Mark Vette – Internationally renowned Animal Behaviourist, Educator, Author and TV personality

Introducing your dog and baby

INTRODUCING YOUR DOG TO YOUR BABY

When you’re having a baby but already have a fur-baby, you can be anxious to do everything you can to help a beautiful relationship develop between the two. There is nothing more special than the bond between a baby and a dog!

But getting that relationship off to the right start is so important. If you haven’t yet, I’d suggest you read my blog on How to Prepare Your Dog for a New Baby.

When you’re ready to bring your beautiful new bundle home, here are some tips to encourage a peaceful introduction.

Tips for introducing your dog to your baby:

  • Initially, have someone bring home something that smells of your baby (such as a wrap it has been wearing), so your dog can become familiar with the scent before meeting.
  • Help your dog relax by ensuring it’s taken for a nice long walk before the introduction and has used up some energy.
  • If you have been away in hospital for a few days, greet your dog first before introducing the baby – it will have missed you and will be excited to see you, so doing this will help foster a calm interaction.
  • Make sure your dog is calm before it is allowed to come near the baby. While holding your baby, gently call your dog over and allow it to sniff baby, talking in nice tones throughout. Do this with only one dog at a time.
  • Reward your dog for nice calm behaviour when meeting the baby – do this for their first few interactions to help build a positive association, ideally using a clicker and food treats. 

After baby arrives:

Here are some things you can do to continue to foster a safe and happy relationship going forward.

  • Reward your dog for being calm while you feed your baby. Ask someone to give the dog treats for acting nicely as you feed or have your dog safely clipped up near your feeding chair, so that he or she is included in the experience in a calm manner.
  • Your dog will still need plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. If you are – understandably – not up to it in the first few weeks after baby’s arrival, find a dog walker or a friend who can assist, or perhaps consider a doggy day care temporarily.
  • Reward your dog for nice calm behaviour when it’s spending time near the baby.
  • Ensure your dog is given some space from the baby. A baby (especially as he or she gets older and starts moving and making more noise) can put quite a lot of pressure on a dog, so it’s important your dog is given some calm time away from bubs. This could be just in a crate in a different room, for example.
  • Don’t keep your dog’s food bowl on the floor when not in use. When baby starts moving and crawling, you don’t want them getting into the dog food, plus some dogs are territorial with their food and might lash out.
  • When baby starts crawling, they can unknowingly appear aggressive to a dog, particularly if they like to stare at the dog’s face (which some babies do). Make sure you do careful desensitisation training at this stage, with a muzzle on your dog to be safe if you have any hesitation.
  • Teach your child from an early age mutual respect with the dog – being gentle, patting nicely, not screaming or rushing at the dog, not getting in the dog’s face or chasing it. Don’t let your baby sit on your dog, try to ride it or hug it – this can be perceived as a threat.
  • Teach your dog the trade game around food to prevent resource guarding. My Virtual Puppy School covers this game.

Warning Signs
Learn to read your dog’s body language for any indication it’s not happy or comfortable in a situation. If your dog growls, has its hackles raised or bares its teeth, remove the child from the situation immediately. If your dog is stressed out or fearful, this is also a warning sign – indications include panting, tense body language, the dog’s tail between its legs, trembling and/or the dog trying to hide or escape a situation. Pay attention to these signs and remove the child to diffuse the situation if you ever see any of them.

Most importantly ALWAYS supervise all interactions between a dog and a baby or young child. Even if your dog is extremely friendly and docile, babies and young kids do unexpected things and any dog can react in a negative way if it feels scared or threatened. If your dog gives any indication that it is frightened of or aggressive to a child, immediately separate the two and consult a qualified animal behaviourist.


Other tips when baby arrives

  • If you’ve previously been working, but will now be spending much more time at home with your new baby (and your dog!), be mindful that your dog doesn’t become too over-dependent on having you around all the time as this can develop into separation distress. Ensure you give your dog some healthy separation time from you for at least a couple of hours each day e.g. in the backyard, at home while you go out with your baby, closed in a different room for some peace and quiet.
  • If your dog is a chewer, you might like to do some Discrimination Training to teach them that your baby’s clothes and toys are off limits. This training is covered in my Virtual Dog School along with the “leave it” and “no” commands which will also be useful!


Need help sorting  behaviour issues before your baby arrives?

Our Dog Zen Virtual Dog School is designed to show you how to solve the most common behavioural issues and teach your dog any of the basic commands it may not have mastered yet. If you’d like to work on any of your dog’s behaviours before your baby arrives, this is the place to start! Find out more here.


Worried about your dog’s behaviour with your baby?

If you’re concerned about the way your dog is behaving with your new baby, we’d recommend you seek advice from a professional behaviourist. Feel free to contact our Behaviour Clinic on enquiries@markvette.com to discuss the issue, and we can provide you with some advice on the best course of action.

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