Throughout my entire adult life, I’ve dreamt of getting a dog. Man’s best friend…a tail wagging, always happy to see you, epitome of unconditional love. But being a Londoner with an intensive full time job, I was convinced by countless doggy owners that the time wasn’t right.
“It’s cruel! You can’t leave a puppy in doggy daycare! Wait until you move out to the country” they said, “or at least until you have kids, so you or your wife can dedicate more time to looking after it.”
So I dutifully waited, but secretly promised myself that if I was still single at 30, I’d bite the bullet and buy a little pooch of my own.
But fate intervened when, aged 29, I promptly proposed to my darling girlfriend, now wife, Rosie. And life has been a rollercoaster ever since, culminating in the arrival of our son Teddy a few months ago. Now knee deep in nappies and night-feeds, the idea of getting a puppy has been pushed way down my priority list.
But still, I know countless friends, family and Instagram followers who have been much braver than me and introduced a pup into their life pre-parenthood. Which got me thinking…
Is there a special and safe way for new parent dog owners to introduce their beloved pooch to their newborn baby?
To shed some light on this question, I’ve been speaking with Emma Mills, a dog enthusiast and regular contributor to www.shepped.com, a website dedicated to helping owners build a loving relationship with their pet pooch. Here’s what she had to say….
So Emma, what inspired you to learn about dog training?
Since my first puppy as a child, I’ve literally been obsessed with dogs. Before we had any kids of our own, my husband and I bought Bear, our Alaskan Malamute, who we raised from a pup to adulthood as part of our own special three-person pack.
Although we’d trained him well, when we got pregnant for the first time we were unsure how he’d react to a new person in the household. Would he try to establish his dominance over the baby? This drove me to learn everything I could about dog health and lifestyle issues, including how to introduce a baby into a dog household; a subject I’ve since written a number of guides on.
Why is it important that dog owners prepare their pets for a new baby’s arrival?
For dads and mums alike, bringing a new baby into the world is a life changing event. However, it is easy to forget that it is also a pretty big deal for your dog (or dogs) too. After all, the new baby is now part of an altered and expanded pack. So where does your loyal pet fit in once the pack dynamics change? How will attention be divided up, and how will well-established routines change? It is possible for dogs to get jealous or aggressive, so it is vitally important to prepare your pets in advance of a new baby’s arrival. This is where dads play a really pivotal role.
What exactly do you recommend that pregnant dog owners should do then?
It’s a really good idea to start your preparations early, to minimise the chances of your pup becoming jealous of your newborn once you bring him or her home from the hospital.
First off, it’s a good idea during your pregnancy to seek professional advice from a dog behavioural specialist, who will be able to give you specific tips and tricks tailored towards your dog and its breed. Before the baby arrives, you should do everything you can to reinforce your dog’s good behaviour by correcting small misdemeanours in advance of the birth. If you keep your dog well trained, while rewarding submissive behaviour, this will put you in the best possible position when you introduce your new baby to the family.
A really important element to get right is the creation of new boundaries including no-go zones for the dog, such as the baby’s nursery or your bedroom. This will ensure that your dog understands that they need permission before entering certain rooms, thus giving your baby its own space.
It is also worth setting out a new daily routine for your pup which takes into account your expected baby routine, for example through new, adjusted walks. If the dog is used to the new routine by the time the baby actually arrives, it will not be such a disruption to them once your little one joins the pack.
Finally, if you can, it is worth trying to get your pooch used to babies and children before your baby is born. This kind of socialisation really helps them understand what babies are and that they are not a threat. Of course, such encounters should be strictly controlled, ideally with friends and family!
What role does pack mentality play in this?
Establishing pack leadership early on makes introducing a baby to the family much easier. To achieve this, it is vitally important that both you and your partner establish yourselves before the baby’s arrival as top of the pack. That way, your dog knows who the bosses are and that they (the dog) is the submissive one at the bottom.
So what are your top tips for making the dog’s first introduction to the baby run smoothly?
All of the preparations I mentioned earlier should massively help to put your canine companion in the right state of mind before the baby’s arrival. However, on the day itself there’s a tried and tested routine that usually makes the first meeting easier.
If you have the baby in hospital, before you come home it’s a really good idea to try and introduce your dog to the scent of your new baby. So dads, after your baby is born, take a used burp cloth or baby grow that smells of the baby and let your dog sniff it at home. Be sure to keep control of the situation though (as head of the pack) by making the dog come to you, rather than taking the item directly to them.
On the big day itself…
- Assuming both the new mum and dad will be returning home from hospital together, get a family member or close friend (who the dog knows) to take your beloved pooch for a longer, more tiring walk than usual.
- At the same time, you and your partner should bring the baby home.
- Dads, you should then go and meet the dog away from the house, and finish off the long walk yourself. Once you return home, pause outside on the doorstep and make sure your dog is calm and submissive.
- When you enter, Mum and baby should be seated in a calm, relaxed environment – after all, human calmness breeds canine calmness.
- Keeping the dog on its lead, let it sniff the air to assess the situation in its own way, but at a respectful distance.
- Maintain control of the situation and let the dog approach mum and baby slowly.
All in all, introducing your pet pooch to your new baby can be a little stressful, but with good preparation and a well behaved dog, it should be simple!
Any final words of advice for new parent dog owners?
Remember that dogs pick up on your energy. So if you are feeling excited, worried, or nervous about the impending birth and homecoming, your dog will pick up on this and may mirror them.
After your little one’s arrival, it can be easy to forget that your dog needs attention too. This doesn’t mean excessive shows of affection or new toys, but just keeping up the usual routine. Providing a dog with consistent daily walks and leadership will keep them happy and secure.
Finally, your child will grow up fast, which means they will start to wander, touch and interact with the world before you know it. And this ‘world’ includes your dog! Supervise all interactions between your baby and fido, so both get to know each other and no harm comes to either. Just be sure to keep an eye on your child’s interactions with them as they get old enough to start yanking tails!
Do you have a pet pooch and a baby? How do they get on? Did you do anything special to train your fido to have a safe and positive relationship with your little one? Did you face any challenges along the way? As always, we’d love to hear from you so please do share your stories and insights with the Group via the comments section below!