Friday, February 19, 2010

Reader Question: Introducing your dog to your new baby

I love dogs! My family got our first dog when I was 8. So, when my husband and I bought our first house, he promised that we could get a dog right away. One week after we moved in, I found out I was pregnant, but I still insisted on getting a puppy. Ichabod (Icky, for short), an American Bulldog, joined our family on Christmas Eve, just 5 months before we brought our daughter home for the first time. Even though Icky was a sweet, well-behaved, and loyal puppy, I was nervous about introducing him to our tiny baby. It appears that I wasn’t the only new mom with this concern, because a few weeks ago, we received this question:

I am about to have a baby and have a dog. I'm worried about how to introduce the baby into the house so the dog won't think it's either an enemy or a toy. How do I make this happen?

Based on our experience, I think preparing before your baby is born is the most important thing you can do to encourage a smooth transition for both you and your dog. Here are 3 things I recommend doing as soon as possible:

Address your dog’s behavioral issues that could escalate once the baby arrives.

Bad behaviors, like jumping or chewing, probably won’t magically disappear and could get worse or even emerge once the baby arrives. Other, more serious behavioral issues, like food aggression and being territorial or possessive, could be very dangerous if not handled properly. There are a lot of resources available to help you improve your dog’s behavior. Our family uses the Dog Whisperer approach, which is based on understanding dog psychology and establishing pack leadership. Regardless of which method you choose, eliminating problem behaviors early will make your life much easier.

2. Evaluate your dog’s routines and consider what revisions will be needed to accommodate your new baby

I was 2 ½ months pregnant when we got Icky and I have to admit that I treated him more like a baby than a puppy (I blame the hormones!). He was pretty small when we got him and it took no time at all for him to get used to sitting on my lap. As we both got bigger, it got harder and harder for him to fit on my lap, so I started letting him sit on the couch with me. Luckily, my husband recognized that this behavior (my behavior) would have to change before our daughter came home. Instead of allowing Icky on the couch or on my lap, we got him a dog bed that fit right next to the couch and taught him that he could only sit next to me when I invited him. This small change proved very useful, he never once jumped on me when I was holding the baby.

3. Introduce your dog to other children and babies.

This can serve 2 purposes. First, it lets you observe how your dog interacts with children so that you can identify and correct any unwanted behaviors (like jumping or barking). Second, it allows your dog to experience the sounds and smells of childhood and infancy. Infant crying can be very shocking to dogs when they aren’t used to it, so it may be beneficial to expose your dog to a baby’s cry when you are more equipped to help him respond appropriately.

As you get closer to your due date, I suggest making a plan for how your dog will be cared for while you are in the hospital. Drastic changes to a dog’s routine, like leaving a dog who is usually inside outside for several days, can lead to unwanted behavior, so keeping things as normal as possible while you are gone could be very useful. If your dog usually gets a long walk in the evening, ask a family member or friend to continue that routine while you are gone. Our dog’s behavior is noticeably better when he gets enough exercise.

When you are finally ready to bring your new baby home, it is important to consider what your dog may be experiencing. Not only have you been gone for a few days (which always gets my dog a little worked up), but you will look and even smell different. Our experience was a little unusual because I came home without my daughter, who had to stay in the hospital after I was released (see When Motherhood Doesn’t Go According to Plan: Part 1). I was in the hospital for 9 days and although Icky was extremely excited to see me when I came home, he was also hesitant to get too close. It wasn’t until I sat down and reached out to him that he came up to me. When we brought Olivia home a few months later (see Part 2) my husband, who is a much better pack leader than I am, carried my daughter in. This is something that many of my friends, who were able to bring their babies home right away, have done too. They came into the house, allowing the dog to greet them and calm down before having the baby brought in by someone else (spouse, family member, etc). How close you let the dog get to the baby is a personal decision that should be made based on your comfort level and your dog’s temperament.

Our experience introducing our dog to our new baby went very well. Icky was immediately respectful and protective (although not too protective) of our daughter and now, 2 years later, they are best buddies! Here are a few more tips that you may find helpful as your family adjusts to your new addition:

  • Take a few minutes a day to give the dog your attention
  • Exercise is key to having a happy, healthy dog
  • If you are worried about your dog chewing on the baby’s toys, it may help to avoid buying your dog toys that resemble baby toys
  • Remember that babies get over stimulated very easily. If your baby is watching the dog play or if the dog is barking, your baby could get over stimulated and need a break.
  • As your baby grows and becomes mobile, there will be a whole new set of issues you’ll need to address, but we’ll save those for another post!

Finally, we want to stress that you should NEVER leave your dog with your baby unattended. Even the most kind, gentle dogs, are animals and may harm the baby (intentionally or unintentionally).

Next Time: We’ll answer a reader question about naps!


  1. Another great tip is to have someone bring home items that smell like the baby before you come home with the baby, that way the smell isn't brand new!

  2. Any suggestions for implementing a "let cry/sometimes cry" sleep regimen?

    Also, our son used to wake to nurse every two hours at night, but lately has had some 3+ hours at night periods without nursing. We would like to train him to nurse every three hours. Any suggestions?

    Our son is 6 weeks old.