Adding a newborn to the family can be “ruff.” Adding a newborn to the family with a pet can be even “ruff-er.” When it comes to introducing your baby to your family pet, there is no one-size-fits-all method, but you can ease the transition by preparing well in advance.
This was the case for Lindsey Thomas, assistant athletic director at the University of Florida Athletic Association and mother of two.
“My first ‘baby’ wasn’t going to be my first priority anymore,” Thomas said.
Michelle Dunlap, founder of Gainesville Canine Academy and the Pets and Patriots Foundation, preaches the importance of preparing for the transition.
“I always advocate setting up the scenario as real before it’s real so that you can see how the dog is going to react,” Dunlap said.
It is essential to include your dog as an integral part of the oncoming change. To create a smooth transition from a full house to an even fuller house, here are the steps you can take.
Before the Baby
“Every dog is different; every child is different; every family is different,” Dunlap explained — so it is vital to take the necessary steps in preparation for your newborn’s arrival.
First, make sure your dog is well-trained and brush up on obedience skills.
While some believe you should spend less time with your dog prior to the baby’s arrival, Dunlap recommends you continue your normal routine but add a mechanized baby doll.
Thomas said she tried to spend more time with her dog, Luna, because she knew she would have less time when the baby arrived.
“I tried to get as much time as I could with her and cuddle with her,” Thomas remembered.
The mechanized doll will prepare your pet for the sounds, smells and motions to come. Dunlap suggests you “make the baby doll smell like a baby,” as dogs process information through smell.
“Bringing home those (smells) prior to walking in the door with the baby is important,” she said.
The doll will also allow your dog to explore and process new stimuli while you are able to gauge your dog’s potential reaction and correct bad behavior.
Lastly, tug and poke your dog the way a child might.
“I definitely advocate adults doing these temperament tests ahead of time, before a child does them,” Dunlap said.
Michelle Dunlap shows the Renshaw family how to give treats to a dog.
During the Introduction
After you have prepared your dog for the smells and sounds of the baby, the physical introduction between your newborn and your dog will be easier.
When you get home from the hospital, you should first greet your dog alone, as your dog has probably missed you and will be excited to see you.
The introduction should occur on neutral ground with the dog on a leash. Dunlap recommends you introduce the baby in a dog’s way, which is through smell. Allow your dog to sniff all parts of the baby, other than the face.
“Allowing a brief introduction and then going about the business of being a mom again would be the best-case scenario for that first introduction,” Dunlap said. She suggests slow introductions repeated over time.
After the Arrival
Once you have settled into life with your newborn, you can integrate your dog into your daily routine.
One way to include your dog is to allow him or her to be in the room when you feed your baby. Your pet will process what is happening and feel like part of the new routine.
Now that your dog understands the baby, it is time to teach your baby about the dog.
Thomas educated each of her children about their pet once they were old enough to understand. She clearly remembers teaching her then-7-month-old daughter about Luna.
“We would say, ‘Where’s Luna?’… (and) she would look around,” Thomas explained. “She was aware there was a name attached with that thing — that dog.”
Lastly, always be watchful when your child and dog interact.
“I don’t ever advocate leaving a dog — no matter how great they are — alone with a baby,” Dunlap said. “Not even for a moment.”
However challenging it may be to prepare for your newborn, the days ahead of an unbreakable bond between the baby and dog are worth the preparation. Remember there is not a catch-all method.
As Thomas said, “As goofy and cliché as it is, trust your instincts.”