The New Baby
Introducing Dogs to Babies
The following suggestions should help your dog to adjust to your new baby:
1. Getting Ready for the Arrival.
Once your dog learns the basic sit/stay and down/stay commands, you should continue to work these commands at home. You should start requiring that your dog sit/stay or down/stay as you do things that resemble "baby activities" around it. For example, pick up a doll, cradle it, rock it, and walk back and forth. Periodically, reward the dog with titbits, petting or praise for remaining in a sitting position while this is going on. The doll should also be wrapped in baby blankets and shown to the dog, which must learn to control itself and to refrain from moving. Because dogs respond with interest to strange sounds, it is a good idea to accustom your dog to the recorded sounds of a baby crying, babbling, or making other normal "baby" sounds. Ideally, if the opportunity is available, expose your dog - in a controlled manner to ensure the infants safety - to real babies of friends or neighbours. This procedure should be considered only if the dog is reliably trained and controllable. The dog should gradually be exposed to babies until it can remain relaxed in their presence. This may require several sessions.
If your baby is born in a hospital, your dog will remain at home. You can use this interval to familiarize your dog with the baby's smell by bringing home blankets or clothing the baby has worn. (On the subject of nappies: It would advisable you to keep soiled nappies in a tightly closed container. One of the functions of a mother dog is to lick up the urine and faeces of puppies to keep the sleeping area clean. Quite frequently, female dogs will ingest the faeces of a human baby and may go to great lengths to clean up after the child, including raiding nappy buckets! This is not an abnormal behaviour but a normal aspect of canine maternal behaviour.)
2. Bringing Your Baby Home
One parent should attend to the baby and the other to the dog. The dog should be in a sit/stay or down/stay and on a lead. If there is any concern that the dog may leap at the baby, a halter or muzzle should be placed on the dog. (The dog should already be used to the muzzle prior to this introduction.) The dog should be allowed to see the baby from 10 to 15 feet away. Then either the dog or baby should be brought closer to the other, slowly, one foot at a time. If the dog remains calm and under control, it might be allowed to sniff the baby, again from a safe distance. If the dog is extremely excited, however, this progression should not be attempted. If the dog has a history of predatory or aggressive behaviours, it may take many introductions before dog and baby are close enough for the dog to investigate the baby closely.
Err on the side of caution when determining when your dog is ready to approach your baby close enough to actually sniff the baby. Over a period of days, however, your dog should be allowed to smell the baby up close. After several introductions, and when it is clear that the dog is not going to nip or lunge at the baby, you can allow your dog off the lead near your infant.
3. The First Several Days and Thereafter
One tip that can be helpful is that whenever you begin to do something with you baby, you can put the dog in a sit/stay and periodically reward it with a titbit. This procedure allows the dog to associate pleasant experiences with the baby and gives the dog extra attention when the baby is present.
If after the first several days you are still concerned that your dog might harm your baby, a screen door or gate could be fastened at the entrance to the child's room. This precaution allows you to hear the baby but eliminates your dog's access to the room.
Monitoring Your Dog's Behaviour
Help your dog learn that the baby belongs in your family by exposing the dog to the baby in a very gradual and controlled manner. The exposure should be positive so the dog does not associate unpleasant situations with the baby so the dog does not feel anxious or aggressive in the baby's presence.
Stan Rawlinson ( Doglistener) is a Dog Behaviourist and Obedience Trainer who has owned and worked dogs for over 25 years, starting with Gundogs then moving on to the behavioural and obedience side of Pet Dogs in 1996. He now has a successful practice covering London, Surrey and Middlesex you can visit his Web Site at www.doglistener.co.uk .