Preparing Your Dog for a New Baby
Benji is our seven-year old retriever mix and has always been the baby of the family. We are expecting our first child in a few weeks and I am worried about his reaction to the baby. I want the addition to be a smooth transition for everyone concerned. Could you give me some advice on how to accomplish this, how to make my dog and baby best friends?
I’m so glad you want to make your dog and baby best friends! It reminds me of my own childhood when my dog truly was my best friend; we did everything together – he waited at the bus stop for me to get home from school, he hung with me and my friends when we were wreaking havoc on the neighborhood, and I suspect he kept me out of more trouble than I knew!
Most dogs get along fine with infants but it is good that you are willing to do a little advance preparation for the new arrival. Dogs that might cause concern are those who are spoiled, those who guard toys and food, those who are prey and chase oriented, dogs who are high in energy and out of control, and those that try to get their own way, are touchy about their body, or are grumpy in general.
All family dogs should be obedience trained. Since you are expecting a baby soon, brush up on Sit, Down and Stay. Sit and Stay for greetings should be well established. Being able to send Benji to a specific target area, such as a special rug, and have him remain there until released will be very helpful.
If anything in Benji’s lifestyle will change, it should change before the baby comes home. For instance, if he is not allowed in the baby’s room, now is the time to start boundary training him. Go into the room, tell Benji to Sit-Stay or send him to his target area. You might simply teach him not to cross the threshold into the room. Make staying outside the room very special and good. This is a time to give Benji a pacifying treat such as a chew toy, or come out to him and pile on the attention.
Get Benji used to the baby before the baby comes home. Set up the crib and changing area ahead of time. Get a teddy bear or doll and place it in the crib. A few times a day take a couple of seconds to go over to the doll. Sprinkle some powder or rub some lotion on the doll to get your dog used to these new activities and smells. Get a tape of an infant crying and play it while Benji eats or during other times when he is happy. If the baby is born in a hospital, you can bring home a blanket that has the baby’s scent on it. Wrap the doll in it and allow Benji to investigate this novel new smell. Be happy and praise the dog. You want your dog and baby to accept each other and be involved with each other – you don’t want jealousy or resource issues.
In their first days together, the baby should appear in Benji’s mind, to produce attention and happiness. You can accomplish this with little effort. For example, when you change the baby, have some treats handy so you can toss them in his direction. You should speak softly and lovingly to Benji while holding the baby. Allow him to be nearby for an occasional pat.
Raising Canine has a school for dog trainers which focuses on operant training for dogs, dog behavior, working with clients and addressing client compliance, and the science behind behavior modification.