If you’re anything like us, you decided it would be a good idea to get a puppy before you started trying to conceive your first child.
After all, raising your first baby isn’t difficult enough. You like a good challenge and you were excited about the prospect of not only changing diapers, but walking a dog and cleaning up dog poop.
And keeping dog toys separate from baby toys. And keeping the dog from attacking the baby.
You thought of all these things and getting a puppy still seemed like an AMAZING idea.
[cue the whomp-whomp-whomp downer music]
Don’t worry, I’m right there with you in the oh-shit-we-didn’t-really-think-this-through department.
Okay, so, the baby is on the way. The puppy is maturing into a not-so-terrible dog, but still has plenty of crazy puppy tendencies.
At least, that’s how ours is.
And now you’re wondering how to get your dog ready for a baby.
How to Get Your Dog Ready for a Baby: It’s Hard Work, but Worth It.
Assuming you don’t want to go to any extremes (like giving away your dog or locking it away in a secluded room for the rest of its life), there are some practical solutions that can go a long way to keeping your dog/baby situation nightmare-free.
And I think it goes without saying, but the difficulty of actually implementing these solutions will depend on the temperament of your dog.
If your dog can be a maniac (like ours), this is going to require a bit more work.
1) Start training before the baby is born.
People tend to be reactive by nature, only dealing with the problems once they surface. That can be OK, but you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches by stopping the issues before they spiral of out of control.
Chances are, you will already know your dog’s problematic behavior before your baby is born. You’ve seen how your dog reacts around other people, and maybe even other people’s children.
Does your dog jump on people a lot? Train him or her to stop.
We’ve had issues with our dog when we’re out on a walk and he sees a little kid walking with a parent…and proceeds to approach the kid like it’s another dog (or something non-human).
Jumping on adults is annoying, but jumping on little kids (or worse, babies) can be dangerous. This is definitely an area we’re heavily focused on with our dog, and changing the behavior has really been a challenge.
In addition to the link above (which has some great pointers), here’s a video that gives some tips for teaching a dog to stop jumping on people:
For some people, jumping isn’t the most dangerous thing that their dog does.
Does your dog bite people (even if it’s just playfully)? You definitely want to put an end to that.
Even if the dog is just playing, a dog that bites frequently can be extremely dangerous around a child or infant. Children aside, this is probably a behavior you’d want to correct anyway for your own well-being.
In addition to the link above, here’s a video that gives some tips for teaching a dog to stop biting:
It takes a lot of effort and dedication to really change your dog’s behavior, but it’ll pay off when all is said and done.
The bottom line is, you can eliminate a huge percentage of your dog/baby concerns by simply preventing them from ever occurring in the first place.
2) Learn to control the space with a baby doll.
You can teach your dog to stop jumping on you and biting you, but introducing a baby creates an entirely new scenario for your dog.
How often has your dog seen you caring for another small creature? Carrying it? Feeding it?
Although you may feel you have control over normal everyday scenarios with your dog, controlling the space with a baby will likely be a different situation.
Don’t wait until you have an actual baby to begin teaching a dog how to act around the baby – it might be too late (or at the very least, incredibly inconvenient). You can get a baby doll (like this one), and practice carrying it around your dog.
Here are some tips for making this work:
- Carry around a swaddled baby doll around the house; talk to it like you would a baby – in front of your dog, that is. (If your dog isn’t around, you will look like an insane person.)
- Begin practicing walking your dog with a stroller (with the baby doll in the stroller). If anyone you know stops you and is petrified when they see that the baby is still inside you and the stroller is devoid of life, feel free to point out that this is simply a dog training exercise.
And, as usual, I like to show video demonstration – check it out below:
3) Desensitize your dog to the sounds & smells of a baby.
This goes hand in hand with the last tip. In addition to simply carrying around a baby doll and moderating your dog’s reacting, you really need to sell this baby doll as “real.” The visual isn’t enough.
As you’ve probably experienced, dogs are highly driven by their sense of smell and hearing. We can’t simply show the dog the baby; we need to incorporate realistic sounds and smells that will be associated with the real baby when he or she comes along.
Sound: This is actually pretty easy…as you would expect, there’s an app for that.
Here are a couple of the higher rated apps out there, one for iOS devices, one for Android devices:
- Baby FX (iPhone)
- Baby Sounds & Ringtones (Android)
While you’re walking around and playing with your fake baby, consistently mix in some sounds of baby cries and laughter. Remember, the goal is to desensitize your dog to these sounds so that when it hears the real thing, it’s not alarming.
Smell: This one is a bit more difficult, due to the fact that babies can be the source of many smells (good and bad).
However, there are certain smells – like that of baby powder or baby oil – that you can easily introduce. Start putting baby powder or oil on your own clothing and skin, as well as on the baby doll when you’re around your dog, to begin desensitizing it to these smells.
4) Control the introduction to the baby.
When it’s time to finally let your pup meet the new member of your household, it’s important that you control the introduction. Not only are you doing this for the safety of your baby, but you want to establish boundaries and reinforce correct behavior for your dog early and often.
Here are some recommended steps for introducing your dog to your baby in a controlled manner:
- Before your dog first meets your baby, drain its energy. Whether that means a long walk or a trip to the dog park, you want your dog to begin this encounter in a calm, low energy state.
- Maintain control even before you step through the front door. Ask your dog to sit before entering the house. Establish eye contact with it. You should be doing this on a regular basis, but it’s especially important now.
- As you walk into your home, keep your dog on the leash. This is the first encounter, so you want to maintain complete control.
- In the very first encounter, do not allow the dog to get too close to the baby. Let it see and smell the baby from a short distance. Then, remove the baby (or take the dog back outside).
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 and gradually allow your dog to get closer and closer to the baby. This is done to not only control the interaction but to cause the dog to respect the baby and recognize the baby as a pack leader, much like you and your spouse. (This tip/strategy is courtesy of Cesar Millan).
In addition to the safe and gradual introduction, you want to make sure to establish boundaries with the baby’s nursery.
At first, you’ll want a physical boundary (like a gate), but you also want to show the dog that the room is off limits unless you invite the dog into the room.
This is something that can be worked on before the baby arrives.
5) Reward good behavior and maintain regular exercise for your dog.
There are two extremely powerful tools when it comes to influencing desired behavior from a dog:
- Rewards (treats)
An exhausted and rewarded dog is a happy and calm dog.
This may sound like dog training 101, but it’s amazing how much we forget when we’re suddenly tasked with caring for and raising a new human being.
As you train your dog to behave around a baby (both before and after the baby is born), don’t lose sight of the fact that you need to continuously reinforce good behavior. Most dog training experts agree that rewarding good behavior is significantly more effective than punishing bad behavior.
Don’t lose sight of that very simple principle.
Exercise, in many ways, is a reward for your dog (because dogs love to run and play), but it’s also amazingly effectively at calming your dog.
Guess what your dog is less likely to do when it’s out of energy? Attack your baby.
Exercise is also useful when you’re using some of the training exercises previously discussed, as a low energy dog is more likely to pay attention to you and react positively to your training.
Are you ready to avoid chaos in your house?
Hopefully the tips above for how to get your dog ready for a baby will get you on your way toward turning your crazy puppy into a well-behaved dog, especially as you prepare for parenthood.
There’s nothing more chaotic than having to deal with a newborn baby and an out-of-control dog, so don’t take this issue lightly. There may be a lot of work to be done, but with enough patience and persistence, you’ll get there.
Do you have any other good tips for getting your dog ready for a baby? Share them in the comments!