This year we introduced a new baby to Sash. In addition to buying a new car and lots of baby paraphernalia, we made special effort to make Sash feel special, loved and included when we introduced the baby. Fortunately for us, Sash seems completely disinterested and has just accepted the new baby being around.
Please be aware that this post includes references to and links about fatal dog attacks that may not be suitable for all readers – discretion advised.
Why is it important to properly introduce your dog and new baby?
Any dog owner expecting a baby will be told by numerous people to be careful about the dog. Some will even tell you to rehome your dog! While some people’s reactions may seem extreme, there’s good reason. Unfortunately, there can be unthinkable consequences when a dog doesn’t accept the new baby (e.g., List of fatal dog attacks, example 1 , example 2, example 3).
Dogs attacks on babies may be triggered by a number of factors such as new smells, sounds, eye contact, movement, general unfamiliarity, hierarchy, etc. (see here for more). However, it’s important to remember that such attacks are very rare and can usually be avoided through preparation and following some simple rules. That said, you know your dog, and your relationship with your dog, better than anyone else and you may decide to consult your vet or dog behavioural specialist for guidance tailored to your situation and your pooch – you can never be too careful.
Preparation before the birth
Sasha obviously registered the pregnancy early on as she became far more protective and wouldn’t leave my side. She didn’t exhibit any signs of anxiety or stress but this is common and something that dog owners should look out for. I was very conscious about preparing Sash because I’d heard numerous anecdotal stories of dogs showing jealous behaviours after new parents freak out and change how they treat the dog, including leaving them outside and moving where they sleep. Instead of freaking out, we got researching. Here are the recommended before birth preparations :
- Make sure your pet is trained to obey the basic commands, you need to be able to trust that they will do what they are told (e.g., Dog & Puppy Training – How To Train Your Dog | Dogs Trust)
- Practice known changes to their routine (for example, it’s really unlikely that a new mum will be getting up early to walk the dog after being up all night with the baby) and homelife (for example, let them know what rooms they are and are not allowed in BEFORE you bring home the baby)
- Introduce baby-like sounds, smells and experiences (e.g., jerky movements and different interactions) on so that your dog gets used to expected changes – some recommend practicing with a doll
- Set up baby furniture (e.g., high chair, rocker, crib) so that your dog can get used to them before the baby arrives
- Create a safe space for your dog that will be their safe space after the baby is home, some where they can always escape to if it gets too much
Rules for after birth
1. Introduce your baby and dog carefully
When you finally get to introduce your dog to your new-born, make sure that it is in a calm environment where the dog is comfortable and feels loved. My partner and I both made a fuss of Sash and said hello before introducing the baby, who was safely in their car seat on the table and so away from Sash. We then calmly placed the car seat on the floor and encouraged Sash to smell. I was near the car seat and my partner in between Sash and the baby so that they cold move quickly if Sash didn’t react as expected, but we both remained calm and centred.
2. Never leave the baby and dog alone
You shouldn’t leave a child with a dog unsupervised until the child is at least 8 years old. It is so easy to think ‘I’ll just pop upstairs to get something’ or ‘I’ll just pop to the toilet’ and leave the dog with the child, especially if the baby is sleeping and you’re loathed to wake them. While the likelihood of any issue is low, it’s not worth the risk. Either bring the dog with you (Sash like being the one to come with me as I think it gives her a sense that she’s still important – yes I might be anthromophising) or take the baby (we absolutely love the electric rocker that we have with a detachable chair that you can take anywhere around the house [not a paid advertisement, honest recommendation]).
3. Don’t let the baby in your dog’s safe space
Make sure that your dog has a safe space that is baby free such as a crate or cordoned area of the house. It’s also really important to keep the baby away from the dog’s food or treats, and so some dogs toys, as this is where accidents often happen. You may need a number of different spaces such as an area in the kitchen, a bed in the lounge, and a sleep/safe space (e.g., crate).
4. Supervise, monitor and check in
Do not fall asleep, let your guard down, or get distracted when your baby and dog are in the same space and your baby is vulnerable (i.e., not out of the dog’s reach). New parents will naturally be more vigilant but can get over confident as the baby grows up and spends more time with the dog. Toddlers need to be continuously watched as they can crawl into the dog’s space, grab their toys and food.
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Further information sources
- Dogs and Babies | ASPCA
- How to Introduce Your Baby to Your Dog (with Pictures) – wikiHow Mom
- Introducing your dog to your baby| Blue Cross and 16093-D25_DOG_AND_BABY_lr.pdf (bluecross.org.uk)
- Introducing Your Dog to Your New Baby – American Kennel Club (akc.org)
- Microsoft Word – Preparing for a New Baby – Handout (dogstrust.org.uk)