Bringing a new baby home is an exciting time, but it can also be stressful for your dog. Dogs are creatures of habit and a new baby represents a huge change to their normal routine. Some dogs adapt well, while others may struggle with the new sights, sounds and smells of an infant. Teaching your dog to be calm and gentle around your newborn is extremely important for the safety of both. The good news is that with proper training and supervision, you can help your dog learn to coexist peacefully with your new family addition.
Start Training Early
Don't wait until you bring your baby home to start training. Begin working on calm behaviors with your dog as soon as you find out you're expecting. The more time you have to reinforce good manners, the better. If you adopt a dog while pregnant, make sure calmness training is a top priority from the very beginning.
Use treats, toys and praise to reward your dog for remaining composed in a variety of situations. Practice having him sit, lie down and stay on command. Work on ignoring distractions by having him focus on you during walks or while playing. The more control you have over your dog's behavior before baby arrives, the smoother the transition will be.
Create Positive Associations
You want your dog to associate the new baby with good things. Introduce calming baby items like powder scents, lotions and sound machines early on. Give your dog treats and praise when he exhibits polite sniffing and gentle curiosity. This helps him view the new smells as non-threatening.
Occasionally wrap a filled diaper in a plastic bag and let your dog investigate it while rewarding calm behavior. The more your dog practices appropriate interaction with baby stimuli, the more accepting he'll be once baby is home. Always supervise closely and redirect any rough mouthing or pawing.
Utilize Calming Aids
Consider using pheromone sprays and diffusers or an anxiety wrap to help relax your dog. These tools work by emitting chemical signals that naturally soothe and calm dogs. Spray bedding areas and plug diffusers into rooms your dog frequents. Follow product directions for optimal effectiveness.
Anxiety wraps apply gentle, constant pressure that many dogs find comforting. Have your dog wear one while acclimating to new baby gear and spending time in the nursery. Redirect any frantic energy into appropriate outlets like chew toys. The more settled your dog is beforehand, the less stressful integrating baby will be.
Practice Ignoring Distractions
With a new baby in the house, there will be many new distractions vying for your dog's attention. Crying, giggling, toys, strollers – your dog's curiosity will be piqued. Reinforce excellent impulse control by practicing "leave it" and "watch me" commands.
Have family members walk by with interesting objects while rewarding your dog for obeying these cues. Start at a distance with mild distractions and slowly work up to real-life baby enticements. Use high-value treats to keep your dog's focus on you. Mastering these commands helps prevent nuisance jumping, licking or agitated barking.
Establish Safe Spaces
Having an off-limits area gives your dog a quiet place to relax. This is especially helpful for overly excitable pups. Use baby gates to block access to nursery areas before baby arrives. Spend time acclimating your dog to the gates so he's comfortable being separated from parts of the house.
Provide plenty of toys and beds in his designated zones. Reinforce good behavior when he's confined to those spaces. Teaching your dog to settle on cue is also useful. Having him go to his bed or crate helps redirect energy and provides an outlet when he seems overstimulated.
Arrange Proper Introductions
Don't just bring your newborn home and hope for the best. Make sure to arrange proper introductions between baby and dog. Have your partner or a friend hold the baby while keeping the dog leashed. Let them sniff each other from a reasonable distance while praising calm investigation.
Slowly decrease the distance while monitoring body language for any signs of anxiety or stress. Provide high-value treats for polite greeting behavior. Take introductions slowly and don't force interactions. Let your dog warm up at his own pace to build confidence.
Never Leave Baby Unattended
No matter how much you've prepared, never leave your dog and newborn alone unsupervised – not even for a minute. While rare, tragic accidents can occur if a dog becomes uncomfortable or overstimulated. Always have your dog on a leash or in a separate gated area when the baby is on the floor for tummy time or play.
Keep close supervision during feedings, diaper changes and anytime baby cries for an extended period. Watch for warning signs like licking lips, panting, whining or tense muscles. Having another adult present to monitor your dog while you tend to baby is ideal. Take every precaution to set everyone up for success.
Reinforce Gentle Manners
Consistently praise and reward your dog for polite, gentle behavior around your baby. Use treats and verbal praise when he investigates the new smells calmly or settles nicely in his designated area. Look for relaxed body language – loose wagging tail, soft relaxed facial muscles, play bows.
On the flip side, discourage any inappropriate roughness quickly and firmly. Use your "no" command on any pawing, jumping or mouthing. Redirect to a more suitable chew toy and have dog go to his bed or crate for a brief time out if needed. The more you reinforce wanted behaviors, the less likely unwanted ones become.
Exercise Caution with Resources
Dogs can become protective around resources like food, toys and sleeping areas. Avoid potential resource guarding issues by picking up dog toys and feeding your pet separately, away from baby. Supervise closely when your dog has high-value items like bones or when baby starts moving into dog sleeping zones.
Teach and reward "drop it" and "leave it" commands. Never reach into your dog's mouth or try to take items by force. The goal is to prevent any situations that may provoke a reaction. Exercise caution and management to keep interactions safe.
Watch for Signs of Stress
Look for body language or behavioral changes indicating your dog is feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Excessive panting, whining, shaking, aggression or avoidance can all signal stress. If these signs emerge, give your dog some quiet time in his designated safe space to decompress.
Avoid scolding or punishment as that can increase anxiety. Try adding an Adaptil diffuser to soothe your dog's nerves. Additional exercise, enrichment toys and calming supplements can also help relieve stress. Consult an accredited trainer if problems persist. Don't wait to seek professional help.
Remember dogs are animals driven by instinct – their actions aren't always predictable. While proper training and management are important, also be realistic in your expectations. Some dogs simply don't do well with major upheavals like a new baby.
If your pet exhibits persistent fearful, aggressive or inappropriate responses, speak to your vet about medication options or last resort re-homing. Don't place an infant at risk trying to force a fit. Adjust plans if needed to keep everyone safe and content.
Preparing your dog to happily accept your new baby takes patience and dedication. With time, consistency and supervision, you can feel confident having your furry companion and little one coexist. Always prioritize safety and don't hesitate to adjust approaches as needed. The rewarding result of harmony between your dog and baby makes the effort well worth it.