Bringing a baby home can be an exciting and joyous occasion, but for a dog, the new addition to the household may feel confusing and overstimulating. With new sounds, smells, and routines to contend with, some dogs have a hard time adjusting to a new baby in the home, and their reactions can range from adoring to indifferent to jealous and even aggressive.
In many cases, dogs can learn to live with their new human counterparts, but a proper introduction is essential, both in terms of building a strong bond and ensuring everyone's safety.
Preparing for the baby
When it comes to a successful introduction, preparation and proactivity are key. Like any creature of habit, a strange new addition to a dog's routine has the potential to throw even the most predictable canine off. The American Kennel Club suggests prepping your dog months in advance with slow changes to his routine, which includes the amount of attention and playtime you give him. Do your best to adjust your dog's needs around what will most likely be the baby's schedule, and begin acclimating him to the new sights, smells, and routine that will soon rule the house. Easy ways to implement these adjustments include pushing an empty stroller on your walk together, exposing him to "baby" sounds, or offering him a whiff of your baby lotion. The main thing to keep in mind is to establish this routine before the baby comes, as not to help your dog associate less play or more noise with the baby, which could make him withdrawn, jealous, or upset.
Additionally, establishing a strong relationship through verbal commands will go a long way in creating a safe and enjoyable environment for everyone in the house — you, your dog, and your new baby. Dedicating a special spot or area of the house or room for your dog to go at the sound of a command will not only help you care for your baby when the need arises, but it will also create an area your dog can call his own, which may help alleviate stress. This can also be done to curb jumping up, which puppies or active dogs may do when excited, and is obviously not an ideal trait with a newborn baby in your arms. When teaching your dog a new command, always be sure to reward him to help him associate positive feelings with the act and possibly the baby.
How to introduce a dog and a baby
Eventually, the day will come when your baby is home with you and it's time to introduce them to your canine companion. Exercising care and caution may sound like no-brainers in such a scenario, but it cannot be stressed enough just how important it is to take the introduction as slow and careful as possible, as even the most well-behaved and timid dogs can sometimes react less than perfect around an infant. When it's time for the two to meet, the ASPCA recommends leashing your dog when inviting her to meet your new baby no matter what, and having someone else lead her to you and your child. During the greeting, use a calm, happy tone to praise and reassure her, and allow her to sniff the baby for a few seconds while offering the positive reward. Then, have her retreat to her designated space, and allow her to come back only when she's called, taking care to offer her warmth and praise each time so that she will begin to associate the baby with positive affirmations or a treat.
Most likely, the initial greeting period will take place over the first few days or even weeks that your baby is home. During this time, do your best to keep offering your dog the opportunity to make positive associations with the baby. In addition to praising or rewarding your dog each time a sniff goes as planned or he takes to his designated area, try bringing your baby along with you during the time you have devoted to your dog, like on daily walks or during feeding times, if possible. You can also help teach your dog to associate the baby with good feelings by engaging in enjoyable activities only while the baby is around.
As your baby grows, they will likely become more interested in their canine playmate and may start exploring as babies do, by touching, grabbing, or pulling on her. For safety's sake, this is absolutely something that should be exercised with care and a close eye, as some dogs may not appreciate having their tails or ears tugged on by a bumbling baby. A young dog or puppy will likely be more tolerant of such behavior but can mistake it for play, which is why leashing your dog is a good idea as you can intervene and prevent possible injuries due to over-excitement. An older dog, on the other hand, may be a little less welcoming of having her body manhandled, and may offer a warning to your child, which is why monitoring meetings are crucial.
In any case, setting boundaries with commands and praising desired behavior will be your best bet in creating and maintaining a great relationship between your baby and your dog, which will be enjoyed for years to come.