How to introduce your dog to a baby


This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Elise Barry BVSc

Expecting a new arrival is a huge adjustment for any family, particularly for our four-legged members. Some dogs will adjust well whilst for others it may be more challenging, so preparing them as early as possible is recommended.

Preparing Your Home

Start by showing your dog any new baby purchases. From big items like cots and prams, to toys and clothes. Remember to not allow your dog to mouth these items and if they want to steal the toys replace them with your dog's favourite toy instead.

If your dog sleeps on your bed or in your room and you do not want this to continue once the newborn is home, then during pregnancy you must train them out of this habit. Start by using a comfy cushion or bed for them and placing it at the foot of your bed. Reward them with treats when they lie on this bed. Continue rewarding this behaviour the longer they stay on their bed. Slowly move the bed further and further away from you until it is at the site you want them to sleep, whether this is inside or outside the bedroom. This may take many weeks so start early.

Do the same for any rooms you want to make off-limits or furniture (like couches) that you no longer want them to use.

Change Your Routine

It can be difficult to prepare your dog for a new routine particularly when a newborn can be so unpredictable. However teaching your dog to spend more time by itself and flipping a regimented routine will help them adjust to a new baby. Change your dog's feeding and exercise times. You definitely don't want to skip a meal but having a dog be flexible with feeding times will reduce stress with the new addition as feeding may be haphazard.

Exercise is very important for pets however wearing them out with a ball or play dates will ensure they are physically drained and better behaved at home. In some circumstances you may need to rely on a dog walker or doggy day care especially during the first few weeks your new baby comes home.

Baby Ready

Babies can be noisy: they cry, squeal, giggle and have some loud toys. Toys which make noise can be shown to your dog prior to baby's arrival. Reward them at the same time with a tasty treat so they have a positive association. Visit friends with babies or invest in a baby soundtrack. The more your dog is exposed to sounds the less stress they will encounter when the real thing happens.

Also remember to provide plenty of environmental stimulation for your pet. This will allow for distraction and keep your dog preoccupied particularly during quiet periods in the home. You can do this with a puzzle toy, chew toy or long-lasting treat.

Meeting Baby

Allowing your dog to smell your baby's clothes or blanket prior to introduction is a good way to get them familiar with your baby's scent. Have your partner enter the home first and place your dog on a lead. If they are over-excited wait until they have calmed down before meeting the baby. If your dog is acting calm sit down near the dog and slowly let them approach your baby's feet and smell. If all goes well ensure you reward your dog with attention or a treat so that a positive association is made.

Remember any changes should be introduced slowly and never leave your baby and dog unattended. There are many helpful resources online and recommended books include Dr Kirkham's 'Tell Your Dog You're Pregnant' or 'Tell Your Cat You're Pregnant'. Start planning early to ensure a happy home for all of your family members.