Many new parents are understandably nervous and apprehensive about introducing a new baby to their dog, but with the right preparation such a meeting can be happy and free from problems. The time to begin preparing for the meeting is long before mom and baby come home from the hospital, and it is important to get started as early as possible.
A big part of that preparation, of course, is basic obedience training. A dog that has not been properly socialized will never be safe around and infant, so it is important to go through the socialization and training process long before the baby is born.
During the training process it is particularly important to eliminate any play bites the dog may give. Dogs often play with one another by mouthing and biting, but such behavior will not be acceptable once the new baby comes home. Be careful not to reinforce biting behavior when playing with the dog, and carefully discipline such behaviors when they do take place.
It is also important for moms to be and their families to slowly reduce the amount of time and attention given to the dog in the weeks and months leading up to the baby's arrival. When the new baby does come home, nearly all of the family's attention will be focused on the new arrival, and many dogs can become jealous of the new baby. By slowly reducing the amount of time spent with the dog, family members can reduce any possible jealousy and avoid potential problems.
One often overlooked part of preparing the dog for the arrival of the new baby is getting the dog used to having people around its food bowl. Many dogs are understandably protective of their food area, and having a toddler wander into that food zone can have unpredictable results. By getting the dog used to having its food bowl handled, removed and returned, parents can reduce and eventually eliminate any territorial behavior that might otherwise arise.
Once the baby does arrive, it is a good idea to get the dog used to the smell of the new addition before actually introducing the child. If possible, bring home a blanket that has been used to wrap the baby. Allow the dog to sniff the blanket, but not to play with it. The dog should learn to smell the blanket, get familiar with the scent of the new baby and sit quietly in the room. When the dog has behaved properly he should be lavished with praise. If he misbehaves he should be reprimanded gently but firmly.
When it is time for baby to come home, if possible ask another person to actually carry the infant into the home for the first time. While this person is carrying the baby, mom can warmly greet the dog. After the dog has been greeted and praised, he should be put on a leash and carefully allowed to sniff the baby. Always keep a watchful eye on the dog and be prepared to pull him back at the first sign of inappropriate behavior. If any bad behavior does occur, calmly remove the dog and try the introduction at a later time.
While it is important to punish bad behavior on the part of the dog, it is just as important to praise the dog when he acts well. This type of positive reinforcement will teach the dog that the baby is a good thing, and not a threat or a competitor. Giving the dog a treat, a pat on the back or a scratch behind the ears will reinforce the good behavior and get the relationship off to a great start.
After the introductions have been made and the baby and dog are comfortable with one another it is important to get back to as much of the daily routine as possible. While resuming all the former activities of the household may not be possible right away, it is important to make things as stable as possible. It is important, for instance, to include the dog in as many family activities as possible. Including the dog in your daily routine will help to prevent any jealousy issues or adjustment problems.
While the dog should be welcomed into the new family routine, it is important to set clear boundaries and to make certain things, like the baby's toys, clothes and blankets, off limits to the dog. Likewise, allowing the dog to sleep or play under the crib can be dangerous and should be avoided. Leaving the baby alone with the dog should also be avoided - any and all interaction should be well supervised by a responsible adult. Even the most well socialized and well behaved dog can be unpredictable at times, and the baby should never be left alone with the dog. Following these rules will help to keep every member of the family, both four legged and two legged, safe and secure.