other children in your life that you can introduce to your dog first, that may help acclimate him to the idea of being around children. Just be sure to do it in a safe way, such as on a leash at a park.
Don’t try to feed your baby in the same place where you’ve always cuddled with your dog in the past. If you had a specific corner of the couch where you watched TV with the dog, sitting down with the baby right there is just asking the dog to jump up on the both of you. Plan a new spot for baby feeding.
If you need to get out of the house and away from the baby for a night off, don’t ask the same person to watch both the dog and the baby. That’s too much for one sitter, and can lead to dangerous situations if they don’t know how to keep the two apart.
Finally, it’s very important that you be aware of what your dog does when anxious. Do they flatten their ears, growl, get the zoomies, pant, drool, look away, or something else? Get familiar with your dog’s warning signs so that you can get your baby out of the way of potential danger as soon as possible.
Yes, it will take a bit of work on your part to keep everyone safe and happy. But one day, when you see your older child and your dog being best friends together, you’ll know it was worth it.