There is so much advice on the internet when you type in ‘How to introduce your baby to your dog.’ Some tips are great, some are common myths, and some are plain dangerous.
I probably wouldn’t be talking about it so much if it wasn’t for my own experience.
Lola, my well-socialized, well-trained Labrador Retriever, was 5 years old when I had my twins. Typical for her breed, she loved everyone.
But when I brought my kids home, their early-term cries and movements switched on Lola's predatory instincts. The moment she saw them, she was hunting.
My first baby was ready to hurt my 5.5 pound twins. It was one of the most terrifying moments of my life.
As a dog trainer, I knew what to do—and we had a solid foundation of obedience to work from. But what if I didn’t have my kids in a crib? What if I gave her free access to my kids? Just the thought of it makes me nauseous.
I don’t want any parent to go through that fear that doesn’t go away right away. I didn’t trust my dog for months even if she was great with my children. Not the kind of beginning I envisioned for my family.
Here are my 5 tips on how to introduce your baby to your dog the right way.
1. Have a Plan
When the time comes to have your baby, you and your partner will likely be away for a few days, and you don’t want your dog stuck at home alone and under stress. Make sure you have a plan for your fur baby, and a backup plan if you need to stay at the hospital longer than expected.
Based on my professional experience, there are 3 things to keep in mind while planning your time away:
- Where your dog is
- Who takes care of them
- And when the caregiver takes over when you are in the hospital, birthing center, etc.
While some dogs will happily leave with a stranger, others can be traumatized if they are suddenly left alone for an extended time or if they don’t know the person who takes care of them.
Arrange for your dog’s care well in advance and have a plan A, B, and C. Here’s why:
Did you know that only 2-5% of babies are born on their due date?
Valerie, the founder of New Parents Academy is a postpartum doula and a certified lactation counselor, a mama of 3 (including identical twins), and a dog mom. Here is what she recommends.
“When you’re making your plan for who will care for your dog, the plan needs to be flexible! I spend a lot of time talking to families about preparation because whatever you can do now before the baby arrives will make things go more smoothly. So, as you pack your hospital bag and wash the baby’s clothes, also be sure that you have a plan in place for your dog!”
To see what else is important before your baby arrives, grab my free Dog Meets Baby Preparation Checklist. I bet there are some items you can check off right away.
2. Don’t Assume Giving Your Dog a Baby Blanket to Smell is the Best Introduction
How many people recommended bringing the baby blanket, baby hat, or your baby’s onesie home for your dog to smell as a way of introducing your dog to your baby? Let me guess, almost every single person?
As a trainer who taught scent detection classes and competed in scent detection, here's my take on it.
To start, there is a multitude of smells being brought home on that item in addition to the baby’s scent:
- hospital smells
- baby lotion
- diaper smell
- smells of anyone who touched the blanket/onesie
- smell of the bag(s) it was carried in
- milk or formula smell, etc.
While your dog will detect the baby smell on the blanket, it will be one of many scents.
Your dog is exposed to new smells every day. Every time we bring new items into the house or come home from being somewhere else, we bring new smells. Dogs learn that smells don't matter unless they already have a strong association with a particular smell.
There's no harm in bringing the baby blankey home and offering your dog lots of love and a treat right after they smell it. Just know that one exposure is not going to make much difference. It's okay if you missed it or want to skip it!
If your dog grabs it, shakes it, and shreds it to pieces, the way your dog shreds their toys or other items, don’t worry. It is most likely just that, your dog being a dog with a new toy!
3. Set Your Dog Up for Success
While you can't always predict how your dog will react to your newborn, there are many things you can do to help your dog have the best possible introduction.
Here are some of the strategies to keep your dog calm and comfortable when first meeting your baby:
- Make sure your dog has been well exercised.
- Greet your dog separately without the baby if you can, to reduce your dog's excitement and possible jumping.
- If your dog is uncomfortable or under a lot of stress due to other events or factors, wait until they calm down. Dogs may associate their discomfort with the baby.
- If possible, introduce your dog when your baby is asleep and/or calm.
4. Utilize Equipment
After watching countless videos of dogs meeting newborns for the first time, I have noticed several trends. Most dogs have full access to babies on the floor. Some dogs have collars or harnesses on, some have nothing on. Almost every parent gets uncomfortable with their dog intensely sniffing or licking the baby. If a dog doesn’t have a collar, the parent pushes them away with their hand (or tries to, sometimes it takes them a while!). If the dog has a collar on, they grab the collar and pull the dog away. Either way, it’s potentially UNSAFE.
When a dog is afraid of something or unsure about something, and they are suddenly restrained, they may react. If a newborn suddenly starts crying and a dog gets spooked, they may choose to ‘fight’ since they don’t have the option for ‘flight’. And the baby’s face is right there….
How do you do it RIGHT?
There are 3 main ways to introduce your baby to your dog: baby in the car seat, in your arms, or in the crib.
I cover each scenario in detail in the Mini Course, and discuss when to use or not use a certain approach.
If your dog is on a leash, don’t restrain your dog tightly with the leash, it should be loose and relaxed.
Avoid any equipment that might give your dog pain if you need to quickly restrain or your dog accidentally pulls, such as a prong or choke collar.
5. Implement General Safety Precautions
Here are my non-negotiable safety rules.
- Never leave the baby and dog together unsupervised (when awake or asleep).
- Get in the habit of putting yourself between the dog and the baby.
- Teach your dog to follow you whenever you step away from the baby. Watch the video here.
- No babies’ faces in dogs' faces.
- Do not set your baby on or right next to your dog.
And there are some rules that are OPTIONAL, such as
- No dogs on the furniture.
- Dogs are not allowed in the nursery or certain parts of the house. Read more here.
- Dogs are always sent down the stairs before an adult carries a baby. Watch how to safely navigate stairs here.
- BABY TV - dogs are tethered or behind a baby gate to adjust to the baby's presence. Watch me talk about Baby TV on GMA here.
- A dedicated time to spend quality time with your dog/s.
- One-on-one time with each dog to fill your and their cup.
While we all have hopes and ideas about how things will be when the baby arrives, the reality might be different. It is normal that your dog needs time to adjust, a real baby is different than a doll or a bottle wrapped up in a baby towel with baby sounds coming from your phone. Knowing how you are going to introduce your baby to your dog, and knowing your dog is well taken care of when you are away will give you peace of mind. And that is priceless.
Dog Meets Baby resources: