Many moons ago, before I racked up three cats to my name, I had another furry addiction—I had a house full of dogs.
I owned a handful of my own and fostered many more for a local rescue group. I could never quite get the stink of dog off my hands no matter how often I washed them, and I sometimes fantasized about inventing a full-body lint-rolling device that would surely make me millions.
As a foster, you come across all different types of dogs – shy or outgoing, dogs who lick your toes or dogs who go for your crotch, sweet lap dogs or dogs like that one named Tigger who had a 5-foot vertical leap and REALLY liked to show it off. So I took training and obedience classes from several different dog trainers to learn how best to manage my ever-changing pack.
One of the most valuable situations I learned to handle was how you properly introduce your dog to a new baby – so your beloved Cosmo doesn’t think Baby is his new chew toy.
If you think your dog doesn’t need any help to get ready to meet your new baby, remember this: Dogs can tell you’re pregnant even in the first trimester. They just don’t know how many puppies you’re having.
And as you’ll learn below, their fear of that unknown could lead to serious problems. Children are the most common victims of dog bites, with half of bite victims being under the age of thirteen.
Bonus: As a bonus for joining my weekly newsletter, get a free checklist that will help you get your dog ready to meet your new baby.
First, a Caveat (Or Three)
- If any of these tips don’t make sense, please follow up with a professional trainer. I am nowhere near a professional. I just wanted to share the few tips I’ve learned over the years on how to succeed at introducing dog to baby. It’s better to be safe and understand what you’re doing than to confuse your dog.
- This post is very matter-of-fact about what can go wrong. One trainer always said he was being blunt on purpose because he’s tired of seeing perfectly fine animals having to be put down or dropped off at a shelter because they were set up for failure when the new baby came into the house. The best time to prepare is before a new baby arrives. After, you’ll have much less time for dog training.
- If your dog shows any warning signs with your babe like growling, snapping, or lunging, please seek professional help immediately. If you wait until the warning signs progress to an actual bite, it’s a harder problem to solve.
Now onto the tips…
9 Tips for Introducing Dog to Baby
At the end of this post, you can get a free checklist version of these tips. Don’t just bookmark this page and forget about it until after your baby’s born and your dog is stressing out – print the checklist and stick it on your fridge now!
1. Sit on the Couch
Aggressive dogs typically have two things in common: They’re not good on a leash, and they have a bad recall – i.e. they don’t always come when you call them. So if your dog isn’t great in those two areas, those would be good things to work on to start with. Recall is easy peasy. You don’t even have to get off the couch!
- Get a few treats ready to go in your hand or pocket. (My dogs and fosters always LOVED the Solid Gold Turkey Jerky treats, and they’re soft enough to break in half to make your training treat stash last longer.)
- Sit on a chair or the couch with your legs slightly open – enough room so your dog can come sit between your legs.
- Call your dog: “Tuna, come!”
- Wait til they come and sit at your feet.
- The moment their butt hits the ground, give that pup a treat!
2. Understand Why Your Dog Loves You
Even though we like to think that dogs love us, what they really love are RESOURCES. They love that we provide the resources they want – food, attention, play, and so on. What is typically behind any behavior issue is fear and frustration about resources. For dogs, it’s all about another pack member to feed and share resources with.
3. Play the Bumping Game
Space is the biggest way to control resources in the home. This is BIG for preventing aggression from the time your child can walk until it grows out of toddlerhood. Why? Because controlling the space will teach your dog to move out of the child’s way as it approaches.
Do you step around or over your dog at home? Stop doing that! You’re letting your dog control the space.
Start playing the bumping game:
- If your dog is in your path, stay on your path.
- Don’t make eye contact with the dog.
- Nudge the dog with your foot to get the dog to move out of your way, then continue on your way. A few tips:
- Don’t kick the dog as you push through – that’s not necessary. Just put your foot forward and push through until the dog moves.
- Don’t verbally warn the dog that you’re about to make them move. Just do it. Dogs don’t verbally warn each other when they’re about to walk through each other’s space. And your toddler won’t be able to say “excuse me,” so don’t waste your breath teaching your dog that they need to move out of your way only when you ask politely.
You may feel bad at first, but if you want to prevent your dog from snapping at or biting your toddling babe, it is essential to establish that you control the space and not your dog. From the time your precious bundle learns to walk, he – much like a drunken sailor – stumbles into the sleeping or eating area of the dog. The dog will typically correct to the child’s face. If you’ve ever seen a dog correct another dog, that’s exactly how they do it – over the muzzle. YOU DON’T WANT THIS TO HAPPEN.
After playing the bumping game consistently, what you should start to notice is your dog seeing you coming and getting out of your way. That’s exactly the behavior you want for your child. Score!
4. Switch the Kibble
Diet is important for dogs. For the same reason kids will have behavior problems if you feed them a lot of sugar every day, dogs will react to a bad diet too. Avoid these ingredients in your dog’s food: corn, wheat, soy, eggs, dye, sugar. Everything but sugar is a common allergen for dogs, and sugar is bad for behavior in general.
Some brands I’ve had good luck with are California Natural and Wellness. You might have to buy at a pet store or online instead of at the grocery store, but diet makes all the difference in the world for preventing behavior problems. It’s worth it.
Bonus Tip: Bananas produce serotonin, which can help combat aggression. So if you find a kibble with banana as an ingredient, great. Otherwise, you can give your dog a little banana everyday. (Now you have a way to use up all those over-ripe bananas instead of letting them stink up your trash can til garbage day.)
5. Put Your Dog on a Feeding Schedule
Always give your dog its daily kibble AFTER you and your kids eat. This establishes your family as the leaders of the pack.
Also, don’t leave your dog’s kibble out all day long. The dog will be stressed when the food is left out all day because they will see it as a resource to guard. When you feed the dog, you should set the food down, they should eat it, then you should pick up the bowl when they’re done. If the dog leaves the food bowl, they’re done. Pick it up. Don’t worry – they’ll learn fast.
6. Play House
Before your baby arrives, get a baby doll that matches your skin color (like this). Get blankets, baby powder, toys, diapers – anything you know you’ll be using with the baby.
Starting when you’re about 7 months pregnant, play house for 20 minutes (or more) every night. Nurse the baby doll, play with it, put it in a baby carrier attached to your body – do anything you can think of. All the while, make sure you’re playing the bumping game. The reason you’re doing this is to set the rules now for how to act around the baby because when the baby comes, you’ll be too busy to worry about this.
7. Capture Baby Smells
Get 12 gallon-sized plastic bags and put them in the bag that will go to the hospital or birthing center. Everything that gets changed off the baby like booties, hats, onesies, etc, goes into a bag. Seal the bag right away and don’t open it again til you use it. One item per bag. (And no, don’t put dirty diapers in the bags.)
Then after baby is born but before baby comes home, send your partner home to check on the dog and do as many of these as possible:
- Before you walk in the door, open a bag and attach an item to you somehow – for example, tie a piece to your belt loop. You want to get the smell of the baby on your body so when the dog has the happy emotion of seeing you, they’ll associate the smell of the baby with that.
- Rub an item on a ball, then play fetch. I promise you’re not teaching the dog to fetch the baby. But the dog will associate the smell on the ball with the happy emotion of playing fetch.
- Put an item at the bottom of the dog’s food bowl and put the food on top. Again, you’re not teaching the dog to eat the baby. But smell is the most powerful sense for dogs, so you’re using that to your advantage to associate the baby’s smell with happy times for the dog.
8. Feed Often
When you bring another human home, the dog will think there will be fewer resources for him, so your job is to show the dog that’s not the case.
Feed the dog 10 times a day, with at least two minutes between each feeding. Do this for two weeks. Feed the same amount of kibble you usually do, but just split it up into 10 parts. The dog won’t understand that they’re getting the same amount of food, they’ll just think they hit the jackpot! This will be a good association for them to have with the arrival of the baby. After two weeks, start tapering. Do 8 times for 2-3 days, 6 times for 2-3 days, and so on.
9. Now Teach the Baby
When the baby is about 4 months old, sit her on your lap. Call the dog over and get him to sit at your feet. Pet the dog with long, soft strokes and say “easy.” Never pat the head of the dog. This is how you teach a child to pet a dog and not hit.
Also, don’t allow your baby or toddler to see you turning the dog’s ears to check them. You don’t want to teach the child that it’s okay for her to do that to the dog.
Get Your Free Printable
- Get the checklist. You’ll get the printable, plus join my weekly newsletter! Just click here to get it and subscribe.
- Stick it on your fridge, and get to work prepping that pup!
This post is dedicated to Lee Mannix (1969-2010). He knew a whole heck of a lot about dogs.
Before you go, get my FREE cheat sheet: 75 Positive Phrases Every Child Needs to Hear
For more tips on getting ready for baby’s arrival, check out:
- Preparing Your Dog for a New Baby
- Tell Your Dog You’re Pregnant: An Essential Guide For Dog Owners Who Are Expecting A Baby (thanks to reader Imogen for this recommendation!)
Got a tip for introducing dog to baby? Leave a comment to share!