In any relationship first impressions are very important, so don’t get off on the wrong paw when introducing your dog to a new baby. If done correctly and with a bit of preparation, your dog and child are sure to become friends for life.

Sadly, it is all too common for dogs to be handed in to rescue centres when a baby comes along because owners aren’t prepared for the work involved. The good news is that with a little planning and understanding, there is no reason why your dog and baby can’t live happily together. In fact, early exposure to pets can teach children lots of valuable life lessons, as well as potentially strengthening their immune systems.

Preparation

The earlier you can start preparing your dog for the arrival of a baby the better – at least four months is ideal. There will be lots of changes when a baby arrives so if you can get your dog used to some of these ahead of time they are less likely to feel overwhelmed.

There are lots of free audio files of baby sounds available on the internet that you could play to your dog before your baby arrives. Start at a very low volume and if your dog shows no interest in the noise, you can gradually increase it. The idea of this exercise is to get your pet desensitized to the sound of babies crying so that the real thing is less likely to bother them.

There are likely to be lots of strange new objects that come along with the arrival of a baby including pushchairs, play mats and toys. Make sure these are all in place as early as possible so that your dog can get used to them being in the house. Also, if there are areas of the house that you don’t want your dog to access when the baby arrives, get them used to those rooms being out of bounds now.

Dogs thrive on routine but as any new parent knows, life with a baby can become less predictable! If you need to change who exercises your dog and when, it is a good idea to gradually phase this in before your baby arrives. You should also practise walking your dog on lead alongside the pushchair so that your dog gets used to it before it contains your baby.

The time leading up to the birth of your baby is also a good opportunity to brush up on your dog’s training. Commands like ‘leave’ and ‘wait’ could suddenly become more important when you add a baby into the mix, as well as the ability to take treats gently from your hand, so make sure your pet is comfortable with the basics.

First meeting

Dogs are led by their noses so smell is incredibly important to them. If your baby is born in hospital, before you go home you could get someone to bring back a sleepsuit or blanket with your new baby’s scent on it so that your dog can be introduced to it before you arrive home. This way your dog can become familiar with the baby’s scent and their arrival will be less of a surprise.

When you are reunited with your dog after the birth of your baby, greet them on your own first. If they usually jump up or get overexcited when you get home you don’t want a baby caught in the middle. The best time to introduce your dog to your baby is after they’ve been walked or had a play session in the garden. If they are tired, they will be less lively and more able to behave in a calm manner around your baby. If possible, you should have your dog on a lead with someone else holding it so that they can be kept more easily under control.

Choose a quiet room for them to meet that is not a place in which your dog usually sleeps or eats. Hold your baby and wait for your dog to come to you for a sniff. Don’t force any interaction but sit calmly and allow your dog to make the first move. If your dog doesn’t want to approach the baby straight away then this is fine. If your dog has never seen a baby before they are likely to be curious but at the same time wary.

It is likely your dog will appear interested for a few seconds and will quickly lose interest. When your dog backs away praise them and give them a treat. Dogs can pick up on our emotions so if you seem nervous or jumpy when introducing your dog to your new baby, they are likely to become nervous as well. Try to stay calm and relaxed and speak to your dog in a soft but cheerful voice.

Life with a baby

The best way for your dog to learn to love your baby is to build up a positive association. If your dog is ignored when the baby is around but lavished with attention when they are not it is going to give your pet the wrong message.

Try to give your dog lots of attention when the baby is around – go out for walks together if possible and make sure your pet feels included in family life. Teach your dog that when your baby isn’t around life can get a bit boring. Interact with your dog less when your baby is not with you and they will look forward to the baby being back!

Safety first

As your baby grows and becomes mobile, you will need to teach your child how to behave around your dog. Children tend to express affection through close facial contact but a dog can find this threatening. This is why young children are particularly at risk of being bitten.

Never leave your child and dog alone together unsupervised – even for a minute. You might be confident of your pet’s temperament but accidents can happen and you should never risk it. If at any point you become concerned about your dog’s behaviour around your baby or that they are showing signs of stress (such as keeping a low body posture with tail tucked, hiding away, panting when not hot, excessive licking or drooling, or persistent digging or circling) you should see your vet as soon as possible.

Keeping clean

Good hygiene is essential when it comes to dogs and babies, and you should make sure you thoroughly wash your hands with antibacterial soap after handling your dog.

You should also make sure that your pet’s vaccinations are up-to-date and that they are regularly treated for fleas, ticks and worms so that they cannot pass anything nasty to the baby.

Success story

You will be able to tell if your dog has happily accepted your baby as part of the family by the way it behaves. If your dog’s behaviour is consistent with how it was before the baby arrived, they are relaxed in the baby’s company, and are sleeping, eating and playing as normal, you can be sure that your preparation has paid off and you should all live happily ever after.

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