written by Dominika Knossalla-Pado, founder of Dog Meets Baby
Introducing a newborn to a household with a dog, especially if the dog is reactive, ‘high needs,’ or elderly, requires careful planning and gradual adjustments to ensure a smooth transition.
Here are some steps to help make the newborn phase go smoothly with your dog:
- Prepare in Advance: Before the baby arrives, work on obedience training and behavior modification with your dog.
- Scent Introduction: While there is no harm in bringing the baby blanket or a piece of clothing that the baby has used at the hospital and letting the dog sniff and investigate it, you don’t need to do it.
- Gradual Exposure: Allow your dog to gradually become accustomed to the sounds, sights, and smells associated with a newborn. When you play newborn sounds, remember to play various sounds, such as various levels of crying (cries of a hungry newborn!), grunting, the sound of a baby trying to poop, etc. You can find them in the free Dog Meets Baby Baby Sound Library.
- Introduce the baby and dog zones: It is nearly impossible to maintain the same routine with a newborn. Focus on creating a place for your dog that will be their safe space. Use baby gates or other barriers to establish separate areas where the dog can retreat if needed.
- Supervision: Always supervise interactions between your dog and newborn. Never leave them alone together.
My Tip: When you are asleep, you are not supervising. Move your dog out of your bed or bedroom before your baby arrives. I know many parents stress about it. The good news - it is often easier on the dog than you think. And if you don’t know where to start, follow the steps in the Dog Meets Baby Preparation Course.
- The First Meeting: I can’t stress this enough, have a solid plan for where your dog is going to be, who will take care of your dog, when they will take over, etc. If introducing your dog to your baby makes you anxious, check out Dog Meets Baby bestselling First Meeting Course. This mini-course gives several step-by-step plans and walks you through every aspect of the Dog Meets Baby plan.
- First Week at Home: Most dogs need time to adjust; even a well-prepared dog may need a day or more to feel more relaxed. It is normal. There are many things you can do to help your dog, the most important ones are time and distance. Don’t force your dog to be near your baby if they are not ready!
- Predatory Behavior toward Newborns: Newborn babies are tiny and have a distinct and unique cry. Sometimes, it can trigger predatory behavior in dogs. The vast majority of people will NEVER see this from their dog. If your dog alerts every time your baby moves or cries AND becomes stiff, stalks, lunges, or tries to grab at the baby with their mouth, separate them immediately and get the help of a certified dog trainer.
With management and training, a dog can often overcome this reaction, which is usually temporary. If your dog has stalked, chased, and killed small animals, having a solid plan for introducing your baby to your dog is key.
- Get help: Enlist the help of family members, neighbors or a dog walker if necessary to ensure your dog's needs are met.
- Guilt: Many new moms feel guilty. Guilty that their dogs’ lives are so different after the baby. Guilty for not having time and energy to play with the dog. Guilty for yelling at the dog when they want attention but they are too tired and too touched out. Guilty for not taking the dog on long walks they both used to love. The list goes on.
As Bryce Reddy, LMHC, said: “As humans, it’s so easy to get stuck in the comparison trap of “before & after” baby. We think of how different life was then versus now. And our relationships with our dogs, is no exception. When you find yourself in this guilt-inducing thought pattern, try to bring yourself back to the present (what can I do today to connect with my dog), readjust your expectations (what’s realistic in your current situation), and watch that inner dialogue (Life can be different and still be good for…).”
- Professional Help: If, at any point, when pregnant or after you have your baby, you have concerns about your dog's behavior, consider consulting a certified dog trainer or a vet behaviorist. Dog Meets Baby offers private consultations for parents-to-be and parents of young children.
It is nearly impossible to predict how a dog will react to a newborn.
Preparing and training your dog before your baby arrives will give you peace of mind and confidence. Having a solid first meeting plan will give you control and the “I’ve got this” feeling.
You’ve got this!
PS If you are expecting or adopting a newborn - congratulations. The best place to start is the Dog Meets Baby Preparation Checklist