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How to Help Your Dog Adjust to a New Baby

Dogs and babies

If you have a new baby on the way, you are undoubtedly looking forward to that special day you welcome your child home for the first time. At the same time, if you are also a dog parent, you might be somewhat anxious about how your dog will react to this new family member.

Your baby’s health and safety is naturally your number one concern, but it is also normal to worry about your dog and to wonder how long does it take for a dog to adjust to a new baby. The good news is that many families have successfully introduced their new baby to their dog without issue. The key is preparation and awareness of what normal behaviors might occur as your dog transitions from being the center of attention to sharing the love with a new family member.

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Before bringing your baby home

It is important to focus on preparing your dog for the baby. With a few key steps, you can give your dog and baby the best chance at a warm and happy initial greeting.

Start by scheduling a visit with your veterinarian for a complete checkup a few months before your baby is expected to arrive. Dogs can carry a host of parasites and bacteria that can be transmitted to humans, and infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to these pathogens until they reach about 5 years of age. A vet can determine the presence of any internal and external parasites and also put your dog on the right preventative medications. Because bacteria can also be found in the system of healthy dogs, always wash your baby’s hands and yours after interacting with dogs, dog toys, food bowls, etc. And never let dogs lick or kiss anyone’s face, no matter how cute they are! 

Dogs are creatures of habit, and it will be helpful to keep their routine as consistent as possible. If you plan to change their routine, start adjusting your dog to any new feeding and walking regimen early so they can be better prepared for the baby's schedule. Doing so will reduce the number of changes taking place at once and may help lessen any stress for your dog.

It is also important to help your dog become accustomed to the new smells and objects that will be part of daily life with your baby. Allow your dog to explore and acclimate to any items that make noise, vibrate, rock or bounce, as well as your baby's sleeping and diaper changing areas and related items such as baby powder, lotions and diapers.

A great way to help introduce these new sights, smells, noises and movement is to start incorporating parts of your new routine before the arrival of your baby. For example, turn on any baby jumper, bouncer or toys that make noise or move for a few minutes a day, rewarding your dog for good behavior. For smells, you can apply baby lotion or powder to your hands on occasion and allow your dog to sniff. Dogs rely on their sense of smell, and familiarity with these new baby scents will help your dog recognize the baby as a part of the family. If possible, allow your dog to smell some clothing that your baby has used in the hospital or even the car ride home before you introduce your dog and baby.  

It is also essential to set boundaries with your dog early on to help your dog adjust to a new baby. Do not allow your dog to sleep on your baby's furniture or play with your baby's toys.

Try to provide toys for your dog that do not resemble your baby’s toys. If the toys look, feel or smell too similar, your dog may be more inclined to pick up the baby toys.

Keep their play areas and toys separate to ensure that both your baby and your dog have a safe space to play, and your dog knows where to find their toys.

Introducing your dog to your baby

When the wonderful day finally arrives and it’s time to bring your baby home, ask a family member or friend to help with this initial introduction.

If possible, have your helper come to your home 30 minutes before you arrive for a fun play session with your dog to expend any excess energy. 

When you arrive, have your helper hold your baby while you take a few minutes to greet your dog. Your dog has missed you, and it is important to spend some time greeting and paying attention to them. You can even bring a gift for your dog when the new baby arrives to associate a positive memory with this change.

After your dog’s excitement about your homecoming has dissipated, you can leave them with your helper and prepare introductions. 

Dog and baby

Find a comfortable chair for you and your baby to settle into. Once the room is calm and quiet, have your helper bring your dog into the room on leash and slowly let the dog approach you. Have your helper reward your dog for good, calm behavior using treats and gentle praise. Keep in mind it may take hours or days before your dog settles to a point you are comfortable letting them off leash in the same room as you and the baby—especially for high-energy dogs. If you have a high-energy dog, your helper should have treats ready to reward a “sit,” “down” or other cues until your dog settles and can be introduced to the baby without fear of the dog jumping on you or the baby. Talk to your dog as you allow them to see and sniff your baby. Your dog will probably be very curious about this newcomer and will want to explore your baby’s scent. Reward good, calm behavior with treats to help encourage a positive association between your baby and your dog’s calm interactions.

If your dog is hesitant and seems unwilling to come near to your baby, never force the situation. Your dog might simply need a little more time to grow accustomed to your baby’s presence. 

Also, it is important to consider your dog’s personality and behavioral tendencies. Not all dogs do well with young children. If that is the case, consult with a veterinarian to rule out any health concerns and work with a trainer or behaviorist to help your pet coexist well in the same room as you and your baby.

Keeping your home safe and happy

After introductions, be sure to supervise interactions between your baby and your dog. Both babies and dogs can be unaware of how their behaviors are perceived by the other. For example, an overexcited dog who is gleefully bringing your baby a new toy could accidentally scratch your baby with their paw. Similarly, a baby that wants to explore textures might grab and pull your dog’s fur, unaware of the discomfort they are causing. If you see your dog develop any undesirable behavior around your baby, consult your veterinarian or a trained behavior specialist to address the issue. 

The best way to build a positive bond between your baby and your dog is to keep interactions positive. Make sure to spend ample time with your dog and ensure they continue to get adequate exercise and attention.

For many, the bond between their baby and their dog becomes a meaningful one, creating many happy memories between these two important family members.

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