You may or may not know that in addition to our 2-year old daughter, we also have a 5-year old dog. (If you care, he is a whippet named Blue.) While we consider our dog as a son, 2 years ago we knew that we would need to carefully introduce our new baby to our dog in a way that he could cope with as a domestic animal.
Fortunately, their introduction went very well, and they’ve always gotten along great! So I thought I would share my tips with you today on how to introduce your new baby to your dog.
(Psst—cat owners, skip to the section below for your feline friends!)
If you’re already parent to a furry friend and are about to become parent to a small human, you need coffee, my friend! Go get yourself a cup and curl up with your pup while we discuss the dos and don’ts of introducing your new baby to your dog.
Take care of behavioral problems
You know your dog. Be honest with yourself. Does he exhibit any behaviors that currently cause problems? What about:
Jumping up on people
Being possessive over areas in your house
If any of these things are a problem now, you’ll want to correct them before you give birth. Fortunately you have around 9 months to do it!
If you feel like your dog’s behavioral problems are outside of your realm of control, speak to your vet who could give you some pointers or even recommend a local trainer or specialist.
Socialize your dog around other babies (and kids!)
I had already anticipated this when our dog was a puppy because some of our friends had had babies already. I knew we would like to have children one day, and that it would be wise to introduce my puppy to babies well beforehand.
The more work you can do before you give birth to set yourself up for success, the better.
In terms of socializing your dog around other babies and kids, it’s as easy as asking your friends and family for help. Organize a playdate and bring your dog along—on neutral territory! Plan to meet at a park, for example.
Then, once your dog gets comfortable, you could see about having babies and kids over to your house (“his” territory). Remember to keep close supervision and observe how your dog is feeling and acting.
It’s important for you to make sure your dog is used to babies and kids because, as we all know, small humans are not like real adults! They scream, they run around, they touch stuff they’re not supposed to. It can be a lot for an inexperienced dog to handle.
A specific tip for you: When our dog was still a puppy, we got him used to being touched A LOT. I purposely touched his legs, paws, and face a bit like a child would—suddenly, and with some grip. This definitely wasn’t to hurt him! But dogs don’t naturally touch other dogs’ paws and faces, so it’s unnatural to them for humans to touch them there.
Another tip you can try throughout pregnancy is intentionally scaling down the attention you give to your dog. Please, don’t do anything drastic. But slowly reduce the scritches so your dog gets used to it before baby arrives. There will be less of a chance he will associate your new behavior with the arrival of your baby.
Present your baby’s scent before your dog and baby meet
This tip is probably the most well-known, but experts warn that if it is the only thing you do to prepare your dog, it won’t work.
That’s because it won’t work on its own. You need to be doing the other tips I am giving you in this article as part of your global approach to familiarizing your dog with your new baby.
But, the way this component works is easy: before you bring your baby home from the hospital, bring an item of clothing (or a blanket, etc.) home for your dog to sniff. Keep a hold on this item as you let your dog sniff from a distance. Do not drop it for your dog to pick it up. Signal to your dog that this scent is yours; it belongs to you.
Introduce your baby to your dog the right way
You’re finally coming home from the hospital with your baby! Have a friend or family member help you prepare for your dog to meet your new baby.
Meet your dog’s needs first
This should be easy, as it’s what you were likely doing every day before your baby arrived.
Make sure your dog gets some exercise before you come home with your baby. Ideally, you’ll give your dog a good long walk so he feels tired and fulfilled.
If you bring home your baby and your dog is a ball of energy, you risk a more heightened reaction from him.
If however he’s been walked already, he will naturally be in a state of calm to meet your baby: ideal conditions.
Meet on neutral territory
You don’t have to go far. If you live in an apartment, bringing your dog out to meet your baby on the stoop or in the hallway will do fine. If you live in a house with a garden, bring your dog just outside of the garden such as on the sidewalk or corner of the street.
Of course, the conditions should be safe for your baby! Don’t meet on the block if it’s a thunderstorm outside!
Greet your dog first
This is a personal tip of mine from experience. I had been gone for days, and I knew my dog had missed me a lot. So before we introduced our baby to him, I went inside and greeted him first.
He was understandably overjoyed—very heartwarming for me, but too much energy for my newborn! We kept our daughter in her car seat during this time. I gave my dog attention and spoke to himcalmly (I might have cried a bit, too). And when he calmed down, it was time for me to introduce his baby sister.
Hold your baby in your arms
Just like you did when presenting your baby’s scent to your dog, continue to hold your baby in your arms as you let your dog sniff at a distance:
Keep it brief.
Don’t overwhelm your dog with lots of talking or affection.
Also don’t force a close proximity between your dog and new baby.
Pay attention to your dog’s reaction and always be ready to get your baby out of his reach if necessary.
Hopefully, if you’ve done everything you can to prepare, finally introducing your dog to your new baby should be easy! But you’re not done yet.
Keep up with good habits
Continue to meet your dog’s needs every day. Of course you won’t neglect to provide food and water, but don’t skimp on walks! If you can’t walk far yet, enlist someone to walk your dog for you.
If you notice your dog “getting comfortable,” or falling back into bad habits, nip this behavior in the bud and go back to basic dog training techniques before anything gets out of hand.
And remember to still give your dog attention. Spend time alone with him (yeah, a little like he were another of your kids!). Dogs enjoy playing, too. Like before, don’t lavish attention on your dog, but don’t deny him all attention, either. Just give him the attention that he deserves.
Of course, if you have worked on curbing bad dog behaviors, keep at it. This is not the time to let down your defenses.
And don’t leave your baby alone where your dog can easily access her. Never ever leave a pet with your baby if you leave the room.
Keep an eye on how your dog seems to be doing with this huge change, and adapt if necessary.
Finally, as your baby grows, teach her good habits around your dog. The respect between your baby-now-toddler and dog should go both ways. Teach your toddler not to hit or swipe at your dog, not to pull on his ears, etc.
If you keep a close eye on them, you can begin to foster a relationship much like siblings. Model your own respect for the animal kingdom for your toddler, and she’ll learn that your dog has his own rights and boundaries that are to be respected.
Don’t have a dog? Here’s how to introduce your baby to your cat
At first, I wanted to write this article as “How to introduce your new baby to your pets.” But then I remembered that I know nothing about cats, and decided to focus only on dogs.
But cat owners shouldn’t feel left out! Although I can’t speak from personal experience, my feeling is that a lot of the advice above can be adapted for cat owners, too. So, to recap:
Correct unwanted cat behaviors early.
Socialize your cat around other babies and kids. You don’t want your cat’s first exposure to a baby to be your own.
Present your baby’s scent before your cat and baby meet.
Try to introduce your baby to your cat on neutral territory and protect your baby in your arms.
Jessica is an American expat living the dream in Normandy. She is wife to a French hubby and mama to a Franco-American daughter, born in 2018, and one whippet. Passionate about all stages of writing, this Francophile created her blog in 2020 to help others navigate motherhood with a focus on conscious parenting and bilingual parenting. Bonne lecture !
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