Welcoming A Baby Home With Your Dog or Puppy
The First Year with a Baby and Dog
I could talk for England on this topic so to keep it brief and less like a book, this is my account of the last year with my dog and baby and some important points for you to consider. While you will see some training tips, I have kept that to a minimum as there is no one size fits all and if you have concerns about how your dog will adjust i strongly recommend you speak with a local behaviorist such as myself.
I have always said my learning with training dogs never stops and this is one of those times where i have learnt every step of the way. Now I can happily say that I've experienced life with both a baby and dog at the same time, I finally understand all the responsibilities and implications that come along with the pair. Even in my case where my dog is 5 years old and fairly well trained before I welcomed a newborn into the family, we came across some hiccups and especially when welcoming our other families dogs into the same environment so let's talk about that some more.
As a dog trainer and behaviourist I would have tried to understand this before but now having brought a baby home with a dog in our family I am finally able to truly understand what becoming a new mum with a dog or puppy at the same time really means. I now know how hard being a new mum can be and also the toll it takes on our pets, the early months especially, at times i felt like my slightly anxious puppy had disowned me for bringing this crying mini human home and never seeming to put her down for some much needed cuddles with my puppy. I felt all kinds of new mummy guilt that i didn't expect but threw it all, i learnt so much personally and professionally, and we have only been going at it for a year.
Studies have proven that children growing up in a home with animals such as dogs and cats have less chance of health issues such as asthma and eczema later in life, as well as the emotional benefits a child receives from growing up with a pet is astonishing! Children growing up with dogs are less likely to be nervous or experience mental health issues later on in life as well as the benefits when a child has a learning disability such as autism or dyslexia. The first time my little one started using her voice was to talk to our dog Roxy, like wise when she started showing interest in books, she would sit with Roxy and "Read" to her for ages.
Some dogs have a natural ability to recognize when a human is in need of a certain delicacy and others may lack in the same gentle finesse.
Starting from the beginning, if you are able to put some training in place before your baby comes home then that is the best outcome in this situation. By leaving the training to the last minute you're much more likely to come across some issues, if you have concerns about how your dog will cope with a new family member coming home perhaps it would be a good idea to consult your local behaviorist to have their help in ensuring its a smooth transition.
If your dog has been sleeping on your bed climbing up on your sofa and sleeping on your lap, You might like to practice the 'ask' command. This might be a shock to your dogs way of life if they have never had to ask before jumping up onto your sofa so be patient and consistent and they will soon understand what they need to do.
For this every time your puppy helps themselves to your space ie sofa or bed you hook one finger in their collar, lead them to the floor and as you do this say the word ‘off’ not to be commonly confused with 'down' as this means to lay down. Once they're on the floor and stood or sat in front of you can pat the sofa and say 'up' and then have your cuddles. Notice when your puppy starts to do this on their own and remember you must invite them when they asked nicely and later on you can choose appropriate times for your dog to jump up onto the sofa or bed such as not when you're nursing or settling your baby.
There will be baby toys all over the place! Depending on where your dog is in their development might depend on whether you can leave these toys on the floor or if they need to be placed somewhere out of your puppies reach before you leave the room. Your dog will also have lots of toys around the house and you will need to monitor these around your baby as she grows and becomes a little person. You may wish to teach your puppy the 'leave' command and that not everything on the floor belongs to them, that there is a difference between 1 item on the floor and another, to do this you will need to teach your puppy about invisible boundaries and possessions.
Safe Place i.e. Crate Or Bed
Your baby will have her cot so it's only fair your dog has their bed, this is a safe place for your dog to go when they are perhaps feeling overwhelmed. Babies cry, and some might cry a lot, this could be distressing for any dog (or human for that matter) so not only will you need to handle your baby crying, you will also need to reassure your dog in the right way that everything is still OK. One way we can teach our dogs to self settle is every time they take themselves to their bed or crate, to gently praise them and over time they will realise their bed is a safe place and will associate the feeling of your praise with when they go to their bed.
The bed or crate is also a place where they should never be told off or sent to if they have been naughty (i like to say miss guided). If they choose to completely destroy their bed or defecate in their crate you should not punish them for this, just simply clean up the mess and continue to praise when they're in their bed and being calm naturally. Have beds around the house where you plan to be with your baby, if your dog is allowed in the nursery you might consider placing a dog bed in a corner and when you go in the room lead your dog to their bed and ask them to lay down, reward or praise when they do this each time you enter the room.
You could play crying and baby noises before to help desensitize your puppy but i tried this with our Roxy and she knows what comes from a phone or TV and will not give it the time of day. When my friend came over with her baby on the other hand... Roxy was more afraid then anything else so i knew this was going to be our challenge to overcome.
Barking can be one of the biggest clashes with the combination of babies and dogs. Dogs bark naturally to protect us and themselves, for attention or if they're scared, or telling something off. Some dogs bark more than others and if you have a puppy at the same time as a newborn they might not have found their voice yet, but give it time. Imagine trying to settle your baby for the past hour and finally getting them off to sleep for a much needed nap and then your dog barks at a passing car it has seen out the window (oh dear lord! No!). To avoid this making your lives more difficult it's best to put in the training before baby comes home and practice good door control and to ask for quiet behaviour. There are many ways that this can be done and this is where it could be beneficial to get in touch with your local trainer or behaviourist to help you determine the best way to teach this for you and your dog.
Nursing & Going To Sleep
If you haven't had a baby before it can be a real shock to your system for many reasons one of which can be the delicacy of which they go to sleep once they are through their newborn faze. All of a sudden babies can appear to be very light sleepers and having a dog move around playing with it's toys and making any sudden unexpected noise can wake your baby and unsettle them. Sadly there is only so much desensitising you can do with your babies, and if this continues to happen perhaps it is time to move your baby to their bedroom cot for daytime naps to limit disruption. Perhaps while you're settling your baby, your dog could lay down out of the room.
Many times I managed to settle our baby in her cot and when I exited the room quietly my dog would jump off the stool and run towards me, waking her up in the process. My baby did get used to this after some time and wasn't sleeping so delicately in the end but to help in the mean time I would settle our dog in her bed out of the room.
The worst incident of a clash of the 2 kids was recently, my baby was 9 months old and easily distracted and Roxy had become comfortable with her new sister in the house and our routine. I took our baby upstairs to her room and began to nurse her and Roxy came in with me and went to her usual spot on the window seat to settle, however every minute or so she fidgeted, I didn't worry to much as our baby didn't seem bothered this time. Roxy seemed to have settled and goes to rest her head on the windowsill but manages to open the curtains shining the light right onto the babies face! so obviously she is distracted and wont nurse or go to sleep (she was soo close!), I manage to convince her to continue with her nap routine and she falls asleep so i carefully place her in her cot and call Roxy with hand signals to exit with me quietly.
We go down stairs and i put the kettle on and dig out a bone for Roxy to sit and enjoy, she does her usual of saying no to everything i show her until i reach for the one thing she was hankering for... this time it was a pigs ear! I hand her the ear and continue to make my coffee watching the baby monitor to be sure i can truly sit and enjoy my coffee. Roxy rings the bell to go outside so i let her out but not with her pigs ear (your not burying it in the garden!), i also spot the birds need a little food so i set about topping up a feeder or 2 and go back in to finish making my coffee. Checking the monitor again to be sure i can peacefully have my coffee and our baby is face down, bum in the air making lots of odd noises fumbling about, (great! shes awake!) so i carefully creep upstairs and peek threw the door to see what on earth is going on, and when i open the door i see none other then our Roxydog trying to bury her pigs ear in the stack of nappies under the babies changing table! (oh dear god!! stop that! you woke the baby!) so i leave the ear in place since she seems pleased with it now its hidden from uncle Eddie encase he comes to play, i pick up the baby and begin to settle her again.
Roxy goes to her normal window seat and immediately hears the postman so runs to the door barking (at this point its like nothing can faze me now!) i shut the door too when she leaves and quickly Roxy returns and slowly peaks her head around the door, the baby is drifting off to sleep (YES! i can smell my coffee.... its so close!) Roxydog quietly lays next to my chair and curls up as she normally does, the baby falls asleep so i carefully place her in her cot AGAIN and signal to Roxy to follow me out the room and as soon as she gets up.... she knocks a toy and just about jumps across the room, its a Noah's Ark plastic thing that doesn't seem to have any volume control and suddenly sounds its fog horn followed by pig oinks and a Japanese sounding theme tune song (FFS! #*$! OH MY GOD!) hasten to say after all that i asked Roxy to stay in her bed out of the room for this final time and my coffee was indeed cold by the time i got to it. From that point on i would settle Roxy first in her bed out of the nursery before bed and nap times with absolutely no exceptions... (except when i forgot of course ;-) it seemed to have fixed that issue (LOL). You think i would know better... i was perhaps hopeful my dog knows better or my baby wouldn't be affected by these things if shes tired enough...... oh how i underestimated the situation!
Dogs are extremely clever and they understand whether they are allowed past the end of the driveway, in a room, on the sofa or up the stairs. These are invisible boundaries that they have learned overtime you can apply the same thing to your babies nursery if you wish or even when you wonder in and are sat in your nursing chair. You can train your dog to realise that when you sit in your nursing chair they need to exit the room.
If your dog or puppy isn't yet toilet trained this could be an extremely difficult time for you, not only do you have a babies routine to try to workout everyday, which can change at the drop of a hat but also to remember the regular intervals of which you need to take your puppy out.
If this is of concern for you, it might be best that when you need to devote your attention to your baby for feeding, settling or nappy changes to limit the space your puppy is has to limit accidents and giving you a better chance to see the cues for toileting. Keep them with you or place them in the kitchen with some chews and Kongs if they are comfortable being left alone. If you choose to place them out of your room do you be sure to look up about separation anxiety and how to train your dog to be left alone, you could (if done right) tackle two birds with one stone .
Puppies and babies have a very different routine depending on where both your puppy or dog and your baby are at in their development. It's one of those things that we perhaps cannot predict however there are somethings that you can do to make this transition easier on yourselves, your dog and your baby.
For instance dogs are creatures of habit they love a routine, when you have a baby that routine goes straight out the window so to help your dog feel at ease in your new, perhaps chaos driven lifestyle you could maintain the same walk time for a little grounding exercise, if your dog goes to a dog sitter perhaps they can continue to go on their set days also giving you a break and some time to spend guilt free with your baby. Try to maintain normal meal times and if you usually sit with your dog in the evening before bed see if you can continue to do this, but don't be too hard on yourself if that's just not possible in the beginning.
Just what ever you do, do not tie your dogs lead to your pram! I don't know about you but id much rather no casualties but if my dog does run off for some reason id rather my baby wasn't pulled along into danger with her. Consider how your dog walks, do they walk to heel? can you get their lead and collar on without struggle? and wash and dry their paws when you return without a fuss? do a trial run and take your dog to a store that will allow them inside while you use a trolley.
I use homebase... walking your dog in an unfamiliar place next to a large wheeled object can be a challenging experience for them but that's what you will be doing when you take your baby outside for the first time in the pram. even i had this imagine of proudly walking my dog along side my pram, the reality of it was quite different, we had to go back to basics since Roxy was afraid of the pram moving but would forget her fears to sniff something in front so trip over the wheels, it took some time but we got there and now she walks really well next to the pram.
Newborn babies especially, have nearly no routine and becoming a new parent can be extremely daunting, and very hard work, if at times you cannot devote as much attention to your dog as before, or maintain their routine don't fret, they will still love you and will wait patiently for your cuddles.
Biting Nipping & Paws
It's not great for any dog or puppy to be biting nipping or using their paws in a way that could cause harm to anybody so this is something that you may want to consider before welcoming your baby into the home. Sometimes biting and nipping and accidental paw scratches can happen due to over excitement or a need for love as demonstrated below. If this is the case you may want to keep your play toned down while your baby is also playing on the floor, be aware that while they're newborn your dog may not understand that they need to be delicate and careful around your little one. For more help on biting and nipping do look at our 'how to stop biting and nipping blog'
This is a little clip i caught of Alfie our loving well behaved family dog pawing for affection from our baby, she wasn't harmed but did have a little grizzle and red mark on her hand. This type of pawing could of been considered harmless to an adult but with a baby it may cause harm so is one to watch out for to nip in the bud at the start if you can.
If your dog requires regular grooming you may wish to get them groomed before your baby is due, giving you a bit of time where you don't have to worry about this in your daily routine after baby comes home. Their claws will be at their shortest, they can be freshly wormed and flea treated and their fur will hopefully not molt all over the place, if your dog has long hair watch out for individual strands wrapping around your little ones fingers and digits. Before your baby is born its a very good idea to begin desensitizing your puppy to being handled, use treats and do a 'touchy feely' exercise where you check their teeth, ears, nose, paws, stroke them and pat them from head to toe. you want your dog to be relaxed with this process so little and often with frequent rewards will do the trick, stay within your dogs comfort zones and refer to our nipping blog if that's an issue.
This isn't a massive concern at the beginning but as soon as your baby starts weening, food will inevitably go all over the place especially if you're doing 'baby led weaning' (its amazing! check it out). Having gone through this process myself with baby and dog I have come to the conclusion that there is absolutely no point in trying to stop my dog hoovering up the many food items that land on the floor. Instead it is crucial that your dog knows and understands an extremely good 'leave' command, that way if your baby does drop a chocolate coin or chicken leg on the floor you can say 'leave!' and your puppy will give you time to pick it up keeping them safe. There are many ways that you can teach a 'leave' do checkout our other blogs for helpful games and training tips on how to do this.
Of course if you would really rather your dog doesn't clean up after our baby you can insist they stay laying in their bed when your baby is in their high chair, give them a Kong or chew to keep them happy and never allow them to clean up then it wont be an issue. I have chosen to take full advantage of the natural cleaning instincts of my pooch, knowing Roxy will 100% leave anything alone if i tell her to. She is also so very gentle in her approach to food that i would even consider sitting my baby on the floor and letting her wipe my baby clean rather then me battling with a wash cloth every meal time, I haven't yet done this, i might wait for her immune system to be a little more developed before we play that game.
I'm On The Floor
When we begin our puppy adventure, we as trainers tell our clients that every item on the floor is theirs. However when you welcome a baby into the home this is no longer the case and that's where teaching your puppy some items belong to them and some items belong to you come into play. Practice sitting on the floor and asking your dog to lay in their bed or to lay down away from you gnawing on a chew. You could try wrapping a teddy bear in a blanket and placing them on the floor to change a nappy exposing your puppy to that process early on and combating any issues that you can foresee.
Remember don't ever leave your dog with your baby, not even for a second! My Roxy will follow me around the house so not even i would leave the 2 of them alone. Its also not often we have all the family dogs together as above and at times we will keep them out of the room for the babies safety, if the dogs want to play with each other or if they are getting very excited nearing walk time or because someone has come to the door.
When you have a baby you will no doubt experience the armada of visitors entering your home to see your newborn. I sadly didn't get this experience as I became a new mum during the first lockdown of 2020 and wasn't able to welcome visitors until probably after her first birthday a year later. I could only imagine how uncomfortable this may make some puppies and dogs so I refer back to the bed or crate as a safe place. The extra opportunities to practice door control and not barking and of course doggy greeting people appropriately into your home. There are many factors to consider with this aspect and it is perhaps another time I would recommend you get in touch with your local trainer or behaviourist before your baby is born so you are armed and ready for any issues that you could come across when welcoming people into your home.
Remember to stock up on cake, tea bags and coffee you will need them!
Start teaching this command with your baby (that's right i said with your baby) as soon as they have the ability to grab objects. its important that you realise you are now a parent to more then one animal, that's a parent to your dog and your baby, its your responsibility to look out for your dog just as much as it to look after your baby. When your baby starts to grab objects help her not to grab your dog, pub objects in front of your dog that your baby can grab and if they want to stroke your dog help her move her hand steady and not to grab and pull, you may need to help your baby release her grip at the beginning and say 'gently' and she will grow up knowing that animals require a gentle hand. Our baby started by paying interest in Roxy's fur but Roxy wasn't ready for this interaction so i enlisted the help of my dads dog who was more then happy to lend a paw, plus his fur is so thick and long that he wouldn't of felt if she got her grip a little rough. After that and once she was standing she used to insist in playing with Roxy's tag on her collar and Roxy was more then happy to oblige by this time but if she was pulling away, moving her head away or showing her feeling uncomfortable i would of moved the baby on to a toy.
Remember every dog has the potential to bite! barking teeth showing and baking happens because the other signals have been ignored. you only need to look at the dogs with kids on instagram to see those with wide eyes and trying their hardest to run away. Don't be that mum! Don't let your kids wind your dog up and ignore the warning signs, protect your dog as much as you would your child and that at times means teaching your child what is appropriate.
Bringing Your Baby Home
When I brought my baby home for the first time I knew that our dog would be extremely interested in meeting her but this needed to be done in a very controlled way so the little delicate bundle in the car seat wasn’t harmed or upset, because let's face it when you bring your baby home they become your number one priority. So I spent many days and nights thinking about the best possible way that we could introduce our baby with our slightly nervous cockapoo fur baby never knowing how she will truly react.
If you can have your puppy or dog walked and exercised before you come home with the baby this will be beneficial to ensure a smooth greeting with a less energetic dog
Some things may seem obvious like taking in a blanket with babies scent inside the house first, if you yourself have been away to have the baby your dog will want to greet you and thoroughly give you the third degree sniff. It might be best to say hello to your puppy first and put the kettle on while placing the babies blanket in a sniffable location either by holding it placing it on the floor or on the back of a chair etc.. encourage your puppy to sniff the blanket calmly and watch their reaction discouraging any over excitement, nipping etc... and praise for any good behaviour.
When you are ready and you feel your dog is ready bring your baby in either by holding them or using the car seat and place your baby in a safe location, perhaps in their bassinet. This way you have your hands free to praise your puppy for either ignoring your baby or being very gentle and are able to give your puppy and baby space from one another should you need to.
Start as you mean to go on, by implementing some of the tips mentioned above before you bring your baby home you can help to ensure success in the newborn months to come.
encase your interested to know my dog welcomed me with excitement and gave me the 3rd degree sniff after being in hospital for 2 days. my husband had walked her in the morning before coming to pick up me and baby and waited in the car with the baby. After Roxy calmed down and had sniffed me all over and the blanket i placed on the floor while boiling the kettle i signaled to my husband to come in with the baby in the car seat, We put her on the breakfast bar where Roxy isnt allowed to jump up... but she did.... she wanted to sniff her so i placed the car seat on the floor, she was fast asleep in the seat and even after a cold wet nose gingerly sniffed her hair she didn't stir. Roxy was afraid of her to start with so i encouraged a little sniffing and for Roxy to feel OK getting closer.
After the initial sniff it maybe took Roxy 3 months to not run away to her bed without constant reassurance, it took my dads dog roughly the same amount of time to see the baby and sniff her like a separate being to myself. My brothers dog thought 'oooo another human to stroke me' and my aunties dog bounded straight over to her! nose in there and needed to be asked for a little distance to maintain control, dogs we met at the park would give her a wide berth and one or two may have tried to pinch her little socks. So it really is going to be a learning on the job experience and if you have behaviorists and trainers like myself on call and ready to come work with you then you will be setting your dog or puppy up for success and with any luck your dog and baby will be amazing inseparable best friends.