The wild hormones, the sleepless nights, the aching private bits, the scream of a newborn baby … nothing can really prepare you for becoming a first-time parent. Bringing your baby home is daunting on its own, let alone throwing a dog in the mix.
Here are some tips and advice to help prepare your family for life with your dog and newborn to ensure your dog’s world isn’t entirely flipped upside down when baby arrives.
Recently a newborn baby was mauled to death by two dogs in her backyard and while this isn’t something that happens often, it’s important that pet owners are taking every precaution to keep both their dogs and newborns safe and secure.
Preparing Your Dog for a Baby
1. The Blanket
There is a big misconception that getting your dog to smell a blanket from your baby whilst you are in the hospital is EVERYTHING when it comes to preparing your dog. This isn’t quite the case.
Your dog has already smelt so many changes in you in the lead-up to the arrival of your baby including your changes in hormones, possibly your milk production and the amniotic fluid surrounding the baby.
Let them sniff the blanket. Make it short and sweet. Give them a little treat and move on.
2. Communication – let’s understand it
One of the most important messages for parents and expecting parents is that dogs and humans communicate differently. Humans show affection with hugs and kisses but to a dog that can actually be a scary thing.
A dog will often show his affection with subtle signs, such as a lick, a yawn, turning his head, a closed tense mouth, shaking off or something we call half-moon eyes (which is when they really show the whites of their eyes). Or a not-so-subtle sign like a growl or baring its teeth. Although these may seem scary, these are also forms of communication and we should be thankful for them.
It is our job as the dog’s owner and the parent to see these signs before they turn into a bite.
During pregnancy, it’s important to start looking out for these signs:
- Watch the way your dog responds if you try to hug them or pat them in a certain spot.
- Watch how your dog is around other dogs.
- Watch how your dog responds to different sounds and different people.
3. Teach your dog basic manners
Positive reinforcement is key to training a happy dog to have a great bond with both you and (in time) your kids. In the early stages of pregnancy, one of the first things I tell parents is to get to work on teaching their dog basic manners that will be helpful when bub is here.
The main ones I suggest you work on teaching your dog is to relax – using a “down”, “stay” and/or “on your bed”, teaching a “leave it” will come in handy too and so will proper use of a leash while walking with a pram.
4. Think about the changes
Dogs love routine. So before the baby arrives, start to think about some of the changes that might occur in your dog’s world and start to introduce them now. We want your dog to form a positive association with the baby.
Think about where they rest, where they sleep, when they go for a walk, when they eat, etc. Teach your dog that when you lie on the couch, they get to have their own special spot on a bed on the floor or a special place on the couch (not on top of you while you’re trying to feed bub).
If you don’t want the dog going into the baby’s room, put the baby gate up now. Start to drip-feed the changes to your dog a little bit at a time. If you do this before the baby arrives, your dog will be more relaxed and prepared when the baby comes home.
5. Give them a Safe Zone
Make sure your dog knows it has a safe kid-free area in your house. A crate, a playpen, and an area sectioned off with baby gates. Think about this now and start getting your dog used to being ok with separation in their safe zone.
Dogs want to be close to their trusted adult but they also need their own space, away from the chaos of a baby.
6. So much baby equipment!
From the cot, bassinet, pram, play mat, bouncers, swings, change table, and feeding chairs – there’s so much “stuff” when it comes to babies. And lots of it comes with movement, flashing lights, music, and things that might be a little frightening or even a little exciting for your dog.
Bring them out, let your dog sniff them out, get comfortable before turning on the sounds or movement. Doing this before your baby is here, will be a great way to get him to feel comfortable around these new items before the baby is in or on them. If your dog responds in a way that you feel is concerning, please get in touch with me or another positive trainer as soon as possible.
7. Think about the walk
Safety comes first. If you have a dog that is reactive when out walking or pulls on lead, then you might not want to bring bub with you on walks. Go with your partner so one can control the dog and the other can control the pram. Or aim to walk alone with your pup when someone is able to watch bub.
If your dog is already good on the lead, start practicing with a pram before the baby arrives. Yes, walking with an empty pram looks a bit weird, but its all part of the fun of preparing your dog for a baby.
8. The attention
I know this may be super difficult for some, but a big pitfall is to give your dog extra attention in the lead-up to having the baby. Some fur parents think this is a good idea because they feel bad that the baby is coming and they won’t have time for the dog.
But if anything, it works the other way. If you start getting them used to having not as much attention in the lead-up, then it will be easier for them when baby comes.
Have plenty of things your dog CAN do. Daily enrichment is so important for our dogs. It gives them different and fun things to do in their days that don’t require too much from you.
Food enrichment is an easy one – instead of feeding from a bowl, scatter their meal in the garden or in their playpen, use a Kong, hide treats or meals in folded-up towels, or put it in an egg carton.
10. The sounds
Babies also come with lots of new and interesting sounds, from cries to grunts. We want our dogs to remain calm when they hear these sounds. Check the app store and YouTube for audio of these sounds to help prepare your pup in advance.
11. Toys and play
Our dog, Cooper loves squeaky toys! So very early on, my hubby Jase and I made the decision that squeaky toys would be for the dog and not for the baby. He just gets so excited by them that we didn’t want to risk him bowling the baby over with excitement if a baby toy squeaked.
The trade-off was that the baby would have soft toys and Cooper wouldn’t.
In the months before Harper was born, we removed all of Cooper’s soft toys and gave him different ropes, and chew toys that looked different to the soft toys.
Also start thinking about how you play with your dog. Babies from very early on mirror our behaviours so we need to be mindful of this and not play too rough with our dogs in front of our children. If you sit on the floor and this is the start of rough play for your dog, start thinking about how you might change this.
12. Set up your help
Who will look after your dog when you go into labour and into the hospital? If your dog is going to stay somewhere – can they have the dog for an extra week or two whilst you settle in back home with your baby? Will you have someone help walk the dog in those first few weeks? All things to start thinking about in the lead.
Help is SO important. So make sure to be prepared for that.
** And please, no matter how much you trust your dog, always ensure the dog and child are actively supervised. This is the most important tip when it comes to dogs and newborns and preparing your dog for a baby.
What to read next
- What Your Dog’s Breed Says About Your Personality
- Heroic Pup! Dog Saves Baby after the Infant Stopped Breathing
- 8 Important Dog Safety Rules to Teach Your Child
About the author
Mel is the founder of Cooper and Kids, which specialises in creating safe, happy and positive relationships between babies, kids and dogs. Mel is here to support and prepare you for each phase of your journey.
If you are worried at all about your dog and how he/she may respond when bringing a baby home, please seek professional help before the baby arrives. This is a service that Cooper and Kids offer in person and online.
Disclaimer: Cooper and Kids nor Mum Central will not be liable for anything that happens to you, your dog or your children by following the advice and tips in this article. If you have real concerns or worries about your dog and/or the safety of your children, please seek out a professional to come and assess the situation ASAP.