How to introduce your dog to your baby

Preparation, common sense and a whole load of treats will make the transition smoother, says canine training specialist Nick Honor

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Your trusty pooch will be a little bit baffled, if not completely put out, when a new baby comes into your home. He’s been your baby up until that point, and sharing isn’t something that comes naturally to dogs. But pups and bubs can get along just fine with a bit of planning and some favourable association between crying and treats.

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“Preparation and a fair bit of common sense goes into introducing your dog to your new baby,” says Nick Honor, canine training specialist. “It’s simple, but it’s not always easy.” 

There isn’t a quick fix and it will take some man hours, but you should always compare how your dog is feeling to an older sibling and, as a result, there’s naturally a bit of a territory tussle.

Plan ahead

“Introduce all the baby paraphernalia to your dog gradually in the lead up to your baby’s arrival. Let him sniff it, look at it and generally get used to it being in your home. Give it a wipe over with a baby wipe before your baby uses it,” Nick says. This means when your baby comes home, she’s not one of 30 new things.

As Nick explains, “Dogs are naturally nervous of things they don’t know, so leaving the new baby gear around as early as possible takes some of the stress away, and it’s not all arrived with a screaming baby.”

Dogs like to have their own space in the home and this becomes even more important when a baby arrives. A crate with a blanket over it or a bed tucked in a closed off corner is ideal for a baby (or human, come to that) no-go zone. Nick says, “You’re likely to have lots of visitors around this time and your dog needs to be able to take himself away. He’ll come out when he’s ready.”

Good associations

Once your baby is at home, the most important thing to work on is conditioning your dog to associate the new addition with a positive consequence. “Set up treat bowls around the house so that if your baby is crying, you can give him a one,” Nick suggests. “Make them really tasty, much better than he normally gets, so he starts to think, ‘This is like a magic trick. When she makes that noise, I get all the best food!’. You don’t want your dog to think that the baby is a bad thing and the more treats you give when she is around, the more he’ll like having her there.”

Dealing with a young baby is a handful as it is and if your dog starts barking or playing up while you’re trying to change or feed your baby, it can be a real annoyance. But, as Nick reveals, “It’s important not to discipline your dog when your child is around, as your dog may not associate what he’s doing wrong with the punishment, but the baby. This could cause him to become aggressive around the baby, which is exactly what you don’t want. If he’s causing a problem, give him a really good treat that’s going to keep him occupied. Dogs absolutely love to chew (and it’s good for them!) so a chew toy is ideal for these moments. Popular dog toys like Kong Wubbas and Busy Squirrel Dudes can be stuffed with dry treats that pop out easily. Or for a super tasty treat, fill them with wet meaty dog food and then freeze them.”

Keep your routine

Nick also advises trying to keep your dog’s routine as similar as possible, with walks and meals at similar times each day. His top tip is to weigh out the amount of food you’d normally give him (in dry form) and use this as treats throughout the day, rather then one main meal. Couple this with really good treats for trickier times during the day and your dog will feel like Christmas has come early.

If your dog is used to cuddles and jumping on the sofa or bed, you need to train him to settle at your feet on command, so that you can choose when to introduce him to the baby close up. You don’t want this to happen when your dog is over-excited or your baby is crying. It needs to be done in a calm and controlled way. Nick says, “Before you bring your baby home, use treats to train your dog to settle and watch you. Getting him to sit around your feet and wait to be told to move is perfect for when you need him to be calm around the baby. When you’re ready, put a lead on your dog so you can control him easily if needed, get him to settle and introduce him to your baby when she’s asleep. This can be a good time to use a cage muzzle, which shouldn’t just be used for trouble dogs, but rather to make a situation safer and therefore less stressful.”

You should speak to a professional if your dog ever growls at your baby and they can help set up a behavioural plan to train them. It’s important too that animals are never left alone with children and that you’re always in control of the situation.

Nick concludes, “The more you can do upfront, the better,” and you’ll soon find your baby and dog become firm pals.

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Handy products:

  • Lisa Spector, Through a Dog’s Ear, is a classical music CD that has been found to calm dogs and lower tension in the home (£10.79, amazon.com).
  • Busy Buddy Squirrel Dude is a highly durable dog toy, perfect for packing full of tasty treats (prices start at £5.45, pet-supermarket.co.uk). 
  • Kong Wubba is a tug toy, ideal for keeping your pooch entertained (£5.29, vetuk.co.uk). 
  • Lily’s Kitchen Breakfast Crunch is the UK’s first dog breakfast cereal. It’s nugget form makes it a great choice for random treats with a meaty taste (£7.49, lilyskitchen.co.uk).

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