Preparing Your Dog for a New Baby

Whether your dog is a relaxed senior or a high-energy working breed, here’s some expert advice for easing your pet into your new family routine.

It's important to prepare your dog for your new baby. Photos by: Xavier Santiago
It’s important to prepare your dog for your new baby. Photos: Copyright 2013, Xavier Santiago

You’ve had a dog for a while — or maybe you took it as a baby step (pardon the pun) toward seeing how you would handle a family and all the responsibility involved with caring for another life.

But now you’ve committed to the idea of both. And 9 months later, it’s no longer a concept. You have your very own hairless puppy.

Unlike a lot of trainers and people who parrot dog advice without the joy of experiencing a child, I’m finding that plenty of points come to mind given that I’ve just walked that walk with our infant son.

I’ve been around all sorts of dog breeds and mixes, but being around Alaskan Malamutes as my base breed has taught me a lot over the years. Because these dogs aren’t “once trained, always trained,” dealing with them isn’t too much different from dealing with a child.

They talk back, they listen for tone to determine how serious you are and they even occasionally go overboard.

This is me as a baby with a Malamute.
This is me as a baby with a Malamute.

I was raised by a pack of wolves — my dad’s Malamutes, that is. He trusted them, and I trust my dogs. But there are certain rules you must establish and maintain throughout the life of your dog as your baby grows.

Preparing for Baby’s Arrival

So, you’ve rushed off to the hospital suddenly. You were at home watching the big game, and suddenly your partner turns and says, “I think my water broke!” Your journey begins.

But your dog has no idea what is going on. He can sense something is different with the belly, the shifting of furniture and the smells (that we can’t even begin to detect).

Did you arrange for someone to look after your pet? Do you have a hierarchy established in your house? What’s your home structure like? These are just a handful of questions. Before you rush off to the hospital, get these basics in order.

Here’s a punch list of items you should plan for, and it’s what we did during pre-labor:

  • Dogs are pack-oriented and need their boundaries. They feed off our energy, too. So make sure your leadership is established. No dogs on the bed or couches, or anywhere you might place your infant. That place is now off-limits to your dog, as it should have been previously. Establish or re-establish that now, not when you are functioning on 3 hours of sleep and distracted by crying or wrist-deep in poop.
  • Order any new furniture early. This allows your dog to become familiar with the changing environment. We made the nursery off-limits for the first stages. This will create a border in their minds. Eventually you may allow them to explore the area, but always use recall to bring them out of the room. This will maintain the boundary, and both parents should practice this.
  • During your planning visits to the hospital, let the dog sniff you when you come home. This will make those smells less foreign and will come into play when the baby comes home.
  • Arrange for someone to care for your pets. You don’t know how long labor will last. We arranged for a dog boarder to pick up our dogs because we have no family here in England. Ask a family member or friend if you have that option.

Here Comes Baby

Now you’re in the hospital and focused on all the energy in the room. It’s a joyous moment that changes your life forever. Whether you have a new boy or girl, when you come home you and your partner will both be exhausted in different ways. When my wife and I came home from the hospital, we had almost everything in place (we are über planners), but bits and bobs will come up. Why stress yourselves out with the larger issues if you don’t have to?

Regardless of who you arranged to watch your dog, make sure that your best buddy comes back a day or 2 after you do. This is important to establish your routine as parents. It will create a calmer energy for your dog. When your dog does return home, make sure he has had some good exercise to partially exhaust him. The excitement of returning home plus all the new scents will cause loads of stimulation.

Here are some practices we observed — and the rewards are still returning now:

  • Allow your dog to greet you in a calm manner. This isn’t a routine change but a way to show the dog you are pleased and happy while allowing him to smell the changes.
  • Remember when you came home from the hospital-planning visits? Now you reek of those scents, plus a cuter one: your baby. Claim his/her scent. Burp clothes, blankets, and other clothing or accessories are a great way to introduce the baby’s scent. Challenge your dog to sniff from a distance. Maintain the boundaries for now. Once you introduce the baby, this will help maintain a calm state. We use the key word “mine” with all items of our son’s, including our son.
  • Whoever is holding your newborn should also be in a calm state. Again, let the dog sniff from a distance. Maintain the boundaries and allow the dog to sniff. Use praise when the dog is exhibiting proper distance and sniffing. As time passes, you will allow closer interaction.
  • If your dog is overzealous: Take him for a long walk and try these steps again.

Eventually closer interaction will happen, but these basic steps will ensure that a long-term positive association will take hold. As your baby grows and develops, gradually increase the interaction, but remember one key point: Safety of your baby is the top priority.

Safety First

Never leave dog and baby in a room unattended. Even a well-behaved dog may become curious and accidentally injure a baby by sniffing too closely or trying to peer over the edge of a crib.

Work with a trainer who specializes in baby introductions if you have any concerns. There have been instances where babies and toddlers have been injured or worse, but it is less about breed and more about training and temperament.

Working with our Malamutes, I’ve learned — as has my wife — to read behavior a mile way. Pay attention to that energy. The best way to maintain a calmer energy is to not neglect your routine and interaction with your canine.

When the baby is awake, spend time with your dog as well. When the baby sleeps, let that be a down time for the dog, too. This will prevent potential jealousy and maintain a calm command of the home. Gradually closer interaction will happen, and your dog will accept the baby as much as you do.

Don’t Miss: 9 Ways to Prepare Your Cat for a New Baby

Duncan is waiting for Baby Santiago to throw the monkey.
Duncan is patiently waiting for Baby Santiago to throw the monkey toy. He might be waiting awhile.

A fun observation: Our Duncan has now tried to present his squeaky monkey toy for our son to throw. He can’t throw it yet, but I have a feeling it will happen soon, in addition to teaching him where the cookie jar is.

Dealing With Extended Family

As the holidays descend upon us, families will gather and create a lot of unfocused and chaotic energy. You may have family members who bring their pets to your home or visit homes with dogs.

Once you have your routine with your small pack, be aware of introducing your child to the larger family pack. Make sure to establish the same rules as in your own home. Ask your family members to sequester their pets to the guest room, and follow the steps above as you would in your home.

Once you are at their home, prevent any direct, face-to-face encounters your child has with the dogs. If you see nervous behavior exhibited, immediately remove the animal from the environment.

Here are 4 signs of stress in dogs:

  1. Licking the lips
  2. Showing the whites of the eyes
  3. Panting when not overheated
  4. Turning the head away

A happy-go-lucky dog is much easier to introduce than one that is stressed. One of my sisters has a dog that isn’t very sociable or the best-behaved with handling except by her. Because of this, I don’t want to run the risk of stressing ourselves or the dog, or run the risk of an incident. Communicate with all of your family members before the event and plan ahead.

Prevention is key. Too many times I’ve seen events occur that were preventable with proper education of the child and adequate introduction with the dog. Follow these rules and if all else fails, remove the dog from the situation.

Growing your pack is a wonderful experience that requires a careful and considered approach. But when you follow the basics, you create the proper foundation for years of enjoyment for the entire family.

Xavier A. Santiago

View posts by Xavier A. Santiago
In addition to working as a producer and on-air talent — including as a judge and host on Animal Planet's Groomer Has It — Xavier Santiago is a second-generation breeder, owner and handler of Alaskan Malamutes, and a professional handler and trainer of other breeds. Growing up around animals, Xavier always had a special connection and love for dogs. Trained by some of the best, known for his love of the sport and, most important, placing the care of dogs above all else, Xavier constantly strives toward embodying the spirit of dog fancying. Working with rescue groups, community organizations and politicians, he has led a battle to improve animal welfare. He lives in London and New York City with his wife and dogs. You can visit follow Xavier on Twitter or check out his Facebook page.

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