Introducing your new baby to your dog

Your first baby might be hairy, bark at possums and have four legs but when you’re expecting a human baby, how do you break it to your fur child?

Just like preparing a sibling for a new brother or sister, experts say it’s wise to make some preparations before introducing your baby to your dog.

Dr Jacqui Ley, a Veterinarian Specialist in Behavioural Medicine and a mother to twins, shares some tips which may help prepare your dog for a baby brother or sister.

Prepare for a change in routine

Dr Ley says while most pets are pretty resilient, some find change harder than others.

“If you think your dog will have to spend more time outside, it’s important to make that change slowly and gradually, before the baby comes along,” says Dr Ley. 

“If it’s the mother who normally walks the dog and that is something that’s likely to change, perhaps someone else could start taking the dog for walks in advance to get your pet used to it.”

Set up the pram and nursery early

When you introduce your baby to your dog, you’re likely to be introducing a whole lot of new other items too. Not only does it pay to be organised yourself, Dr Ley says setting up the nursery early is good for your dog too.
 
“Let the animal sniff the pram and show them it rolls around, let them smell the cot or bassinet but make it clear they can’t jump or sleep on it,” says Dr Ley. “We want the animal to be familiar with the new items so they’re not frightened of them.” 

Prepare your dog for baby’s cries

If you have a dog who is sensitive to noise, exposure to new sounds might help ease the transition.

“Playing the noises of a baby crying quietly can help to normalise the sound in the household.”

Keep calm and carry on

If you have a dog that is prone to jumping up, Dr Ley suggests preparing your dog by carrying something, like a doll, bundled in your arms.

“A lot of pets jump up when we carry things, because they want to see what we’re carrying,” he says. 

Dr Ley recommends using reward based training to teach your dog not to jump up when you’re holding your baby.
Dog watching baby's feet

Familiarise your dog with children and babies

If your dog hasn’t spent much time around children or babies, try spending some time with little ones in a controlled environment. Babies and dogs get along much better when they’re used to each other.

“I have some patients who have a pet that’s frightened of the baby, so it’s a good idea to take some steps to let the dog know that this baby will turn into a little person.”

Build baby barriers

Dr Ley says barriers, particularly something a pet can see through, are a great way to keep your little one safe  when baby and dog first come face to face.

“We use an internal screen door on the nursery which allowed my pets to look in and see me, but it keeps the dogs and cats out,” says Dr Ley. “It was a good compromise because it kept the baby safe which is the priority, but it let the pets know what was happening.”

Baby smells

While mum and bub are in hospital, Ley recommends someone brings home a piece of clothing that mum has been wearing while cuddling bub. The idea is that something with both mum and bubs smell will help familiarise the dog with your baby.

Introducing your dog to your baby

When arriving home from hospital, Dr Ley recommends the mum walks in first to greet the pet (or pets) as she has usually been away for a few days.

“When the baby comes in, mum and dad take it to the nursery and at a later time, when the baby is safely in the cot and settled, the dog comes in on a lead to have a sniff,” says Dr Ley. “This way they learn it’s not a creature to be scared of, but it’s also not a creature you can jump all over,” she says. 

“Introducing your baby to your dog is all about safety and creating a low key, no fuss situation.”

Ask for help

If you are exhausted, or have a baby who is not sleeping properly, it can be hard to find the time to walk your dog or spend quality time with them. If you are feeling overwhelmed, perhaps you could ask a friend, neighbour or family member to help out by walking the dog, or even hire a dog walker.
 
Once you are feeling up to it, walking your dog can be an enjoyable way to take time out from your baby and get some exercise when your partner is home. If you have a well-trained dog, daily walks with your baby and dog can be a lovely activity that is good for everyone.
 
“Taking time out with my dogs is something I found relaxing,” says Ley. “Going and having a quiet sit with my dog was something I looked forward to as a new mum.”
 
Babies and dogs can become the best of friends as they grow up together, and making sure they get off on the right foot is a great start for your family. 
 
For more resources, tips and tools to help with the first thousand days of your parenting journey, click here.

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