Babies and Dogs - Tips for Navigating the Transition

management training tips Mar 15, 2024
Newborn dressed in pink gown and hat laying on rug in front of older golden retriever

For many first time parents, their biggest concern when bringing their new bundle of love home is how their first love, their four legged bestie, will handle the transition.

It's very hard to predict how a dog will respond when you bring home a new little one, but the best thing you can do for your dog is be proactive and set them (and you) up for success with a bit of preparation. Don’t wait to train your dog until your baby arrives. Most people know well in advance that their household will be growing. We recommend starting, or brushing up on, training at least 6 months in advance. That way you have ample time to lay a solid foundation or refresh on expectations if it's been a while.

Here are three things that we recommend focusing on with your dog as you prepare to welcome a new baby into your household:

  1. A Strong Place Command
    If you're not familiar, place is a boundary-based command. When we tell a dog place, the expectation is that they will go to their bed (or whatever boundary has been established) and stay there until we release them. This is extremely useful when you have a newborn or child of any age in the house. It provides a safe place for your dog to exist in close proximity with your baby while acclimating to them. Dogs can easily become over aroused or experience stress when they're first getting used to all of the new sounds, smells, and erratic movements that come with young babies. Allowing them some space to observe ensures safety for all parties and also ensures that they won't get underfoot while you're carrying precious cargo.

    As babies turn into toddlers it's important to teach your children that dogs should not be bothered when they're on place. Holding your dog accountable with staying on place and holding your child accountable to not harassing your dog while they're on place can go a long ways to ensuring everyone coexists happily.

  2. A Solid Loose Leash Walk
    It is a sad reality that most dogs get less activity and exercise once their humans welcome a baby. The reason we so often see this? No time has been spent teaching a nice loose leash walk or heel command in advance of having said baby. While leash pulling may seem manageable initially, perspectives shift quickly once you have precious cargo to worry about. No one wants to get pulled down while newly postpartum or pushing a stroller. It's much, much easier to work on the walk in advance, slowly teaching a loose leash walk (and a heel command), and conditioning your dog to walking alongside a stroller. Working on this in advance will make you much more likely to incorporate your dog in family activities once your babe arrives and getting them much needed exercise will pay dividends at home as well.
  3. Creating and Maintaining Boundaries
    If your dog is used to complete freedom in the house, transitioning to more structure (which will be necessary to keep your baby safe) may be stressful for them. Slowly implementing boundaries will help ease the transition. Every household is different and every dog is different so it's important to discuss boundaries with all adults in the home and make sure everyone is on the same page.

    Does your dog currently sleep in bed with you? This probably isn't the best idea if your baby will be in your bed at any point, like for middle of the night feedings. An example of a slow transition would be to put a dog bed on the floor of your room and start having your dog sleep there instead of in your bed. Then, if necessary, transition that bed out of your room to another space in your house. Alternatively, consider crating your dog at night if they're younger or need a little more management.

    Like the bed, sometimes dogs need boundaries put in place regarding the couch as well. If your dog thinks they're the king of the couch, has any resource guarding behaviors, or tends to roughhouse on the couch, consider limiting their access. Use a leash to redirect them off the couch when they try to get on and consider using a place cot nearby to show them an appropriate place to hangout in your living area. 

    If you're concerned about barking waking your sleeping babe, start addressing that behavior in advance with a well-timed "enough" command and then adding a "No" marker and a correction if they do not stop barking. 

    Keeping a leash and/or an e-collar on your dog for the first few weeks when you bring home your baby is an easy precaution you can take to ensure you always have the ability to step in and enforce boundaries.

Remember that a smooth transition will take time. Your dog may want to maintain their distance for some time. It is very rewarding when you do see your dog take to your baby in a loving way. If that takes some time, that's okay! Ensuring that you're doing your part to set them up for success is the best investment you can make into their long term relationship.

And if you're a soon-to-be new parent and want some personal coaching, you can begin with a complimentary consultation to see which of our programs best suites your needs.



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