As a new parent, or a parent to be, one of the most important things to us is usually finding ways to minimize chaos and maximize ease in the coming days. When you’ve got a dog at home, I know that there can definitely be some anxiety at the thought of how they’ll react to your new baby! Some dogs, you know immediately that they’ll be wonderful. They’re calm, they take everything in stride, and they’re happy to follow your lead in all things.
Some others, though, give you pause. Will your dog jump on the baby? Will they growl and bite if the baby bothers them too much? Will they be alright with the routine changes? If you’ve got a dog that is giving you some anxiety at the thought of mixing with an infant, here is the good news!
It absolutely can be done, but it’s not something that happens by magic. You, mama, have to be a leader for both your dog and your baby so that they understand how to have a great relationship! Imposing expectations and limits upon both your dog’s and your child’s behavior is a key piece to achieving a peaceful and harmonious relationship.
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1. Establish Respect and Leadership with Your Dog
This is something that you can (and should!) do before your baby ever comes home. Having your dog understand that you are the person who makes the decisions in your relationship, and respecting that, is so important to having a dog who will follow your lead in what to do when the baby comes home!
When you bring home a baby, your entire life changes. Your routines change, your sleep patterns change, and your availability to spend time with anyone BUT your baby is pretty hampered for quite a few weeks after the little one comes home. If your dog isn’t in the habit of following your lead through changes, this can sometimes cause behavior problems for your dog.
However, if your dog is already in the great habit of listening and following your directions, he will be far more likely to take these big changes in stride. Dogs who look to their owners for direction are so much easier to work with when big life changes occur, whether it’s a new baby, moving houses, or even bringing home a new dog!
If you think you need a little bit of help in this department, check out our online course: Leading Your Dog! This course is designed to teach you what you need to know about teaching your dog respect and leadership quickly and easily, and gives you some life-altering exercises to do with your dog to get your relationship on the right page!
2. Put Boundaries in Place in the Home
One thing that I did with my dogs when I brought my first little one home was put boundaries in place in our home, and I’m so glad that I did. With two extremely energetic Australian Shepherds, it was a big help to have done boundary training beforehand. Now, your boundaries may be very different than mine, but the important thing is that you put at least some of them into place so that your dog understands that there are limits to what can and cannot be done around the baby.
I had already taught my dogs to stay off of living room furniture, and I’m so glad that I did. They love to make circuits around my house, trotting in and out of the rooms that are “their” rooms, and checking for crumbs or pieces of cat food or whatever, but they keep their feet off of the couches and chairs that could be holding a baby or a toddler. That is priceless, in my opinion, and a good thing to put in place with your pup before your little one comes home. (Of course, my pups have comfy beds, their own personal crates, and plenty of rugs to lie on!)
Another boundary that I have in place is that my dogs are not allowed to come into the back of our house, where our bedrooms are. Essentially, if a guest would not go into a room, neither will my dogs. I have a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, I don’t want my dogs bringing their toys, chew bones, and other treasures back to hide in my bed. I prefer to not have dog fluff and dirt in my sheets every night. And, on top of that, it gives me a way to put my babies down to sleep without worry about dogs jumping into their cribs, chasing a cat out of the room, or leaving gross dog toys in their beds.
To teach room boundaries, I taught my dogs the command, “Out!” Out means to turn around and go back through whatever door you just came from. During training, they get treats, praise, and toys for listening and going back through the door. Out is a good thing! Once they understand the meaning of Out, then I started to tell them to “Stay Out” whenever I would go through the hallway to the bedrooms. Lots of treats and praise for listening, and when they’d make a mistake, I’d simply escort them back to the common areas and have them try again. Before I knew it, I had dogs who understood that they had to stop at the hallway, and not continue into the bedrooms!
3. Establish and Enforce “Safe Spaces” for Your Dog
Now, this is more of a boundary for your baby as he or she starts to grow and explore. As discussed in this post, a Safe Space is an area where your dog can go to take a break from the inquisitive minds of a growing baby. Young humans are always poking, prodding, and working to understand how the world works around them. This includes your dog!
Part of being a parent and a dog owner at the same time is advocating for your dog, and recognizing that they’re living creatures with limits to what they will tolerate. That’s why Safe Spaces are so important. You can teach your dog that when he’s tired of playing with your baby, or cannot stand another tiny hand patting his fur, it’s okay for him to head to his Safe Space, whether that’s a den behind the couch, his crate, or his dog bed.
Your job at that point is to enforce for your baby that the dog is resting, and is off limits. You may get a few tantrums the first few times (lord knows, I did!), but your little one will quickly understand and accept the limit that you put in place. Doing this keeps everyone from getting overstimulated, overwhelmed, and possibly aggressive, and it teaches your child to respect your pup from the get-go.
4. From the Beginning, Enforce Respect for Your Dog
Speaking of teaching respect from the get-go, here we are! Something important to remember about children is that everything they do is learned. They learn through watching the people around them, and they learn through the consequences of their actions. That’s why it’s so important that you both model an appropriate relationship with your dog, and you correct inappropriate behavior when your baby tries it.
When you spend time with your dog around your baby, I’d recommend keeping the wrestling matches, the rough play, and the frustrated yelling to a minimum. We want to teach our children how to play with our dogs in ways that won’t end in tears or discomfort on both ends!
Also, be sure to stop your child when he or she starts to chase your dog, hit your dog, or pull at your dog’s ears/tail/fur/etc. While your baby is probably having a great time, your dog most likely is NOT! Understand that without your advocacy and willingness to step in and correct your little one, your dog may feel like he needs to correct your baby himself, and dogs usually use teeth when correcting inappropriate behavior. While that’s all well and good for an unruly puppy, soft baby skin injures a whole lot more easily than rough puppy fur!
5. Teach Appropriate Games and Interactions
This is a fun step! As your child grows older and starts to want to interact with your dog more and more, you can start to teach some structured games to the two of them so that they can have fun together in a safe way! Adding some rules to the play between your pup and your child is a good way to ensure that nobody gets hurt or overwhelmed, and the two of them have an awesome relationship as they grow!
Some of my favorite games to teach babies and dogs are Tossing a Treat, Chasing a Toy, and Gentle Petting. You can read about how to teach these games to your little one in this post!
The truth is, managing both your dog and your baby can be a challenge. It definitely requires consistency and a good deal of supervision to ensure that it goes right! However, putting those limits in place and enforcing them for both your child and your dog can make an amazing difference in the relationship between your baby and your dog! A child who loves and respects pets as partners, rather than as playthings, is a child who’s been given a lifelong gift of compassion, and I want that for your little ones!