So the time has finally come to bring your two-legged baby home to meet your four-legged one! Bringing home a new human baby is very exciting, but also can be an overwhelming for new parents and their furry family members. We have discussed some of the preparation that can be done in our previous two blog segments to make the meeting as safe and stress-free as possible – now for some tips on the big day itself!
If possible, whether your dog is staying with friends/family or at a kennel, see if someone can take your dog for a walk about an hour before you come home with the new baby. This will allow your dog to hopefully be in a more relaxed (maybe even a bit tired!) state for the first meeting. When you first arrive, it is nice for both parents to go inside and greet the dog while a trusted family member or friend waits with baby outside (if weather permits!) or in the next room. Remember, your dog will miss you too after you have been away for a day or more and will be excited to see you – allow your canine to say hello and express their excitement! Give them time to return to a calm comfortable state before the new introduction. If you have a baby blanket from the hospital (that can be washed afterwards) or a diaper that needs to be disposed of, let your dog have a brief sniff of each as an introductory prelude while you are petting and greeting them, allowing for a positive first interaction with baby’s scent.
Ideally when baby is first brought into the room, it is a good idea to have your dog on a leash and being handled by someone whom the dog knows and responds to. Even the best-behaved, well-trained dogs can initially be thrown off by the sight, smell and noises a new baby can make (but hopefully previous sound and smell therapy we discussed may make this transition a bit smoother!). Having the dog on a leash allows for control to prevent lunging towards the baby in all of the excitement or your dog’s desire for attention. This is the time to also watch your dog closely for the body language signs we previously discussed to check for displays of fear or anxiety. Do not force an immediate interaction if your dog does not appear comfortable initially. When it is time for Fido to come meet baby, allowing the dog to sniff around the bottom limbs and bum of the baby briefly (while baby is being held by mom or dad) is a good place to start. Never allow face to face contact between your baby and your dog when baby is still very young to avoid accidental and potentially serious injury.
One of the key points to remember, both in the newborn phase and as your child progresses to a toddler, is to never leave your baby alone with your dog unsupervised! Be sure that if you need to step away for a moment to use the bathroom or attend to a household matter that your baby and your dog are adequately separated when you are not physically right there. This may mean baby is in their crib in the nursery with the door closed; or if baby is in a swing in the living room then your dog is in another room with the door closed, outside, or in a kennel with the door secured. It is not worth the risk to leave a baby unattended with a dog even for “just a second” because that is all it takes sometimes for an unfortunate incident to occur.
As time passes and your dog hopefully becomes more comfortable with the new two-legged addition to the family, you want to continue to offer positive reinforcement (treats, praise) for good behavior (not barking, staying calm, laying quietly in their dog bed or comfortably chewing on a toy while baby plays in the same room). You want your dog to associate positive, happy things with times when your baby is around. Try to stick to previous routines for feeding and walking as much as possible and be sure that your canine receives adequate play and exercise time as well. Remember, growing your family is a special time and if you have any questions or concerns about how your dog is adjusting, schedule a consultation with one of our veterinarians to help make the transition as smooth as possible!