Bringing a baby into your home with or without dogs is going to be a disruptive exercise, anyone with children will agree, but if your dog/s are not ready for this then they may react in a way that will make this very challenging time, very much more challenging.
At times a new mum contacts us at her wits end as the dog is just (helping) making life with a new baby hell. Barking, destructive behavior, attention seeking, aggressive behavior towards the baby or guests and pretty much anything you can think of can happen.
Now if these behaviours all of a sudden started coming from your dog that would be quite a challenge to accept, deal with and react to, but if your making one of life’s biggest adjustments (bringing a human baby home), you just may be out of your depth.
I can tell you that if your dog or dogs have any current behavior issues, then the chances that they will get worse when a baby comes home are very high.
The new baby will see your sleep, free time, patience and rational thinking (disappear?) affected, and now you will be trying to reason with a dog that is getting less attention, exercise, play, attention and perhaps sleep, and this is going to cause quite a stir, and yes your dog will have some thoughts on this.
I am not suggesting you try and decide how to prioritise the dog or the baby, but I am going to suggest that long before baby comes home, you start getting your dogs behavior in order.
Here are a list of behaviours that you might live with now that can become unlivable with a new baby.
- Dogs that follow you around the home
- Dogs that sleep on your bed
- Dogs that eat with you, or have food available around the home
- Dogs that lounge on furniture
- Dogs that play rough with toys in your home, or resource guard these toys
- Dogs that are aggressive or bark a lot when visitors arrive
- Dogs that fight with each other on occasions
- Dogs that pull on leash to a level when you need two hands to walk them
- And of course, dogs that do not like, are frightened of or aggressive to children
If any of these behaviours are currently displayed by your dog, the risk of them becoming massive issues are very likely.
If you are in this situation I strongly recommend you take action now, before baby comes.
Action you can take
Crate Train your dog/s
First of all you will need to get some order happening, I would strongly recommend crate training to give your dogs a place of their own, a place they can relax and escape the daily (and nightly) goings on when baby is learning to settle.
Crate training your dogs now means they will be settled in their crates and you will get the opportunity to make sure they know that when visitors arrive, they will be crated and not have the opportunity to race to the door barking, later waking the baby you just tried so hard to settle.
Crates are also a great way to manage your dog when there are many changes, such as people coming to home perhaps to help with the nursery build, visitors, relatives and so on.
They won’t be disturbed (as much) when baby screams half the night and will learn perhaps not to be as needy and require your undivided attention.
Dogs can be fed in their crates, thus reinforcing the crate value and keeping food in the one place.
Babies or not, crate training is extremely important and helpful for dogs that live or reside indoors a lot, dogs love the space if you train it correctly. In fact the first 7 points above will instantly be improved with crate training.
Years ago, some of the first families that made the switch from having dogs outside all the time to having dogs inside the home sometimes, often had carpeted and tiled or solid floored areas, and they worked very hard to teach their dogs that carpeted areas were no go zones.
I knew many families that did this very well when I was growing up.
When a baby cries and sounds distressed, this can trigger many undesirable behaviours in a family dog, anything from seeing the baby as injured prey to finding the crying distressing and trying to help by scratching at or physically interacting with the baby.
Advocate for your dog by not putting him or her in this situation.
Long before baby is born it is very wise to set the nursery as a no-go zone, yes just like people did years ago with carpeted areas.
Now one way to do this is with a baby gate but as a father of three, this will not last. You will get (very) sick of this when your attending your baby 500 times a night.
Train your dog not to go into the nursery.
This is not a training article but we can certainly teach you how to do this if you need help.
Teach your dog that his or her toys are not inside the home, and that toys are not to be played with inside the home. This way the dog and the baby won’t be fighting over toys.
Teach your dog that he or she cannot eat food that is in the pram seat. Dogs foraging for food in prams when baby is in there can cause scratch and nip injuries.
The difference between your dog doing something when over excited, frightened or stimulated and not doing this is via “impulse control”.
You will find it hard to teach impulse control, but you can teach exercises that develop impulse control. The Triangle of Temptation is a program I wrote many years ago used by hundreds of thousands of people with success, and it teaches impulse control. LIN
Loose Leash walking teaches impulse control also, and secondary benefit is that trained well, you can walk the baby in pram with your dog, two things at once!
Give me space
We teach dogs to give us space when we give a verbal cue, in our home it is the cue “move”. If my dogs are at a door in my feet, if I give the cue “move” they vacate the area.
This is very helpful for dogs that could trip you when your carrying baby, when you are trying to open the door etc. and it helps the dogs determine when they should approach you and when they should not (baby in arms feeding perhaps).
Dogs approaching you for attention when you have baby in your arms is not ideal, I teach my dogs that they should not approach at this time and I use the “move” cue and they do not approach.
This behavior I teach through body language before I have something in my arms.
It can be help to have baby crying, door knocking, phone ringing sounds etc on a constant audio loop starting on a low volume. Dogs may start to react to this but will of course become desensitized to these sounds.
This will help prevent barking or investigation of sounds such as baby crying, laughing, door knocks etc.
These are all quite simple to train to most dogs, and they are all included in our “Bringing a human baby home consultations”.
When dogs have more serious issues, or you just don’t know…
It is highly important to seek the help of a capable behaviourist, even if nothing happens you may be stressed or worried or try and remain hyper vigilant that it doesn’t and this can have a very negative impact in your few first weeks or months of baby coming home, and you may find this time hard enough!
It is very, VERY rare that I have ever said to a person that the dog they own is not suitable to live in a home with a baby, in fact over the last three decades I can count on one hand (easily) how many times this has happened.
In many other times I have specified programs which has made life so much smoother for the family, before, during and after baby coming home.
I have run these consults for as I said, many years but I changed the content quite a bit after having my own children.
I did not make the situation any safer for babies, that was always my goal but I certainly learned that some of the time frames and exercises I was asking parents to learn and run at this period in their life was difficult at this time of their lives.
Now I have much simplified the programs, making it easier for parents to be and parents that are, to live in harmony with their dogs.
The role of the baby in the home with dogs
There are many theories on how to introduce the baby to the dogs, and no matter which you choose there would be some risk, depending on the dog you have, how you do it and your dogs previous / current behaviours.
So, I don’t do it.
Simple, I do not offer my baby to my dog to investigate, sniff, lick, play with, love or anything. The baby comes home, the dog is managed and directed on how to behave.
Baby settles into house and dogs are kept separate with crates, move cue, boundaries etc and the tension of how they will get along is placed aside with good practice, management etc in its place.
Your dog will settle into the fact that there is a new being in the home and your dog will be relieved that he or she does not need to worry about it or do anything or feel anything.
He or she is free to plod along just like before, and this carries NO risk.
It is much later on the time line when children have been around etc and parents have slowly gained trust and expectation of their dogs that they can be formally introduced.
Sometimes you will be busy enough with a new baby without having to make sure that the dog and baby are new brother and sister.
There have been some horrific events that have occurred with dogs and children, most people will cringe at the thought, but having dogs in your children’s lives can have huge benefits psychologically and physically if done well.
Don’t fear outcomes, make them.
If you are going to be bringing a baby home it is always worth bringing your dog for a consult to let us take a look at your dogs behaviours and make sure everything is where it needs to be and also get some tips on what more needs to be done before the big day.
If you have a dog and there are behaviours that concern you and your worried about your children’s safety, acting sooner often replaces regret later.
We can help you assess what is going on and let you know what needs to be done to insure the relationship remains safe and friendly.
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