Bringing home a new baby is an emotional time – for every member of the household. This life-changing event doesn't just affect human family members, but four-legged ones too. It's essential therefore that you have some sensible precautions and tactics in place to ensure a safe and happy living environment for everyone. Leanne Coste offers some tips on socialising your dog with your new baby.
First of all, it's worth recognising that your dog knows something is up, well before the birth of your baby. Dogs are pretty tuned in to their human companions' moods and emotions, and the past nine months will have been something of a rollercoaster! It's possible your dog may have already become more protective towards the mum-to-be. Certainly during the pregnancy, it's important that your dog doesn't assume a position of power. If they feel like they're the leader, there'll be hierarchal issues around mum and the new baby (see also Signs your dog may think they're the pack leader).
Then, your due date arrives, off you go to the hospital and when you return home, you have an extra person with you – small, loud and demanding! Even if your dog has encountered young children before, this is likely to be a shock! Baby's noise may well be interpreted as a sign of distress, which in turn can stress the dog. If this is the case, give your dog their own space – a crate, a separate room, their own bed. Be careful however not to praise your dog if they look uncomfortable around the baby's crying, because this will only reinforce their fear and behaviour.
Almost always you'll hold your baby at a physically higher level than your dog. This, along with the unfamiliar high-pitched sounds emanating from the small person, can be quite confusing. Keep a careful eye on your dog, because they may well want to jump up and investigate.
Of course, you'll be giving your new baby heaps of love and attention, but don't forget about your faithful friend. They'll be used to a certain level of time and activity with you, so do try to keep up with your dog's routine as much as possible – walking, brushing and trips out and about.
Finally, never, ever leave your dog and your baby alone together. And, if you've questions or concerns about any of the issues raised here, speak to a qualified and professional dog behaviourist as soon as possible.
Extra tips for easing the transition
Practise walking your dog with the pram before baby arrives.
Don't let your dog control their toys as your dog will feel that they're in charge of resources and may try to take your baby's toys. So, don't leave toys on the ground for them to choose when and which ones they want to play with, instead bring your dog's toys out and put them away when you decide it's time. Don't let your dog take toys from your hand as they may try to take them from baby's hand too.
Food is a huge resource for your dog, so make sure you're in control of all food (including treats).
Signs your dog may think they're the pack leader
Constantly following you around the house.
Over-excitement when re-greeting after separation (e.g. jumping up when you get home).
Pulling on their lead and /or positioning themselves in front of you.
Walking through doorways before you.
Hiding "high value" treats, such as pig's ears.
Stealing objects, such as small items of clothing.
Leaving food in their bowl, or eating quickly when someone comes home or near their bowl.
Leanne Coste is the director of Urban Dogs Dog Daycare & Wellness Centre in Albany, Auckland. For more information check out Leanne's website Urban Dogs
Photography by Robinson Creative