Bringing a newborn home with a dog
Bringing a newborn home with a dog can be a daunting and scary task. My German Shepherd, Skye, joined our family the very year my husband and I moved in together. She is 10 years old now and very much a well loved family member. As much as I feel like I know and trust her, she is a still an animal and has the potential to be dangerous, so I did a lot of research and consulted a dog behavior expert whilst pregnant. I had 6 months to plan and the things I learned and steps I took made me feel more confident about bringing a newborn home with a dog.
I was attacked by my family dog
This is in part coupled by fear from the fact that I was attacked by a dog as an infant. Although I have no memory of the attack so am not emotionally or psychologically affected, I know I am lucky to be alive. I was 6 months old and required 32 stitches in my scalp as I was attacked from the back. The scars are visible if you look under my hair, but luckily were eventually entirely covered by my hairline. Should I ever need to shave my head, I’ll look a bit like Frankenstein! Had I been bitten on the front of the face, my life would be very different now. I have heard my mum tell the story a million times and what comes across to me is her guilt, regret and complete confusion that her much loved family pet – a full rough collie (think Lassie lookalike!) had hurt me. Even 35 years later she struggles to understand why it happened.
Don’t be afraid to consult an expert
These are the tips and information that I learned during my research process, and given to me by the professional dog behaviorist. If you are still worried, I think that consulting a professional is a good option for peace of mind and tailors the advice specifically to your dog and your situation. This is especially important if you have any specific concerns about your dog’s behaviour or have a dog that is going to need extra training.
Things you can do whilst pregnant to prepare
- Be aware that a dog can tell your emotions. By looking after yourself and not giving into anxiety, stress, fear or anger, you will keep the entire household calm.
- Being excited or nervous can affect your dog too – they will know something is happening!
- Establish a routine that you think you can keep up with a baby.
- If you’re going to be walking the dog with a stroller, you can practice this whilst it’s empty and get them used to walking along side it.
- Make sure your car is set up and secure and get the dog used to traveling as if you had a baby on board (ie. with the car seat or stroller present).
- You can set up the nursery or play areas and establish with the dog that these are not areas for him.
- If your dog is nervous around new noises, you can play a YouTube video of baby noises (including crying) to get them used to different noises in advance.
- Work on obedience skills if necessary.
- Don’t give the dog extra praise / attention too much in anticipation of the baby’s birth – if this then drops suddenly after birth it will be very noticeable!
- Use baby shampoo, wash and powder on yourself so that these smells are familiar.
- Set up your child gates in advance.
- The night before (or longer, depending on on how long you’re in hospital) bring a blanket or clothes home that smell like baby.
- Make sure your dog isn’t full of energy and excited when you come home. A long walk or play time first can help! Ask a family member to help out if needed.
- Don’t allow the dog too close to the baby at first, to establish that there is a boundary here.
- Introduce them slowly over time, always whilst you are in control of the situation and the dog is as calm as possible.
- Use positive reinforcement. Treats and praise when the dog responds well to your commands, but don’t go overboard.
- Organize friends or family to help out with walking in the early days when you’re home from hospital.
- Have a dog walker take the dog on a long walk when needed to use up energy.
- Have treats to hand and continue to praise your dog and reward positive interactions.
- Remember to carve a bit of space in the day to spend some time with your dog.
- Try to keep the timing and dynamic of the household as close to how it used to be.
- Be consistent!
Later on, it’s important to teach your child how to interact with your dog and respect them – but in the early days there won’t be any interaction so it’s all about teaching boundaries. The key focus is making sure your dog feels safe, secure and loved, and that he doesn’t feel jealous, confused, neglected or abandoned.
Good discipline and a respect and understanding for my dog gave me the confidence I needed to bring my newborn home home with a dog!