Preparing Your Dog for a New Baby

Lamaze, parenting classes, prenatal yoga…don’t forget the dog. Whether you are expecting or already have a baby at home, preparing the family dog and knowing how to identify when the dog is stressed can help prevent a possible bite. As a professional dog trainer, I love to see families and dogs living in harmony. Here are a few tips to prepare for the baby and to keep those kids safe!

Exercise and Enrichment
Before you were expecting, you already had a kid (a fur kid that is). Often the concern is that the dog will be jealous or simply that you will have less time to spend with Fido. There is a great solution for that! As much as possible, try to maintain an exercise routine with the dog- walks, trips to the park. When family comes to visit, extra walks or fetch time are a great help. Dog walkers or dog daycare can also be another option to keep your dog well exercised and tuckered.

Also if Fido has been grazing from a dog bowl, get interactive toys that dispense kibble or treats to keep the dog stimulated. Check out www.petexpertise.com for great treat dispensing toys. Do keep in mind that any dog is more likely to guard resources like toys or chewies from children.

Preparing for Baby
New babies are very interesting to most dogs, they have a unique smell, sound and movement that the dog may or may not have experience before. A great way to acclimate a dog to the noise of a baby crying (which can be stressful for people and dogs) is to get a CD called “Sounds of Baby”. You can play the CD softly for a few minutes and reward the dog with treats. Play the CD for extended periods at louder levels every few days. Even crying isn’t so bad!

New equipment is all over the house, and the nursery has a host of new smells. Allow the dog to check things out, listen and watch things that shake or play music, and be rewarded for coming when called off of the equipment or simply be rewarded for being brave and investigating.

Introducing Baby to Dog
This is perhaps the most anticipated question, “How do I introduce my dog to the baby?” Don’t over-think it. Allow the dog to sniff the baby, reward the dog for being appropriate and move on. If you don’t allow an initial greeting, this could make the baby THAT much more interesting. If you bring home a blanket from the hospital, allow the dog to sniff and feed the dog treats.

Training Tricks of the Trade
Here are a few skills that we think are essential to making life with dogs and babies smooth sailing.
Go to your Bed: This is great to train your dog to do, especially if they are used to lounging next to you on the couch. This gives the dog a place to be to relax and chew, and gives new parents space to nurse or feed the baby.

Down Stay: Great when you need the dog to be in a place while you do what you need to do. Practice this one on a dog bed or on a blanket.

Off/Leave it: This means back off until invited to “take it”. This can be helpful in teaching a dog to not pick up or to drop food, toys or pacifiers that look like fun to chew.

Body Language
Once you do the initial meet and greet with dog and baby, the most important thing is to watch your dog’s body language. Dogs will communicate when they are uncomfortable by subtle to very obvious signs. In general, a dog that is relaxed has an open mouth, their tail is wagging low and slow, and their eyes are squinty and blinking. A dog that is uncomfortable may first be stiff or still, mouth closed, tail can be high or held low. Growling, snapping or biting may then follow to further warn child or baby to back off. Other signs of stress include panting, pacing, shaking off as if wet, eyes bulging or a regression in house training. Once the baby begins to crawl, families may see more stress signals, so be on the look out once the baby becomes mobile.

Many times the dog will give multiple signals and will only bite after initial warnings have been ignored. If you see any stiffness this can be the first signal that your dog is not relaxed and they should be managed or given a break in a kid free zone. We recommend that you not reprimand or correct a dog that is trying to warn you (otherwise, you will have a dog that gives you less warning and still isn’t comfortable). If you have concerns, please contact a certified pet dog trainer using positive methods or behavior consultant at www.ccpdt.org, www.iaabc.org or visit www.dogsandstorks.com.

by Leigh Siegfried

Leigh Siegfried is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer and Behavior Counselor and a presenter for the only nationally recognized and endorsed prenatal dog-baby prep program, Dogs & Storks™. She offers dog/baby prep workshops and consultations and specializes in training and behavior modification for family dogs in Northern Virginia. For more information or workshop dates visit www.opbarks.com.