My grandson Evan will be two years old this month! His birthday reminds me of how nervous I was while my daughter was pregnant. I was uneasy about how it was all going to work since we still had six big dogs at the time. My youngest child was 25 and the expectant mother, so it had been a very long time since there had been the pitter-patter of small feet in my house except for furry ones.
On top of that, my only experience introducing dogs to a newborn had not gone well. Because of my encounter, I was wary of dogs and babies living together. You can read about it at Bad Owner, which tells of my first pregnancy with a dog. It gives further insight into why I was so anxious.
Bad Owner is an example of how NOT to manage your dog and a newborn. I had not been able to handle a 25 pound Cocker Spaniel and a baby, but now I was planning to bring one into a home with two Pitt Bulls, two Golden Labs, and two Boxer/Bulldog mixes. I had come a long way in my education of dog behavior and training, but it was still enough to make me apprehensive.
Now, as my grandson turns two, I can assure you that you can bring a newborn to a house full of grown dogs and make it work. It will take time, work, and dedication on your part, but it can be done. Do not let others scare you if you have a large dog or a breed labeled as aggressive by the press. As long as both you and your dogs are prepared, there should be no issues.
Pregnancy with a Dog
The most important aspect of bringing a newborn into the home is your relationship with your dog. I cannot stress this enough. Are you the Alpha or pack leader of your dog? If not, you have nine months to correct this. Immediately enroll your dog in an obedience class. Now is the time to correct any unwanted habits and to assert yourself as the pack leader.
Do not think because you have a smaller dog that you do not have to establish yourself as Alpha and train them. You must bring your newborn home to a calm and well-behaved dog no matter what their size. I have repeatedly seen people with smaller breed does not take the threat seriously. If you think your dog is smaller, they are not a threat if untrained, think again. A cute little Pomeranian in Rhode Island killed a baby because he was not trained properly. In this case, size doesn’t matter.
Baby is Born – Claim Their Scent
Once the baby is born, bring home something from the hospital with the child’s scent, such as a burp cloth. Make sure your dog knows you have something special but do not allow them free access to it. They need to gain permission to sniff the article. This lets your dog know it is yours, and there are rules for interaction with this smell. This will establish respect for the baby’s scent.
My husband and I came home with a burp cloth on the day Evan was born. We made a huge deal about the fabric but would not allow the dogs to smell it that night except a distance. The next day we let them, one at a time, come over for a better sniff. We continued to do this once or twice a day until Evan came home.
Before the baby comes home, they must know the nursery is off-limits without your permission. They may not go into this room if you are not present. Allow them access to the room only under controlled circumstances. Let them sniff and explore while you are present for a minute or two, then you decide and enforce when they must leave. This action lets your dog know that the room belongs to you and must be respected.
Once we had converted my oldest daughter’s bedroom into the nursery, we put a baby gate up to stop the dogs from having access to it. After we had introduced them to the burp cloth, we put the burp cloth in the crib and allowed them each to have a minute in the room to explore and sniff.
Many experts recommend you do this once or twice a day until the baby comes home, but we did not because I wanted the room to stay off-limits. This is your choice, but since we had six large dogs, I thought this was best. If you decide you will allow your dog access to the room once the baby is home, then, by all means, work with them daily to establish boundaries and reverence for the room.
Introducing Dogs to a Newborn
Make sure you or someone else exercises your dog before you bring the baby into the home. This is a big deal to them, too, and they are prone to becoming over-excited. Being well exercised will ensure your dog is in a calm-submissive state. Once the dog has returned from exercising, allow them to sniff the baby from a distance. Do not bring the baby too close for the first meeting. Slowly over time, it will enable the dog to get closer to the baby under controlled conditions.
Establish a Routine and Allow Your Dog to Help You
Bringing a newborn home and getting settled can be a trying time but do not forget about your other baby— your dog. Have an established routine before the baby is born and stick to it as much as possible once the baby comes home. Make sure to spend some one-on-one time with your dog regularly. Your dog will relax and accept the baby and all the changes more readily if they are assured of your relationship after the baby is home.
My dog’s schedule was not affected much by Evan’s arrival, but we had three adults living in the household. My husband and I spent quality time with them and assured them they were still our babies, too, except for the baby gates and not having free access to parts of the house; not much changed in their world.
I know new motherhood can be a hectic time but let your dog help you through this. When you are feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, allow your dog to do what they do best. Let them reassure you with their love and give you support when you are feeling down. Spending time exercising with your dog will be good for both of you too. Exercise will clear your head and help reduce stress along with your chances of experiencing postpartum depression. I know: you are not always going to feel like it, and it will not always be easy but find the time. You will be glad you did. Not only will this be good for your dog, but it will also be invaluable to you.
Find What Works For Your Dogs and Baby
Every baby, dog, and situation is different. Work with your case to find out what works best for everyone involved. The trick is finding a way that ensures your child’s safety while addressing your dog’s needs. Your child will grow, and the situation will change with time, so make adjustments along the way to ensure everyone’s requirements are being met.
We found right from the start that dividing our house worked for us. We put up baby gates to create two sections of the house; the baby’s side and the dog’s side. The baby’s side consisted of the living room, formal dining room, my daughter’s bedroom, and the baby’s nursery. In comparison, the dog’s side consisted of the kitchen, the casual dining area, my office, and our bedroom. We had a big home and a lot of dogs, so this worked out nicely for us. We slowly introduced visits to the baby’s side of the house when Evan was in a happy mood, and we were not tired or stressed out.
If you decide to use gates to create different sections of the home, make sure your dog has access to areas where they will still have regular interaction with you and others. Do not lock your dog in a room or section of the house where there is no activity. Our house’s busiest place has always been the kitchen, so we made sure to include that in the dog area. In the evening, if we watched TV, we would allow them to hang out in the living room with us.
I will be honest and admit there was not much interaction between my dogs and the baby for the first three months of Evan’s life. As my daughter is fond of saying, Evan was a colic terror for those early days. During this time, we would usually have one or two visits a week. But as Evan outgrew colic, it became more of a nightly routine. By the time Evan was sitting up, he and the dogs looked forward to their playtime together in the evening. They still do.
The gates are still up in our house. They are no longer there to protect Evan from the dogs but to save the dogs from Evan. He is a two-year-old, and like all two-year-olds, he is prone to tantrums. His favorite word is “Mine,” and he is not good at sharing. The dogs love him and would never do anything to hurt him. I want it to stay that way. Until he is old enough to respect the dogs completely, he cannot have free access to them.
These days they spend a lot more time around one another. Evan likes to “help” take the dogs’ potty, and the norm is for the gates to be open unless we are all too busy to keep an eye on them. We only have two dogs since we lost three to old age and one to cancer, so it is has gotten easier to keep track of everyone. The three of them get along fabulously when they are together. Sometimes, when Evan is throwing a tantrum or trying to take a toy from one of them, I will look at the dogs, sigh, and tell them, ‘We will get him trained one day.” From the look on their faces, I do not think they believe me sometimes.
Have you ever introduced a newborn into a dog’s life?