For many of us, dogs are our first babies. We cuddle and coddle them. We get up with them at all hours of the night (and jump with the agility of Olympians when we hear them start to retch at 3am). We cheer through their milestones and applaud their adorable tricks. And, when we find out our family is going to expand, we often worry about how to introduce the furry baby to the human one without any sore (or potentially aggressive) feelings.
Now that I’ve done this twice, here are some of my favorite tips on how to introduce your dog to your new baby.
Tips for Bringing Baby Home
Work through anything concerning beforehand
If your dog has shown any signs of concerning behavior at any point that you’ve had him, reach out to a dog behaviorist who specializes in humane, positive reinforcement training. We highly recommend A Sound Beginning, whose trainers can come to your home, provide a thoughtful, objective assessment of your dog’s behavior, and give you some practical, evidence-based tips for better behavior. Long story short, you owe it to your dog and to your new baby to address any lingering behavior issues long before baby’s even born.
Give your dog a chance to explore the nursery ahead of time
Some people like to keep the nursery and/or any baby areas completely off limits for their dogs. I would say to trust your gut. That’s certainly an option, but in my experience with my dog, it was helpful to let her explore the baby’s territory so he felt completely comfortable with all of the new things in her space (this is probably especially true for apartments, since living areas are that much smaller and changes to the layout are that much more obvious).
Let your dog sniff something with the baby’s scent on it first
Before you introduce your dog to the new babe, take a little hat or piece of clothing that the baby has worn (make sure baby’s smell is all over it), and let your dog sniff and explore it. This gives her time to get used to the new scent, and also establishes that you’re the one in charge of, and responsible for, that new scent.
Take your dog for a walk before the introduction
If possible, have someone take the dog for a walk before you introduce her to the new baby. This will help her approach this major life event with a relaxed, sated demeanor. It will also show her that she’s still a priority for you and your family.
Encourage your dog to “find” the baby
When it’s time to make the introduction, first go in and say hi to the dog by yourself, without the baby (my husband and I traded off standing outside with the baby so we could each have our moment with the dog). Give her lots of kisses, hugs, and attention. Then, have someone take her outside again while you bring the baby to the nursery.
When she comes back in, encourage the dog to “find” the baby by following the scent she’s already familiar with (because of the hat). We like to think this helped our dog feel a sense of closeness to the baby, since she made the "discovery."
Don’t forget to give the dog some one-on-one time
Though it can be hard to fit the dog into your new, completely overwhelming schedule, don’t forget how important she is, too. When you can, take her out for walks with your baby, get on the floor and give a few minutes of belly rubs throughout the day, and check in with her every so often to make sure she’s at ease with the transition.
We think a love of dogs is one of the absolute best things you can pass on to your children. (That, and it's shown that children with pets in the home are less likely to have allergies!)
When the love goes both ways, it feels like you've hit the jackpot. Kicking things off on the right foot, by way of their first introduction, will help soothe your own nerves and make everyone more comfortable overall. Just remember to continue to monitor the dog around your baby. If, at any point, you feel unsure about a particular behavior, reach out to a specialist.
Otherwise, your job is to take a bunch of pictures of the two new best friends and remember to intervene to help both parties learn how to give each other space, especially as they grow.