One of the greatest (and easiest to avoid) mistakes expecting parents make when it comes to bringing a baby into a home with a resident dog is simply assuming that all will be well. Such optimism is often unwarranted and is undoubtedly the key driver behind the fact that so many parents end up re-homing a dog within three to eight months of baby’s arrival.
Before making the knee-jerk assumption that your doggie will be cool with all the impending changes, ask yourself a few questions. Begin by taking an inventory of all the habits your dog has and ask yourself whether any of these would be annoying with a young infant around.
Does your dog jump up a lot? Bark incessantly at random triggers? Pull madly on the leash? Have issues with other dogs? The list goes on. Take some time and go through your dog’s day to day motions while asking yourself whether any of this might be problematic in a sleep deprived household with an attention demanding, fragile infant draining all the bandwidth from your time and patience.
If you have my book Good Dog, Happy Baby look through the checklist in the second chapter and then assess your dog. Doing so now will possibly prevent unpleasant little surprises on the road ahead.
In addition to taking an inventory of your dog’s behavior and considering their impact on your life with a little one in tow the biggest single thing you can do to prepare your dog for your baby’s arrival is to make any changes in your dog’s life that she might view as unpleasant now! Don’t wait to make adjustments until your little one has arrived.
In other words, if your dog is used to sleeping in bed with you but you won’t want her there when baby is around stop doing it now. If you are not going to have as much time for walks in the park start tapering them down now. If changing around the layout of your place is going to cost your dog some of her favorite resting spots make those changes now. The list goes on.
Think about what your life and schedule might look like with a baby on the ground and what that will mean for you dog. And then implement the relevant changes as soon as possible. You can make the adjustment gradually or abruptly. But whatever the case, make sure you do it before baby lands on Planet Earth.
Why? Because your dog is not stupid! If you wait to make the relevant changes she will quickly figure out that the arrival of your baby is directly related to what she will perceive as a significant decrease in her quality of life. That, in turn, can quickly lead to one of life’s nastiest emotions: jealousy. And jealousy has consequences!
There are a number of things that I would consider red flags when considering bringing a baby into a home with a resident dog. Bear in mind that just because these are red flags does not mean that your dog can’t adapt to the arrival of your baby. It just means that you want to take them seriously and start planning ahead.
The most obvious red flag would be if your dog doesn’t like children. Generally, not liking children is related to fear. And the primary way of dealing with fear is through a process called systematic desensitization. This simply means slowly getting your dog used to whatever she’s afraid of by connecting it with something she really likes, like a favorite treat or, for the toy crazy dogs, a favorite toy.
Additionally, if you have an older dog that is physically frail you really need to start planning ahead. You can do this not only by getting your dog used to the presence of children now, but also by being sure that your dog has some “safe zones” around the house to which she can escape once your child begins crawling.
Also, if your dog has a strong prey instinct and especially if your dog has killed small animals or domestic pets, you should take extra precautions. A lot of the most dangerous dog bites are triggered when a baby’s high-pitched squealing sets of your dog’s predatory drives. If you find yourself in this situation hiring a qualified professional trainer to help is highly advised.
In addition, you can also begin to desensitize your dog to such high-pitched trigger sounds by purchasing one of the multiple cd’s out there filled with baby sounds in order to get your dog used to them. Play the sounds and as your dog hears them teach her to do something like lie calmly on her bed while getting treats. This can help teach her that when she hears those sounds lying down and being calm will result in a big reward.
No! While this situation is far from ideal it is certainly not too late. And after all, you have to work with whatever the details of your situation are.
That said, if you are down to the wire should get going asap. The main thing would be to think about all the things you won’t be allowing your dog to do once your baby arrives and eliminate them now.
Along the same lines, implement any changes in your dog’s life that your dog might find less than fantastic – such as the reduction in daily walks to the park – immediately.
The key is to avoid having your dog associate those changes with the arrival of your child, which can set up a resentful and jealous dynamic between them.
If you’re worried about this you are right to do so. As in the answer above, you have to begin easing your dog out of its super special, #1 status as soon as possible.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t love your dog and indulge her in all sorts of ways.
However, it does mean that, depending on how much time you have before baby’s arrival, you should slowly begin to restructure your dog’s life in gradual increments to the point where bringing a new baby into your life will represent a mere hiccup in her routine rather than a devastating intrusion into her life.