When you first bring your new baby home to your dog, I know that there are many thoughts racing through your mind. Is my dog going to like my baby? Is my dog going to feel jealous? How can I keep my dog from being too rough? What if my dog hurts my baby? For the love of God, why won’t he stop barking???
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All of these thoughts are totally normal thoughts to have when making the transition from your pup being the light of your life, to your pup being second in line. There are so many things you can do to make your transition go smoothly, but in this article we are going to specifically talk about dogs who are nervous or obviously upset when baby comes home. If your dog is vocalizing or barking whenever the baby cries, is often whining and panting when the baby is near, and is generally being overly pushy about getting your attention, or is withdrawn and wants nothing to do with you, this post is for you.
Why is my dog nervous?
For a hundred different nervous dogs, there could be a hundred different answers to this question because every dog is an individual. While this is the case, there are a couple of specific reasons why dogs can have a hard time with the particular change of bringing a new baby into the house.
- Some dogs have had experiences in the past that make them more prone to having difficulty with transition or change, such as having had multiple homes in the past, or having experienced neglect or abuse. However, many dogs have never had these experiences and STILL have a hard time with a big change like a new baby. For these dogs, usually they just tend to have a softer or sometimes more skittish temperament.
- Bringing a baby into the home is a BIG change. Even for dogs who have no problem at all with change in general, a newborn coming home will disrupt everyone’s schedule, habits, and expectations, including your dog. Things that were fine before, like jumping on the furniture or barking at the cat outside, are no longer acceptable.
- New parents tend to be stressed (believe me, I feel you). Lack of sleep, post-partum depression, fear of accidentally hurting your baby, existential crisis, all of these things will make you into someone your dog has not met before, and it can be hard for them. Where before you may have given them a mild rebuke for ignoring a boundary, now you may bite their heads off for the same behavior. It can be a hard change for them, even though you don’t mean it.
- The stress that your dog feels about new baby never goes away. You don’t take the baby back after a few days and have everything return to normal. For dogs who are unprepared, or who have a difficult time with change, this constant stress and pressure can build and build over time if you do not help them cope with it appropriately (we will get to how to do that in the section about Easy).
- Babies are unpredictable. Their schedule takes weeks to have anything resembling a rhythm, and then as they grow they make unfamiliar sounds, they make direct eye contact (which can make some dogs very uncomfortable), they squirm around and grab ears and fur, the list goes on and on. Dogs who are generally nervous animals can have a hard time with unpredictable behavior on the part of a little baby!
So how can we help your nervous dog to accept your new little one? There are definitely some ways that you can step in and lend a hand.
Introducing your dog to your new baby.
There are many schools of thought on how to make the introduction between dog and baby, and many of them will work for a typical dog. For the most part, when you bring your dog and baby together, as long as you are generally mindful about your baby’s safety, these will work.
Our Training Guide, Safely Introduce Your Dog to Your New Baby, covers the exact steps that you can take to help any dog, but particularly a nervous dog, have a safe and simple introduction to your new baby. Check it out here!
When you have a dog who tends to be nervous, and is showing signs of having a hard time with this transition, taking your time and following the steps in this training guide will help immensely.
- Introduce your dog and baby through a barrier.
- Do parallel activities.
- Begin face to face activities.
- Continue to build and foster their relationship.
Help Your Dog Learn to Relax
One of the things that I teach any dog that I am training, whether or not there is a baby involved, is the Easy command. It’s a very specific skill that helps dogs learn to calm themselves and be able to think rationally and cope with stressful situations. I have found it to be particularly effective and helpful for dogs who have the nervous temperament that we are discussing here. There are several different ways to teach your dog to relax on command.
By far the most effective method that I have found, and use constantly and religiously with my own dogs and with client dogs, is called Conditioned Relaxation. Using massage techniques such as pulling the scruff, deep and rhythmic massage on the larger muscle groups, and squeezing pressure on the joints (plus any other touches that your dog finds relaxing), help your dog reach a state of total relaxation.
Talk to them throughout the process about how relaxed or tense their muscles are, where they still have tension, what touches you are using, and whatever pops into your mind. Once your dog is relaxed, flopped over on his side or lying with his head relaxed, NAME that for your dog. “That’s EASY,” just as you would name Sit or Down for your dog. Have them hop up, and then do it again, so that your dog makes the connection between the word Easy, and the feeling of relaxation.
For more information about Conditioned Relaxation, head over to learn it straight from its creator, Kayce Cover. She offers an excellent online program that will help you transform your nervous dog in ways you never thought possible.
Sit on the Dog
No, don’t actually sit on the dog. For those dogs who don’t respond well to touch or massage, another way to teach a dog how to calm and relax is called Sit on the Dog, and is essentially boring your dog into relaxation. Have a seat in a sturdy chair (NOT a rolling chair, believe me that’s a disaster!), and put your dog’s leash under your foot. Give them just enough leash so that if they are lying down and relaxed, the leash is loose, but if they are standing or trying to pace around, the leash will be tight and uncomfortable.
When your dog lies down beside you, give them a pat and a treat, and name that behavior Easy (not just a dog who is lying down but panting or whining, but a dog that is actually relaxing. If your dog is still upset, give it a little more time until they settle). Get your dog up, have a little party, and then do it again.
The last method we will discuss here is Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol. This protocol teaches your dog, over 10 days or so, to remain calm and collected in the face of new stressors. Having your dog sit, or lie down, you will follow the protocol and give the dog treats for staying calm and quiet while you do new things around them (step closer, step away, clap hands, talk to them, etc.). It takes time, but it can definitely be a benefit to many dogs. Check it out here!
Being a leader for your dog.
Having a relationship based on trust and respect is crucial to any happy, peaceful home that includes a dog. It is particularly important, though, when you have a dog who tends to have a nervous temperament. Dogs who are not born with confidence in themselves and their decisions can have a hard time when faced with new situations and have no one that they can trust to follow. Being a leader for your dog, instilling that trust and respect, and being a source that they can look to to know how to act is going to be a HUGE help to them as they navigate these changes.
Check out our course, Leading Your Dog, to learn a few exercises that will help your dog to follow your lead, and help you to be a person worth following!
Accept your dog for who he is…then help him.
In conclusion, it is not at all strange or uncommon for dogs to have a hard time with the transition of a growing family. This can be a particularly hard change for dogs that have a nervous or skittish temperament, however. The most important thing to remember is to accept that your dog is going to have a challenging time with this big change, and to do what you can to help him through it. Rather than getting frustrated or upset (I know, you’re exhausted, and one more thing to add on is a lot!), try to commit yourself to helping your best friend learn to be calm, cool, and collected so that he can learn to be a great companion for your family as it changes and grows.