Introduce your dogs and babies properly, and they'll be on their way to becoming great friends. A dog's interaction with babies can have positive benefits besides furry love. Studies show that infants who grow up with pets have a much lower chance of developing allergies to dogs as they grow up. However, clueless pups—and active infants—also have the potential to hurt or even terrorize one another. When you're expecting a new baby (or a visiting infant or new grandchild), prepare your puppy in advance to make sure interactions stay safe.
Why Puppies Love and Fear Babies
Most pups are curious about infants because they have so many interesting smells: milk, baby food, poop...what’s not to love? Confident and well-socialized adult dogs may be tolerant of babies, if they recognize that they’re not grown up.
However, many puppies and adult dogs have no experience with infants or toddlers, which can prove scary if they chase your pet, pull his tail, and/or make strange high-pitched noises. Babies that crawl may mimic prey behavior in their sounds and actions. Wary pooches may switch into play mode or become defensive to try to drive away the 'scary' creature with growls and a display of teeth. Neither option is an ideal start to a positive experience for both the dog and the baby.
Children also are lower to the ground, on the puppy’s level, where all of his most prized possessions are at risk. Your new baby won’t know any better than to play with dog toys, climb into the puppy bed, and/or explore the food bowl. It’s a natural behavior for dogs to protect their things and they might react with aggression if a child doesn’t understand the pup’s warning growls or other body language.
Before Baby Comes Home
Expectant moms have nine months to prepare their pups before the infant comes home. Planning ahead of time ensures that new routines, furniture, and even some of the smells become familiar to your dogs by the time the baby arrives. Here are strategies to help your puppy accept the impending changes:
- Let Puppies Explore. Allow your pets to investigate the redecorated nursery. This is especially true if the pup previously had free access to the room, because banning your puppy may cause behavioral issues when they’re left out. Think about puppy-proofing the room so baby toys, as well as the diaper pail, are out of dog-munching range.
- Manage Access. If you do plan to keep the baby's room dog-free all the time, start by keeping the door to that room closed as you prepare so your dog gets used to that room being off-limits. You can also consider instaling a baby gate in the doorway so your pet can see into the room and be a part of the joy, but is physically separated.
- Practice Crying. Fussy babies sound similar to prey, so it can be upsetting for some dogs to hear this. Record infant cries and other new sounds such as toys that play music or white noise machines, and play them back to your pup, to acclimate him to the sounds. Your puppy may ignore the sound or act curious; reward either behavior with calm praise and/or treats.
- Offer Positive Associations. Give the puppy special treats when he acts in a calm way near the baby’s toys, bedding, and other objects.
- Dab on Baby Smells. Begin wearing the baby's lotion, a tiny dab of diaper cream, or other scents that will be associated with your baby weeks in advance. That way, your pup associates the scent with a beloved and safe human he already knows.
- Adjust Your Schedule but try to preserve the routine. A new baby can throw your old schedule out the window. Prepare your pup so he’s adjusted to changes in his timeline or other changes, such as who will walk and feed him, and when those activities will take place. Be sure to maintain those special times with your pet so he won’t feel neglected and can still count on his basic routine of walks, play time, and meals, even if the timing is different
- Make big changes before baby arrives. If you need to make a change to your dog's lifestyle, such as no longer allowing it on the bed, or introducing a crate as a safe space, be sure to do this well before baby arrives. This gives you and your pup time to adjust to a new normal without it being associated with the baby and being an added stressor for your pup when the baby arrives.
- Give an Advance Sniff. When the baby finally arrives, bring home something with the infant's scent, like a baby blanket or onesie, so that your pup has an advance introduction to all the smells.
- Spritz the Baby Socks. For nervous pups that might act fearful, use a bit of the Comfort Zone with DAP and spritz it on baby socks or other gear. That way they will have the scent of canine calming pheromones that help soothe puppies. Your baby's stuff will now smell like something safe, so your dog may feel more at ease. You can also purchase a diffuser containing DAP if you don't want to spray your baby's clothes or gear, and this can help create a general calming vibe for your pup throughout the home.
Introducing Dogs and Babies
When you bring home the baby, treat the event in a matter-of-fact manner, and don't make a big deal of the introduction (even though it's momentous!). You want your puppy to understand that this is a normal, expected part of life and your calm energy will help your dog feel calm.
- Act Normal. Don't force the introduction, but if your pet acts interested, allow the pup to sniff the baby's foot and blankets. If you have more than one dog and they get too excited, allow one dog at a time access to the toe-sniff, so you and your baby aren’t overwhelmed. By allowing a puppy to actually look at, smell, and touch that creature that's so very different, he'll understand there's nothing to fear and satisfy his curiosity.
- Reward Calm Confidence. Praise pups when they behave well and in a calm, gentle manner. Never punish a dog who gets too excited, anxious, or even growls at a child but rather, calmly remove them from the situation and give them a safe space of their own.
- Associate Good Things. Puppies quickly learn to associate the baby with what’s important to them. If you ignore or yell at the puppy when the infant is near, the baby may have a negative association for them. Figure out what your pup loves and link it to the baby’s presence. Maybe you can toss treats or play with a favorite toy when the baby naps on your lap, for instance, so your pup gets a reward whenever the baby is present.
These tips will help you create a safe and happy environment for both your puppy and the new baby to grow up together as friends, perhaps even best buddies. Of course, don't leave even friendly dogs alone unsupervised with your baby, as accidents can happen in the blink of an eye. If you have visiting youngsters who are older, follow these tips for introducing puppies to toddlers and older children.
Hesselmar, Bill et al. Pet-keeping in early life reduces the risk of allergy in a dose-dependent fashion. PloS one vol. 13,12 e0208472. 19 Dec. 2018, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0208472
Children and Pets - Infants and Dogs. VCA Hospitals.