THE PACK are delighted to let you know that our founders, Judy and Damien, welcomed a beautiful baby boy into their lives earlier this week. The excitement doesn't stop there! Baby fever is clearly rife at THE PACK, as our writer Alice, had her baby in recent weeks.
To celebrate, we have an extra special blog to discuss how to introduce a new born baby to your fur-child.
For us pawrents, our dogs are members of the family. We care for them just as we would a two-legged child, because they share the same vulnerabilities: they rely on us for food, safety, medical care and, fundamentally, love and affection.
So what happens when we introduce a human child into the equation? Will your dog feel threatened by the arrival of a newborn? Or will they become the best of friends with their furless sibling?
These are questions we’ve been asking here at THE PACK and many of our tips have been very recently tried and tested…
Below we explain how to ensure that the relationship between your two- and four-legged children gets off to the best of starts, making the transition as seamless as possible and keeping both your dog and your baby safe and happy.
Before Your Baby Arrives
If you're carrying your child yourself, your dog may well have known you were pregnant before you did! With their incredible sense of smell and sharp canine ears (dogs can hear four times better than we can) they're already getting to know their human sibling in the womb. You might notice that your dog curls up to sleep against your tummy more often or sniffs your belly as well your face when you get home from work. They're smelling the chemical (hormonal) change in your body, and they might even be listening to your baby's heartbeat, something we humans can only detect with special medical equipment. You may find that your pup becomes more protective of you during your pregnancy, a hint of what's to come when your baby is born.
Even though your dog can sense something different about you already, it's still going to be a shock when that bump transforms into another human in their home! To help prepare your pup for the arrival of an infant who’ll be taking up a lot of your attention, towards the end of your pregnancy you might want to start carrying around and talking to a doll or teddy bear, so your dog is used to your hands being occupied. If your dog jumps up to investigate the doll, ignore them; instead, reward them for calm behaviour and for staying on the ground. They’ll quickly learn that it’s in their best interests to keep their paws down when you’re carrying the baby!
You can also introduce the sound of a baby crying, playing a recording regularly to get your dog used to the noise. Some parents find that baby-gates can make managing a dog’s movements easier when they’re caring for a baby. If you think this will be the case for you, it’s good to install them early to help your pup get used to being on the other side.
Introduce New Rules Early
In fact, if there are any new rules you want in place when the baby arrives, now is the time to introduce them. If you don't want your dog to go into the nursery, enforce that rule right away and keep the door shut. If it will no longer be safe for your dog to bedshare, retrain them to sleep in their own dog bed at least four months before your due date. When you bring your baby home, you won't have the time or energy to start a new training regime with your dog! What's more, you want to keep things as stable as possible for your pup when the baby arrives; suddenly taking away perceived comforts will only give your dog a negative association with their new brother or sister.
Send Your Baby’s Smell Home First!
There's also something you can do in those very last few days between birth and bringing your new-born home, while you’re still in hospital or while your dog is being looked after elsewhere. To make sure your dog is immediately familiar with your baby's scent before they even meet, have your partner, friend or family member give them a used muslin cloth or item of clothing worn by your newborn. This will help them to get to know your baby's unique smell before you arrive home, so there are no big surprises.
When You First Bring Your Baby Home
During the very first interaction, it’s essential that you and your baby are calm; don’t try to introduce your dog while your child is crying because this will be stressful for both parties. Instead, when your baby’s sleeping or quiet, sit on the sofa with their body held at your dog’s level. Encourage your pup to approach and sniff your baby gently if they want to, but don't force them to interact. Praise your pup for keeping calm and reward them with plenty of treats. You want interacting with the baby to be a positive experience for your dog from the very beginning.
Will My Dog Be Jealous?
While your dog might recognise your baby after they're born, having shared a lap with them for the last nine months or so, they're still going to have to make some unexpected adjustments. When we introduce a human child to a new brother or sister, we often talk about preventing 'jealousy'. Of course, jealousy is a very human emotion but what it boils down to is a fear that your position or situation is threatened by somebody else. This applies to our dogs too, who may fear that their essential resources are at risk due to the introduction of this tiny, needy little human. Like us, they may become protective of the things they value, that they feel to be under threat: their pawrents' undivided attention and love, their walk and play time, their toys or their security.
Reassure Your Dog That Their Resources Aren’t Threatened
That's when we might see our dog's behaviour change as they try to reclaim that attention, perhaps by chewing up the baby's soft toys or barking while we feed or change our child. It's our job to make sure that our dog doesn't feel they're losing out because of the presence of a new baby. Instead of taking away affection and other resources, we need to add them, building positive associations with the baby. So when you feed your child, you could put down a lick mat or puzzle toy so that your dog gets a tasty treat too, or have your partner initiate a favourite game with your dog. If you're struggling to find time to walk your pup in the early days, enlist a friend or professional to take them out for the long rambles they're used to. Try to maintain your dog’s normal routine as far as possible, with walks and mealtimes at the usual hours. But most importantly, keep giving your furry friend the physical affection they value most of all; this is the key time to make sure your dog feels more loved than ever!
Be Safe Not Sorry
No matter how docile and friendly your dog might be, it’s important that you never leave them alone with your baby. A sudden movement or loud cry from a child could easily surprise or scare your pup, and that could provoke a defensive nip or growl. Even when you, your baby and your dog are in the same room, make sure you’re closely supervising what’s happening and don’t place your baby on the floor or sofa next to your dog, where they could be trodden on or pawed.
Deal With New Unwanted Behaviours Quickly
You may also see your dog being overly protective of their new vulnerable little bestie. This might translate into growling or barking at strangers or guests in the home or becoming reactive towards other dogs on family walks. If you find this happening, we recommend involving a fear-free/positive reinforcement behaviourist early on. Reactivity can be a challenging behaviour to fix and can escalate quickly, so getting that addressed sooner rather than later is key - however heart-warming it is to see your dog protecting your little one!
As your baby gets older, there are some important practices to reinforce. Firstly, make sure that dog and baby toys are kept separate so there's no confusion about what belongs to each. While you obviously don't want your pup chewing up your baby's teddy bears, you also don't want to encourage your child to take your dog's soft or squeaky toys, especially when they're a toddler! As well as being unhygienic, this can lead to resource guarding and hostility from your dog. The same applies to food, especially when your child starts eating solids. Make sure your dog is fed a good distance away from the baby and keep them away from your baby or toddler during mealtimes. Tempting as it is to have your dog do the hoovering for you, encouraging them to swipe dropped food will only set them up to beg at the kitchen table.
When your baby is brand new, they’re not going to be interacting with your dog on their own; it’s going to be a very one-sided relationship for your hound! However, as your child gets older and more curious, you will need to teach them how to safely pet and play with your pup, respecting their space and understanding their doggy language.
Ultimately, by bringing your child up with a canine companion, you’re giving them an incredible gift: not only the most loyal best friend and sibling they could wish for, but a life lesson in respecting and loving other animals.