Why do some dogs have difficulty with a new baby?
A new baby arriving overnight can be a drastic change which dogs will feel as many like routine to help them feel confident and secure. Unless they are prepared for the changes then they may become very unsettled. A new baby could mean less attention for your dog and potential for them being left a little longer than usual. Also, the dog may not be allowed in certain rooms such as the baby room but also there will be unusual and unfamiliar smells/sounds and the potential of lots of visitors.
Don’t panic, there is lots you can do to help your dog adjust and feel very positive about their new family member. The key is to start your preparations and training early so your pet has time to adjust in advance.
Before your baby is born:
Handling – If your dog gets overly excited when stroked then you may need to work on gentle handling exercises when they are calm and quiet. Likewise, if your dog is sensitive about certain areas being touched then start to slowly introduce the dog being touched all over. This is because as the baby starts to get a bit older and more inquisitive, they will touch the dog all over so preparing your dog is important.
Sounds – Playing recordings of babies crying, gurgling, and screaming will help de-sensitise your dog to these unusual sounds. Start off by playing these sounds quietly (almost inaudible) for short periods of time and as they get used to it, you can increase both the volume and the time period it gets played for.
New Smells – Getting your dog used to unfamiliar smells such as baby powder, soaps, shampoo, baby milk, etc will really help when the new addition arrives. Remember dogs’ sense of smell is around 40 times greater than humans so don’t just think of what we can smell.
New Objects – Placing down playpens, mobiles, toys, changing mats, cots, highchairs, etc will help your dog get used to them. Make sure you allow them to smell and investigate the new items and make it a positive experience by giving them treats and fuss. Likewise, you should de-sensitise your dog to the pushchair as some dogs get nervous around wheels/easily movable items and some dogs get very overexcited, so both need to be address before baby arrives. Not only being around the buggy will help but also being taken on a walk with it. Teaching your dog to walk next to the pushchair at a distance that is safe for them but not pulling you can take a few tries so be patient. Remember, if your dog pulls on the lead or doesn’t come back when recalled or is reactive around other dogs, you will have to manage that as well as a buggy.
Training – A well trained dog will massively help but if you feel as though your dog would benefit from refreshing these important skills then the earlier the better. As long as it is positive reward-based training, you can’t go far wrong.
Exercise – Bear in mind that new Mothers may be a bit in some physical discomfort after a baby so making sure the dog can be controlled when out and about. It may be worth getting your dog used to a head collar such as a Dogmatic to help especially if your dog pulls. Don’t tie the lead to the pushchair as this can be dangerous. If you think the dog will receive shorter or fewer walks once the baby arrives then you need to start changing the routine a few weeks in advance. If they are getting fewer or shorted walks, they need to use up their energy another way otherwise they will get bored and could become stressed or destructive. Don’t try to make up for fewer walks by giving the dog more food treats as you will only make them overweight and unhealthy. Playing more games or getting a dog walker in are the better options.
Food – Many accidents occur when children approach, touch or take the dog’s food bowl or any chews/bones the dog has. Ensure that you dog is able to eat their food and chews in peace and without fear of being disturbed. Also, if your dog has a tendency to snatch treats then work with the dog to teach them how to take gently from your hand.
Attention – Your new addition will take up a lot of your time that the dog may have gotten before baby was born. A sudden change in attention can cause some problems such as separation anxiety and stress if they aren’t weaned off it slowly. You may also have many visitors such as friends, family and health visitors coming to see the baby. If you intend to keep your dog in a separate area when certain people visit, then get your dog used to this by placing them behind a stair gate or in their crate with lots of yummy chews and bones. Gradually increase the time they spend there, so it becomes regular and normal when the baby arrives. Likewise, please bear in mind if you have a more nervous dog then lots of visitors may be overwhelming so it is important to give your dog a safe space that they can retreat to if necessary.
Toys – Dog and baby toys can be quite similar looking/sounding and can be made of similar materials so it’s not surprising that some dogs can become confused about which toys they can play with and which they can’t. If you play with your dog inside the house, you may want to start putting their toys away after play or saving play time for the garden/out on walks as this will make it easier for the dog to understand that play occurs when you present their toy rather than when they pick up a toy. If your dog does pick up one of the baby’s toys, avoid getting angry as this will only make the situation worse but instead teaching them the ‘leave it’ command will help them learn its not their and they can play outside or on a walk only when you initiate the game.
Resting / Sleeping Areas – You should decide if you intend to change the dog’s place of rest i.e. your bed/sofa or their crate placements as this needs to occur prior to the baby arriving so they don’t associate these changes with the new arrival. You need to ensure if you do change their resting area that it is still comfortable and suitable for the dog taking into account size / breed. Gradually make changes as you can’t expect a dog that has been sleeping on your bed to sleep in the kitchen on their own overnight. Avoid letting you toddler follow the dog into their bed / crate as this can sometimes trigger resource guarding.
Health – Ensure you dog is in good physical health and check they are free from fleas and worms. Any suspicions about illness should be checked out by a qualified veterinary surgeon. Bear in mind, any pain or irritation that the dog experiences will lower their threshold for aggression meaning they could become less tolerant about being handled and more likely to growl, snap or bark.
After your baby is born:
First Introductions – When you first come home from the hospital with your baby, they will probably be very excited or may be a bit unsure and nervous. The best time to carry out this first introduction is when the dog is tired after a long walk or play session but not overtired as their tolerance isn’t as high. First, you go in and say hello to the dog and then you can introduce the baby in a quiet room where the dog has few associations such as sleeping / eating. The baby should be held by someone and the dog should be allowed to sniff the newbie. Associate the baby’s presence with positive and enjoyable experiences by praising them heavily when they are behaving well and calm around the baby.
Hygiene – It is essential that your dog is treated for worms and fleas regularly. Don’t leave dirty nappies on the floor as they can cause the dog to toilet on the spot. Nappies can also be appetising for certain dogs, especially if they have pica, so it is crucial you dispose of any in a nappy bin that has a sealed lid and is emptied regularly. Don’t let you dog near any baby bottle or dummy and if they do come into contact with them, they need to be sterilised. Use antibacterial soap to clean your hands after feeding, grooming, cleaning or playing with your dog.
Supervision – Don’t put your baby on the floor with the dog and NEVER leave your dog and baby together unsupervised, not even for a second. This includes all dogs, even with an excellent temperament. The use of stairs gates helps to separate the two but also ensure you can keep an eye and listen out for one while you are with the other.
Toddlers – Your baby will soon start crawling and toddling around, so it is important for you to remain vigilant once they start to move about on their own. It is important to provide the dog with a safe space that the toddler can’t access. This will avoid the dog constantly being followed and pestered.