Having a baby and a protective dog – you can do it!
Set some ground rules for yourself, your child, and your dog:
- Teach your dog to leave if he or she is uncomfortable with a situation. You can practice well before the child has arrived by simply teaching a trick where they get out of a space when begging or asking for a ball or what have you with an “out” command. They’ll understand to get out of a situation on command, and you’ll use that when you need it later.
- Your baby, under no circumstances, is allowed to trap your dog. In a crate, in a hug, in a corner. If it’s possible that this situation might happen, your job is to supervise both so it doesn’t happen.
- Allow your dog a space that is its own – a bed, a corner, or a whole room. Teach your baby not to go there.
- Your baby is to touch the dog ONLY gently, and never to lean on the dog, use it to prop itself, etc. This needs to start early and they will get along much better. Babies learn by pattern training.
- You will prioritize the dog’s needs in terms of feeding, exercising and pottying. Your dog was here first and needs to not resent that new baby. Take your dog out to stroller with your babies and if you can’t currently do that, get solid obedience training on your dog before your baby is born. I highly recommend teaching your dog to fetch things to you so they can help clean up when the baby is asleep so your dog will always have a job to do even when you’re low energy. Babies can learn patience and respect for your family members if left to cry for a second while your dog’s food or water bowl is filled.
Bringing home your newborn
- You likely have a million baby blankets from friends. Bring it with you for the delivery and use it to cover yourself and your baby with, and then bring it home ahead of you if possible. Put it down on their bed or near it so smells are familiar and comforting.
- When you first get home, do not rush to introduce your dog and baby. Your dog is SO excited to see you. Respect that and be excited to see him/her as well. Spend quality time with your dog while your partner or a helper gets your baby unstrapped from the car seat and wherever you’re putting her. Monitor how your dog is feeling. If she is curious, but not anxious, and your baby is sleepy and not screaming, now is a good time to let your dog see what you made.
Don’t be surprised if one of the first things your dog tries to do is mouth your baby. “Is it for me to eat?” he or she will wonder. Be very clear and strong with a “no” but not overly horrified. Exploring is okay, making the dog scared or resentful is not okay. If you don’t think your dog can explore politely, wait to introduce your child until he or she can.
- Newborns make crazy noises that make you get on edge sometimes. Don’t be surprised if it puts your dog on edge. Remember your dog is a part of your family and adjusting, too. Protective dogs are likely to understand pretty quickly that this is your baby and that when it is sad, it needs protecting. This is some adorable dog and baby interaction and it will make you love that dog even more.
Managing your dog as the child grows
- Never get complacent about your dog and baby relationship. Your dog will explore how to interact with your baby, trying to get it to throw a ball, sitting on it, pawing on it, etc. Gently teach your dog what works and what doesn’t work and let a firm, loving pat from you calm your dog if he or she is unsure.
- Dogs will bite babies’ faces under stress. It is important to teach your baby to avoid the dog’s face and to remember space is the key to comfort for your dog. They aren’t trying to maul your baby – watch dogs interact with puppies – the bite muzzles to assert a point. Your baby’s muzzle happens to be flat and close to eyes, nose, and lips. Try accept the possibility that there will come a time when your dog tries to correct your child well ahead of time. Understanding that it may happen and why it happens is both key to prevention and also key to dealing with it should it happen.
- Once your baby learns how to crawl, you need to be vigilant that he or she doesn’t trap your dog, use your dog as a toy, etc.
- Your dog’s instinct to mother/control may lead him or her to follow your baby everywhere, try to stop him or her where she’s going, or even nip them to make a point. It’s pretty nice having a dog nanny your child, but ALWAYS monitor the situation and make sure your dog is happy to do so and not worried or stressed. This is why having the “out” command to allow your dog to leave (or make him or her) is also key.
- Your dog may be even more stressed when your infant begins to toddle around. It will be harder and harder to help your curious kiddo leave your dog alone and keep your dog from following him or her everywhere. Vigilance is key and if you can’t be vigilant and you don’t 100% trust your dog, separating the two when needed is a good idea.
- Keep taking care of your dog – have your child learn to throw the ball for your dog.
Your dog may not love on your baby through this – staying away or tolerance is all you need. Relationships grow when they are reciprocal. As the baby learns it’s fun to the feed the dog, how to pet the dog, and how to interact with the dog, that relationship will grow. Promise.