A growing family is an exciting time full of new experiences, lifestyle adjustments, unique challenges and above all else, immense rewards.  During the busy and sometime chaotic preparations the needs of our furry family members can be overlooked.  Sometimes these needs become painfully apparent (usually at a very inconvenient time down the road).  There is no one magical technique to ensure harmony when introducing your furry child to your newborn, rather a series of small steps taken over an extended period of time that hold the key to cultivating a healthy and positive relationship.

So, what is it about babies that can throw some of our dogs for a loop?

Jack (human baby) & Phil (fur baby) are BFFs.

First of all, it is important to understand that even the brightest dog is believed to have the emotional range and reasoning capabilities similar to that of a 3 to 5-year-old child. Add a language barrier and limited life experience into that equation and you begin to understand why it may not be possible for our faithful sidekicks to take the shift of family dynamics in stride. Babies definitely bring their own special little brand of excitement into a home. Most experts can agree that for dogs, particularly ones with little to no previous exposure to small children, this brand of excitement can be very overstimulating.

The sights, smells and movements of not only the child, but the toys and supplies, the frequent visitors, in addition to the random and unpredictable touch sensations (both pleasant and uncomfortable) often flood our dog’s senses leaving them to feel stressed and sometimes fearful. The unavoidable schedule change, usually a decrease in activity, along with limited attention may understandably generate feelings of unease and displacement ultimately giving way to what we perceive as jealous behaviours.

Yes, an old dog can learn new tricks!

It doesn’t matter the age of your dog. If you take the time to prepare them for the approaching changes, you can set them up for success and help them to not only adjust, but thrive in their new family environment.

Just as in every balanced and loving relationship, a strong foundation of trust and understanding needs to be laid before we can ask our dog to face potentially difficult tasks.  This starts with developing a clear line of communication between yourself and your dog through focusing on three main goals:

  1. Learning how to accurately read your dog’s body language and facial expressions. 
    Often, we believe ourselves to be experts in this area however, more than 60% of dog owners regularly fail to recognize, or misinterpret, their dog’s subtle stress signals.
  2. Understand how your dog perceives and interprets your posture, tone of voice and movements when you are giving command cues. 
    This will avoid sending unintended and confusing messages.  Making small adjustments to your hand gestures and using a calm tone of voice can make all the difference between your dog feeling relaxed and cooperative, or stressed and resistant.    
  3. Clarify verbal cues by revisiting basic obedience training through a positive and balanced training approach. 
    This will help ensure that your dog truly understands what it is you are asking them to do, build trust, and develop a common language for you to better communicate with one another.

Step One:  Tools for Success

Pumba and his human, Joseph

If you plan to introduce new household rules, such as not jumping up or staying off the furniture, it is best to implement them well before your child arrives to avoid your dog associating these changes with the arrival of the baby. Training your dog to stay off the furniture and refrain from jumping up on you is an excellent way to prevent accidental injuries. Often, simply providing your dog with a substitute location, such as a dog bed close to where they typically rest, and rewarding them for using it can remedy this situation without causing feelings of displacement. Likewise, ignoring your dog until they have all four paws on the floor, and only petting your dog when they appear calm, will greatly aid in encouraging calm greeting behaviours.

As with any training project, the more time you dedicate to your efforts and the longer you practice, the better prepared you and your dog will be for the big event.  Ideally, most dogs will begin this process with the basic understanding of common commands such as; come, sit, down, stay, leave it, drop it and off. However, they may require some work on improving response time and reliability.  If your dog has very little obedience background, it is recommended that you begin basic training while you are still in the process of family planning, or, within first few months of pregnancy, to maximize practice time. 

These basic commands will become the corner stone of your common language and provide the groundwork for more advanced training, geared to assist your dog during the adjustment period.  Once your dog has mastered responding to basic commands in a variety of real life scenarios, with distractions present, it is time to move on to a few advanced commands. 

B & B sharing a snack

Advanced commands such as, backup, touch (hand targeting), mat and stay, polite door greetings and loose leash manners are extremely helpful throughout the adjustment period and well into the future as your baby matures. 

  • The touch command, or hand targeting, is an excellent tool to encourage shy or nervous dogs to investigate novel objects that may provoke a fear response for some dogs.  Such items include; strollers, jolly jumpers, mobiles, etc.  Turning a strange and concerning object into a safe and benign fixture of the home will greatly reduce your dog’s daily stress levels, thus improving their ability to focus and relax.
  • The backup command is essential for not only reducing trip hazards, but providing you with personal space while you care for your newborn.  This command is also helpful in providing immediate space, should your dog appear uncomfortable with the child.
  • Unfortunately, it is not always convenient to have your dog with you when you are attending to the baby.  Introducing boundaries such as access to the baby’s room only when invited can be very helpful. Controlling the threshold of the baby’s room allows flexibility to include your dog when possible but enjoy privacy when needed.
  • Mat and stay, or bed and stay commands are extremely helpful in controlling your dog’s movements and interactions with your child.  It also provides them with a safe place that allows them to feel included in the family activities.  Providing your dog with random and frequent attention and food rewards for laying quietly on a dog bed while you perform activities such as nursing, changing diapers, playing and bathing, is a great way to build a positive association with being happy and calm while near the baby.
  • Teaching polite door greeting behaviours mitigates two large areas of concern for most families; one, prepares your dog for the increase volume of visitors to the home, and two, reduces the chances of accidental injury due to jumping up behaviours. Polite door greetings are the corner stone for a safe and stress reduced introduction to the baby.
  • Loose leash manners can be one of the trickiest behaviours to train, requiring patience, regular practice and consistency in technique. Although this can be difficult, putting in the effort early on will increase your enjoyment during walks, make the introduction to walking with a stroller much easier and ultimately result in your dog receiving more exercise opportunities.
  • Baby items and toys can be very tempting for most dogs, after all, they look very much like the toys we give them! Teaching a strong LEAVE IT cue, using the baby’s toys as the practice items, will help your dog to decipher the difference between his stuffy and the baby’s special teddy. Begin with an item that looks the least like anything currently in your dog’s toy box.  As your dog learns the command, slowly begin to add additional toys that look similar to your dog’s. To make it a positive experience, always reward your dog with something better than what he gave up.

Step Two:  Easing into Change

No matter how you try, inevitably the entrance of a new baby brings schedule changes for everyone. To avoid your dog associating these changes with the arrival of the baby, begin to alter your dog’s schedule for meals and exercise to one that can be maintained once the baby arrives, approximately 4 to 5 months before your due date. Ensure that your new schedule is flexible enough for you to attend to your parental duties without increasing your dog’s stress levels.

Hiring dog walkers and / or sending your dog to daycare are excellent ways of meeting your dog’s exercise needs without placing additional demands on your time. If you decide to utilize these services, it is recommended that you introduce your dog to them at the same time as you alter their daily schedule. This will allow your dog to acclimatize to the new care providers and environments before more change occurs in the home.

We would like to think that we will be able to maintain the same level of attention and affection for our dogs after the baby is born but unfortunately, the simple truth is, you often can’t. Just as when an only child receives their first sibling, attentions and affection that were reserved for one, will now be divided between two. With this realization, people often feel compelled to lavish attention upon their dog as pre-compensation, however, this often serves to bring the division of attention into sharper contrast once the baby arrives, making the decrease of attention more noticeable and ultimately, more stressful for your dog. In some cases, where we have excessively catered to our dog, it may be necessary to decrease the overall attention we provide them. However, it is important to do this slowly and over a longer period of time, to make the change as gradual and subtle as possible. Thankfully, most of the time, simply redistributing your attention and affection to a more appropriate time is enough to prepare your dog for this change. Limiting access to your affection by making it contingent on command response will not only encourage your dog to work harder for you, improving response time, but reduce unrealistic expectations for attention.

Even with the best laid plans and optimal effort into training, some dogs simply require more time than others to adjust to changes within the family dynamics. Highly anxious dogs and those who show a sensitivity to touch, motion or sound, often benefit from having a safe place where they can go to avoid the commotion of the baby. Teaching your dog to be calm and comfortable while alone in a crate or bedroom provides your dog with the opportunity to take a break when they are feeling overwhelmed. This escape option helps reduce potential conflict that can occur from staying in a social situation when your dog is feeling uncomfortable.

One thing every new parent is short on is time, especially during the first few months after your child is born. Food puzzles and games like fetch or command relays (giving your dog commands in quick succession as you move through the house) are a fabulous way to provide your dog with mental stimulation while allowing you to multitask (command relay while putting away laundry!).

Step Three:  Defusing the Alarm

Even for dogs who have spent time around small children, infants can seem very peculiar and even terrifying due to their erratic movements and wide range of sudden, and sometimes ear-piercing vocalizations. Baby toys and supplies can be equally confusing and overwhelming for some sensitive souls, early introduction to such items will greatly reduce your dog’s stress levels. Gradually introducing your dog to a range of baby; sounds at various volumes, up close, far away, through the monitor, as well as quick sudden movements, unexpected touch and baby supplies / toys, at a rate that does not provoke a fear response, is half of the battle. The other half is developing a positive association with those items and stimuli for you dog. Understanding what your dog finds rewarding and enjoyable is the key to success when implementing a desensitization and / or conditioning program. For some dogs this may be food, for others this may be play or affection, and for many, what they find reinforcing in that moment changes with their needs. For example, a dog who just had dinner may not be as motivated to work for treats, or a tired dog may not be as motivated to work for play. The game is simple, ignore your dog until the item or sound you are working on is present. Once the problem stimuli is present, begin offering the reward of choice, the moment the stimuli is removed stop offering the reward.

In some cases, our timid personalities types can be very hesitant to approach concerning objects, especially if they make strange sounds (like mobiles). This is where the touch command (hand targeting) can play a very important role by placing the target (your hand) in front of the item to encourage investigation and reward heavily for hitting the target.

Purchasing a lifelike doll and practicing routine baby chores such as; changing, feeding, bathing and playing, is an excellent way to prepare your dog for the real thing. Yes, your dog will likely discover that the doll is not a real human child, regardless if they believe it is a child or not, this exercise will still develop familiarity with your actions and reduce curiosity or alarm.

Strollers can be a hot button for many dogs – just seeing them across the road can lead to an emotional outburst.  This is mainly due to the strange shape, movement and sound.  Although you may feel a little strange taking your dog for a walk with an empty stroller, you certainly don’t want to find out that your dog is fearful of it on your first family walk.  Among the baby items you should be working to desensitize your dog to, the stroller should be one of the first.  Because the stroller can be difficult for many dogs to accept, it is recommended that you break the exposure down into three separate steps.  One, master loose leash manners while walking alone, two, desensitize your dog to seeing the stroller and watching it move slowly, three, begin walking with the stroller. 

Last but not least, preparing your pooch for unexpected, and sometimes uncomfortable, touch.  Babies are curious creatures, exploring their environment by touching, grabbing and putting things into their mouths.  Unfortunately, our furry friends are not exempted from this experimental faze.  Teaching your dog that good things happen when they are slightly manhandled, or inconvenienced, will improve your dog’s tolerance to such actions and serve you well as your child develops into a toddler.  The common actions you want to desensitize your dog to include; poking, tugging ears, tugging tails, reaching for their face, touching paws and sudden grabbing of the fur in various locations on their body.  This can be accomplished by starting off small, gently poking or grabbing your dog and immediately stopping and rewarding with verbal praise and a high value treat (something your dog absolutely LOVES!).  Over time, as your dog becomes accustomed to this new game, slowly increase the invasiveness of your action.  BE CAREFUL!!! The goal is to not cause your dog pain but to work towards normal levels of discomfort associated with an infant’s touch.

Step Four:  Sibling Introduction

On the day of the big event all your hard preparation work will finally pay off, making it easier to promote a smooth and stress reduced introduction.  Here are some steps you can take to encourage a positive experience for both your dog and newborn:

  • Prearrange for a familiar handler who has a strong relationship with your dog to be present for the first few days. Their job will be to assist you throughout the introduction and act as a third pair of hands for what is sure to be a very busy time.
  • Have your assistant handler bring a blanket home rich with your baby’s scent as shortly after the birth as possible.  Ask them to wrap the blanket around the doll and allow your dog to approach the doll to sniff.  Have the assistant handler reward your dog with calm soothing praise and treats each time your dog approaches to sniff gently.
  • If you have a few days between your baby’s birth and the day baby arrives home, continue refreshing the baby smell by bringing home a new baby scented item each day and incorporating it into your doll exercises.
  • Pent up energy is a dog’s worse enemy behavioural wise.  To help set your dog up for success on the day baby comes home, have your assistant handler exercise your dog for 20 to 30 minutes before guests arrive.
  • Ask any visitors planning to attend the home to be there 15 to 30 minutes before the baby, after your dog has been exercised.  This will allow your dog the opportunity to greet everyone and calm down before the special package arrives.
  • It is critical to stay calm during the introduction process, if you appear nervous and / or apprehensive your dog is likely to pick up on your body language and become nervous.  Deep breathing techniques are highly recommended to promote the feeling of calm for you and your dog.
  • Watch your tone of voice when speaking to your dog as well as your baby.  High pitched and quick sounds tend to peak the majority of dog’s interest and often excite them.  Focus on using calm, drawn out, soothing tones of voice to praise your dog and cooing to your child.  For example: GOOOOOOD BOOOOOOY.
Old friends
  • Quick, firm and rough petting can be very stimulating for many dogs, often triggering a higher level of excitement and activity level.  Avoid over-stimulating your dog by using slow, calm, massage like petting in a circular motion.  This style of petting will trigger the pleasure center in most dog’s brain prompting deeper relaxation and calm.
  • As you bring your baby into the house, have your assistant handler keep your dog on leash. Stay calm, avoid over stimulating your dog with an excited greeting and observe your dog’s body language and facial expressions to gauge their stress level.
  • Ask your assistant handler to use basic obedience commands such as sit, down, mat and stay and reward your dog with treats (or slow massage like petting) to encourage your dog to remain focused and calm while you find a comfortable location to settle down.
  • Once you are seated, gauge your dog’s stress levels by observing their body language and facial expressions.  If they appear calm and interested, you can allow your assistant handler to let your dog approach.
  • Praise and reward your dog for demonstrating polite greeting rituals and calm behaviour around the baby.
  • DO NOT force the greeting!!!  Some dogs may be instantly curious and wish to approach, others may be cautious or nervous and require more time to adjust.
  • Only allow your dog to interact with your newborn if their body language appears relaxed, calm and comfortable. When in doubt, wait it out!
  • Keep all interactions short and sweet for the first few days.  Provide your dog with lots of calm, soothing verbal praise, slow massage like petting and treats for demonstrating polite greeting behaviours with your baby. To provide the space you need after a positive greeting you can either direct your dog their bed, or have a second person call them out of the room to provide a distraction such as play or action in another room.
  • Provide your dog with regular stress breaks throughout the first few days.  Ask your assistant handler to encourage your dog to leave the room or house by offering something enjoyable such as food puzzles, new bone, play, walks, or even to just spend some time in a quiet room with a favorite person.  Even if a dog appears happy and excited, keep in mind, that although stress is positive stress, it is still stress and your dog’s body and brain needs break.

Step Five:  Daily Encouragement

As you and your family begin to adjust and fine tune your new life schedule, continue to look for ways to further the bond between dog and child. Here are some tips for promoting a healthy relationship between all family members:

Looking forward to playing catch
  •  Use baby nap times to provide your dog with much needed physical and mental exercise.
  • Trade off dog and baby responsibilities between adult caregivers in the home, while one person tends to the baby have the other provide exercise outlets such as walks, off leash play time, doggy play dates, etc.
  • If you find it difficult to leave the home, arrange for doggy playdates to take place in your own yard by inviting friends, family and neighbors who have dog friendly dogs to visit.
  • Baby carriers and slings are great for offering the parent more mobility and freedom to play and interact with their dog, while still attending to baby’s needs.
  • Be proactive, only allow your dog to interact with the child, or be in the same room as your child, when you are prepared to follow through with your chosen program.  This will help avoid unintentional negative associations from being formed.
  • NEVER leave the baby alone with your dog.  Even the sweetest, most loving and gentle dogs can make a mistake. Involve your dog in as many baby activities as possible such as nursing, soothing baby to sleep, changing, bath time, play time, etc.  Place your dog’s bed in a location near you and direct them to mat and stay.
  • Involve your dog in as many baby activities as possible such as nursing, soothing baby to sleep, changing, bath time, play time, etc.  Place your dog’s bed in a location near you and direct them to mat and stay.
  • Reward your dog frequently, at random intervals of time, for staying calm on the mat while you engage in activity with the baby.
  • Reward your dog with soothing verbal praise every time they enter the room that the baby is in.
  • Let things get boring when the baby isn’t around to draw a sharper association of baby equals good things.  Although baby nap time is the ideal time to give your dog one on one interaction, keep all interactions outside of your dog’s routine for exercise and mental stimulation boring and non-eventful.
  • Provide larger rewards when the baby does something that your dog found offensive or provoked a startle response.  This can be as simple as increasing the level of verbal praise and giving a few extra treats, to as complicated as leaving the house for play time in the yard or going for a walk.
  • Avoid putting your child in a position where they can unintentionally cause your dog physical discomfort (keep your dog out of the baby’s reach!), until your child is of age to learn how to pet gently.
  • Teach the child to respect the dog’s space as they mature, do not allow them to approach the dog when they are resting in their ‘safe place’, such as their bed or crate.
  • Do not allow the baby to approach your dog while eating or chewing bones, use baby gates or close doors to avoid accidental interaction during these times.
  • When it is time to add solid foods to your baby’s diet, keep your dog out of the kitchen while your baby is eating.Place their dog bed just outside of the kitchen and use your mat and stay command and give your dog lots of praise for staying on their dog bed.

For dogs who do not suffer from food allergies, you can reward them for staying on their bed while baby ate by allowing them to clean the floor, after you have cleaned up the baby.
For dogs who have more particular diets, reward them for waiting outside the kitchen while baby eats with treats suitable to their dietary needs.Of course, you may want to sweep the floor before you release your dog from their bed.Install baby gates to provide your dog with baby free escape zones and peace of mind for yourself when you just need a break.If at any time you find yourself unsure of the developing relationship or you find it difficult to accomplish the tasks listed above, contact a certified trainer who has experience in this field to further assist you.

A special thanks to our former clients who eagerly sent us pictures of their Fur Babies and Human Babies and allowed us to share them!

Canine Foundations firmly believes every dog is an individual and therefore requires a training and / or behaviour modification program tailored to meet their unique needs. We pride ourselves on our ability to identify each canine client’s distinctive learning style and implementing balanced training and behaviour modification techniques to achieve behaviour goals. Our focus is providing humane training protocols that nurture a strong trust bond between dog and owner while achieving optimal results.

The Canine Foundations’ team demonstrates excellent technical knowledge and hands-on skills in both obedience training and behaviour modification. Our certified CCPDT (Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers) regularly participate in continuing education courses to ensure the training you and your dog receive is based on current research and scientifically sound techniques. Our Consultants and Trainers are highly skilled in developing customized programs designed to suit your dog’s individual needs, making your experience both enjoyable and efficient. For more information please visit us at WWW.CANINEFOUNDATIONS.COM or contact us at (705)835-3177 or info@caninefoundations.com.