The most important aspect of positive interactions between children and dogs is supervision. Never leave your child of any age unattended with any dog. Most dog bite incidents involving children were unsupervised. Crate your dog or put her in another room if you cannot directly supervise them (even to go to the bathroom).
Prepare well before baby’s arrival:
- Enroll your dog in an obedience class and make sure skills like sit, stay, and leave it are strong.
- Establish an entry protocol. Your dog should be trained to wait calmly a few feet from the front door. You can do this by having one person enter and another treating for sitting calmly, waiting for the entering person to greet the dog. This saves you from struggling with a heavy infant carrier and a jumping, excited dog and later, a dog knocking over a toddler. Do not allow your dog to approach guests without an explicit invitation, your dog should wait calmly to be approached or to be asked to approach.
- Get your dog used to nail trims and filing. Long and/or sharp nails can severely scratch baby’s tender skin.
- Run all the baby equipment frequently with all the music, vibration, etc. Place a doll in the swing, bouncer, high chair, and talk to it like you would your baby. These are opportunities to desensitize your dog’s reaction to unfamiliar movements and sounds and a good time to teach “leave it”, so your dog knows they are not hers.
- Carry a doll around, sit on the sofa with it, pretend to feed it and coo at it. Place your cell phone, out of sight, by the doll with one of the many apps available that mimic baby sounds and cries.
- Do not allow your dog to jump on the sofa or bed. If she has been allowed on furniture and to sleep with you, now is the time to train her otherwise, even if you do not plan on co-sleeping. Your little one will end up in bed with you at some point during early childhood.
- Bring baby’s stroller along on walks with your dog. Yes you will look crazy, but it does take them a couple times to get used to walking next to a stroller and not get their paws run over (better to learn with an empty, lighter stroller!). This is also a good time to work on leash manners so you’re not struggling with an excited dog AND an awkward stroller.
When Baby Arrives:
- Have someone familiar to the dog bring a blanket or outfit the baby wore in the hospital and allow her to sniff it. This will get her used to baby’s scent before he comes home.
- Practice entry protocol when you arrive home. Give your dog love and attention after she has waited calmly (this will be especially hard as you have been gone 2-4 days).
- Once you’re settled, bring the baby to your dog or call the dog to you for a foot sniff. It is important in the early months that your dog only interact with baby when given permission to. Never put baby on the floor and allow the dog to freely interact with him and do not allow the dog to sniff or lick baby’s head or face. A bite can happen in a fraction of a second – dogs have reflexes faster than our own.
- Try to keep your dog’s schedule the same. While you won’t be up for walks in the beginning, a simple game of fetching a tennis ball or Frisbee doesn’t take much time and still gives the dog needed exercise. The baby can be worn in a sling, wrap, or front carrier.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after interacting with the dog (more so if she is an outside dog) and especially after handling/cleaning up dog feces. Dogs can carry bacteria and parasites found in their feces that can be fatal to infants and small children (roundworm can be deadly if ingested).
Enjoy! Bringing a child into the family is a balancing act. Whether it’s your first or fifth, these tips will make the transition easier on your dog (and in the long run, you too) and help establish a positive relationship between your dog and child.
And don’t forget to familiarize yourself with dog body language so that you can see the signs that your dog may be uncomfortable around the new baby before it becomes a problem (this great image can even be printed out as a poster to hang in your house as a reminder) :
AGAIN: THERE IS NO CIRCUMSTANCE IN WHICH IT IS ACCEPTABLE TO LEAVE ANY YOUNG CHILD ALONE WITH ANY DOG FOR ANY LENGTH OF TIME – we cannot stress this enough. No matter how wonderfully your dog interacts with your child, caution and supervision are key to maintaining a safe interaction for both baby and dog.
Do you have any tips to share to get dog used to baby? Please post them in our comments section, we may even add them here