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A Baby’s Best Friend: How To Introduce Dogs and Babies

Dogs and babies go together perfectly in photos, but can they co-exist harmoniously at home?

In short, yes! But there are a few things to keep in mind when introducing them to one another:

When you find out you’re expecting:

If you haven’t already, bring your dog to an obedience class. Behavior that’s harmless, even loveable, now (like jumping up to greet you at the door, for instance) can cause problems later.

Moreover, babies do unpredictable things that adults don’t. Many dogs haven’t been around children before and might be startled by their sudden movements.

Victoria Stilwell, dog trainer and host of Animal Planet’s It’s Me or the Dog, suggests taking your dog to the park to see how they react to children from a distance. Gradually increase their exposure to children as your due date approaches by getting moms you know to push their pram beside the dog.

Three months before your due date

“a newborn dramatically changes not only your life,” Stillwell says, “but your dog’s as well.” The baby’s arrival will be accompanied by a host of new appliances, toys, and furniture that will be equally unfamiliar to your dog.

“You want the dog to become familiar with these items now, not when your baby is in them,” says Betsy Saul, co-founder of PetFinder.com, an online pet-search site.

Set up the bassinet, crib, and swing before your baby arrives, and expose your dog to new smells like baby lotion and powder. Expose them to as many new baby-related things as possible before the baby arrives so there’s less for them to take in after the due date.

Forget the adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Try the “back” cue, which is an important skill for helping your pup learn about personal space, Stilwell says. Standing directly in front of your dog, say “back” and hold out your hand as you shuffle toward him. He’ll naturally back up, and then you can reward him with a treat, such as praise, a pat on the head, or a small biscuit. Practice this cue throughout the next few months, gradually eliminating your forward movement, so you only have to lift your hand and say “back.”

Consistency is key; your dog will eventually back up on his own, leaving Baby to enjoy your lap.

While you’re in the hospital

Before you leave the hospital, get a friend or relative to take home one of your baby’s first bodysuits or blankets so your dog can get used to your child’s smell. By the time Baby comes home, your dog will recognize and accept the strange new scent.

“There’s quite a difference between the initial sniff-down and a friendly recheck,” Saul says.

When you come home:

Stillwell advises:

Let your partner hold the baby when you walk into your house, Stilwell advises. Greet the dog first to let him tell you how much he’s missed you and burn off some steam. Then, after he’s calmed down, sit down with your baby and let your dog sniff him to get acquainted.

During the first few feedings, ask your partner to give the dog some treats.

“Dogs sense that nursing is intimate,” Saul says. “If they learn they get rewarded for being tranquil, they’ll associate feedings with positive times.”

Amidst all the commotion, don’t forget to walk your dog. Dogs with surplus energy, as you’ll know, can cause havoc! Have your partner take your dog for a long walk each day, which will allow you to spend more quality time with your baby.

How to Help Them Get Along

Bringing a baby into the world is a time of flux, commotion, and novelty. Not least for your dog. Moreover, he won’t understand why his home life is changing and might be a little more excitable and mischievous than usual.

“Rather than scold him and say, ‘no, no, no,’ all the time,” Stillwell says,” teach him another choice. Redirect his behavior toward something that will make him happy.” Jumping up on guests? Remind him he has a bone in the backyard.

A few more tips:

  • Zone out. Install safety gates to limit your dog’s access to certain rooms. This way, Baby can perfect her rolling and crawling in peace.
  • Stock up on dog toys. If your pup has his own stuff, he’s less likely to chew on any cute baby toys you received as gifts.
  • Avoid food fights. Keep your dog’s bowls on the counter when it’s not mealtime. Once your child is mobile, she can create a mess of sloshed water (which also poses a drowning risk) or may sample the kibble (choking hazard). Plus, some dogs get territorial around their food.
  • Teach your baby to be gentle. As your tot begins exploring with her hands, she might grab your dog’s fur. Show her how to pet nicely. She’ll mimic Mommy—and your hound will thank you.
  • Always supervise Never, ever leave your child alone with your pet. Infant behavior (squealing, a quick maneuver) could unexpectedly irritate him. And watch for pacing or unusual eye contact, which could indicate your dog isn’t comfortable with the baby.

The bottom line: Your babies- furry and otherwise- are more than capable of getting along if you follow the tips and tricks outlined in this post. So get your camera out!