Before I had my daughter, we spent a decent amount of time trying to prepare our dog Siena for her arrival. Siena is one heck of a pet, but, like any dog or person, she has her idiosyncrasies.
For Siena, that includes being a bit skittish and afraid of new things. In the past, she hasn’t been a fan of children — or really anyone walking slightly off balance who tries to approach her (sorry, neighborhood kids, especially the toddler set, and future zombies). She’s also freaked out by loud noises and likes to try to sit on your head when a thunderstorm rolls in. But, she’s amazingly sweet, loving and one heck of a protector (the FedEx man will NEVER get in this house, no way). And — bottom line — she’s a member of our family. So my husband and I were determined to do what we needed to do to make sure our family of now four worked together as a unit.
And I’m happy to say that after three months of training, patience and close attention, it’s working! It’s something we’re still constantly improving upon, but the dog doesn’t want to eat the baby and the baby isn’t terrified by the dog. We can all happily be in the same room together — and even on the couch together. So, win! That said, here are some lessons learned from those first few weeks!
Of course, these are things that worked for us, but every dog, baby and family is different. So be sure to talk to your vet and consider getting a pro dog trainer!
Introducing Dog to Baby: 7 Tips
1. Do your prep work. Months ago, I detailed seven things we were trying to get Siena ready for Gwen, and pretty much everything we tried helped. No one thing made the transition easy or flawless, but just about everything made the process a touch easier — and it helped my husband and I put thought to and a focus on getting our family cohesive from the get-go (and not only when we had a newborn at home screaming at 3 a.m.).
2. Shoot for one-on-one coverage. My husband was home from work for the first week or so after we came home from the hospital and we would alternate who was in charge of whom. Most of the time I was nursing, but that meant that he was with Siena, giving her attention. When he went back to work, I made sure that during nap time, Siena got one-on-one mommy time, too. That said …
3. Give your dog breaks. Some people call this “time out,” but it wasn’t that Siena was ever in trouble or being punished. Rather, when she’d show early signs of being overly anxious or stressed (whining, big eyes, pacing about), we’d gently give her a break. That might mean she’d go in another room with only one of us, get a walk with the baby quietly napping in the stroller or just go outside on her own — any kind of break from the stimulation of the new situation. We also had family over to play with just her — and took her to doggie daycare a few days a week.
4. Consider putting up a few baby gates. We put up a baby gate in the door to my office so that Gwen and I could play on the floor and Siena could watch from a safe distance (for her and us). Unlike a door where she couldn’t see what was going on and felt left out, the gate allowed her to be “included,” with a little less stress. (We’re lucky that Siena isn’t a jumper, but don’t try this if your dog is, obviously.)
5. Reward good behavior — but don’t go crazy with the treats. At first, I was giving Siena treats for just about every little thing she’d do. Sit at my feet while I was nursing? Treat. Walk upstairs with us to the nursery? Treat! Sniff the baby? Treat, treat! But, food can sometimes trigger too much excitement in some dogs and this is what happened with Siena. She began to get a bit too jazzed about treats and before I knew it we had a strung-out dog on our hands. I was not setting her up to win. So, we learned a mix of gentle and calm praise (kind words, belly rubs) plus a few treats here and there for good behavior was best for our dog.
6. Never leave the baby alone with the dog. That should go without saying, but I’m saying it just in case. It’s tempting and you’re tired and the laundry feels like it’ll never get done, but, seriously, it’s not worth risking. Even if your dog seems like he/she is totally cool with everything, safety first.
7. Be patient. They say both babies and dogs smell fear, and it’s pretty much true. The more calm and patient you can be with the transition process, the better. Your dog might do great for a day and then regress a little. Your dog might decide to sleep alone at night instead of with you (I swear that Siena was the most exhausted one of us in the house during those first few weeks — she really needed to sleep downstairs and away from the crying). It’s all normal. Keep at it, call in a dog training pro when you need to, and accept that it’s going to take time. It has taken us months to get to this point …
Plus, when the little one does new things — like walk and crawl — it’s likely going to take a little more time adapting. I’ll let you know how that goes when it happens.
How did the process of introducing your dog to your baby go? Anything else helpful you learned? And it’s seriously all so worth it, right? Nothing makes me happier than having my entire family around me. Siena was my first baby, after all! —Jenn