Your Dog and Your New Baby: What a Dog Trainer Wants You to Know

You’re expecting your first baby and you’re also a dog owner. Just like you’ve prepared the nursey for the new baby, you have to prepare your dog for the new arrival.

Your dog may have been the only child in your family for a while and is used to being the center of attention. He or she is probably used to your routine and is happy. But that routine and everything else is going to change and your dog will have to become comfortable with the changes.

No dog becomes trained all by themselves. You may have the best dog since Lassie, but the dog probably doesn’t know anything about babies. Changes in your household routine can make any dog anxious. Many otherwise good dogs end up at animal shelters because no one trained the dog or prepared it for the baby.

You or your partner—preferably both of you—should prepare your dog before you bring the baby home says Linda Lukens, owner and operator of Common Ground Dog Training in Carmel, NY. She is called to help by people who are expecting babies four or five times a year, she says. She also consults with people with dog problems after the baby comes, which may be too late.

Start Prepping Early

Start early, by at least the fourth or fifth month of the pregnancy, Lukens says. You can start carrying a doll around and pay a lot of attention to it. “Ignore the dog while you are paying attention to the doll.” Dogs react to smells and noise. Bring items that smell like babies, such as lotions and baby powder, into the house. Borrow some used baby clothes from a friend to help introduce some of baby smells, she says.

Make sure that your dog has a safe, comfortable, dog-only space, such as a crate or a dog bed that is in a corner away from everything else.

This is the time to take stock of your dog’s training. Does he or she sit and lay down on command? Is the dog trained not to jump up on people? You also need to teach your dog to keep out from underfoot as you carry your baby around.

Start spending at least 15 minutes a day training (or re-training) your dog to obey commands. Make sure the dog obeys not just when you are standing in front of the dog, but also when you are sitting down or doing something else. Train your dog to walk calmly next to a stroller, Lukens adds.

If your dog has never been around children take her or him to a playground or other places where there are kids to see how he or she reacts, she says. “Don’t go up to the children but get close enough to see what the dog’s reactions are.”

Warning Signs

Think about what type of traits your dog has. Aggressive tendencies must be addressed immediately. “Symptoms of any sort of aggression in the dog, whether it’s barking and lunging at other dogs on a walk are very serious,” Lukens says. “Has the dog every snapped at people or snapped at the dog groomer or at the vet’s office?” Aggression in a dog is especially serious if the dog has ever killed a squirrel or other small animal in your yard, she stressed.

A timid, nervous dog can present problems when the new baby arrives. An owner with a dog that seems very timid may think the dog is safe because the dog usually retreats. But nervous dogs will react out of fear when they are pushed too far or if they can’t get away, she says. The dog may have always shied away in the past but a new baby and the disruption in routine may set up a situation that ends with the dog snarling or snapping, or worse, biting.

Look for signs that the dog is upset or is scared because it is being pushed too far, Lukens says. A scared or upset dog will show the whites of the eyes, have their ears pulled back close to their heads, or have their tucked tightly between their legs.

Call a professional dog trainer if there are any signs of aggression and nervousness in your dog and do this as soon as possible. “The dog needs to be evaluated,”  Lukens says. The trainer can help determine why the dog is acting the way he or she is and discuss possible solutions to the problem.

A good trainer will be honest about the situation, she adds. “You may be told that your dog is not a good candidate to get along with your baby.”

It is possible to train a dog with fear or aggression issues, she adds. Some dogs can be turned around in their behavior “when all the right things are done.”

Find a trainer who uses positive reinforcement methods, such as training. Do not use a trainer who works with methods that punish the dog such as shock collars or prong collars, she adds. “Punishing a dog that doesn’t like the baby is only going to make the dog like the baby even less.”

The best way to find a good trainer who uses positive methods is to ask your friends or your veterinarian for recommendations, she says.

The Crawling and Toddling Years

How your dog reacts with an infant is one thing, how he or she interacts with a baby who is crawling and toddling around at eye level to the dog is another. A dog and a small child must always be supervised when they are together. “Dogs should not be left alone with small children. Ever,” Lukens says.

“There are people who believe a dog should put up with anything. No. they shouldn’t, and no, they won’t, and it’s up to you to be the smart supervisor,” she says. “It’s not just about training. It’s about management.” Keep the toddler from bothering the dog while the dog is eating or sleeping. Put the dog in his or her crate at mealtime, if necessary, she adds.

There was a trend on social media for a while of people posting photos of small infants on top of large dog. Never put a baby or small child on top of a dog, Lukens said. The dog may mean no harm but may move suddenly or react and the baby can land on the floor.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has extensive advice on getting your dog ready for your baby.

Having a dog and having a baby are both wonderful. With preparation and careful supervision, having both in your house at the same time, can be wonderful, too.

Valerie DeBenedette
Valerie DeBenedette is an experienced health and medical writer who lives about an hour north of New York City with a dog that is smaller than her cat. Her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and on websites. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers.

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