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Preparing Your Dog for a New Baby in the House

A new baby in the house can be one of the coolest changes of a lifetime — for people, that is. Dogs, on the other hand, can get the short end of the stick, so to speak. Less attention, less interaction, and less exercise often result in puppies acting out from restlessness or a lack of structure. To ensure that your dog doesn’t feel left out, start planning for the new arrival:

  • As early as possible, socialize your dog with small children. Put some cereal in a cup, and shake and treat until your pup associates the sound with a reward. Then invite over some friends who have children and ask the kids to shake and treat. Stay calm while they visit, but keep your dog on a leash if you’re uneasy.

  • Take your dog to a playground. Keep her on a 6-foot lead, and if a parent and a child approach together, ask the child to give your dog a treat.

    If your puppy shows any signs of aggression, call a professional. Your reaction can make the problem worse. Petting or soothing reinforces the behavior, and disciplining makes your dog feel more threatened.

  • Establish an exercise schedule that will be realistic with your new responsibilities. Mornings may be rough, so help your dog look forward to afternoon romps instead.

  • Walk through your daily routine with a stuffed doll. Allow your puppy to sniff it regularly. When changing your baby (both the doll and the real thing), practice the directions “Wait” and “Stay.” When putting your baby down for a nap, guide your dog to her station while saying “Settle down.” When nursing your baby, give your dog a special chew and place her mat or bed near your feet.

  • Watch your words. Phrases like “What a good girl” must be changed to “What a great dog!” If the phrases you use for baby and dog are too similar, your pup will get confused.

  • Set new furniture rules. Dogs shouldn’t be allowed on the furniture near a new infant. If you wait to spring this rule on your pup after the baby’s home, the puppy may feel confused or anxious, so lay down the law now. Keep a short leash on your dog's buckle collar, and if she hops up, quickly tug the lead handle and say “No.”

    If you must have your dog on the furniture, give her the luxury on command only. Tell her “Up” and pat the cushion when you want her there. Use “No” with a leash correction if she comes up uninvited.

  • Get your puppy used to one hour of the cold shoulder every day. You can break it up into two 30-minute or three 20-minute segments, but get your puppy accustomed to life without your doting. If your puppy can get your attention wherever and whenever she wants it, she’ll be upset when you’re focused on the baby.

  • Stop all confrontational games, such as tug of war and wrestling, and eliminate all in-home chasing matches. Play games outside, and teach your dog calm household manners.

  • Consider your child’s toys and how they may compare to your puppy’s favorites. Give your puppy a couple of objects to chew on or play with, return them to your puppy’s bedding when displaced, and use a calm approach to discourage her from going after the child’s toys.

  • Grab and tug on your puppy as you treat and praise her. Babies and small children like to grab and pull, and your dog may be startled if the baby’s tug is the first one she experiences. So tug on her coat, pull her tail, and hug her tight.

  • Ask the nurse if you can bring home some sheets or blankets from the nursery. Have someone place these items in your dog's play station or crate and around the area where you plan to nurse. Praise your puppy for sniffing them but discourage chewing or tearing. (Keep your dog on-leash, if necessary.)

  • Brush up on obedience lessons while Mom’s in the hospital. Dogs love structure and the attention showered on them during training sessions. The brush-up will be a good base for the weeks ahead when life gets more unpredictable and stressful.

  • Hire a dog walker if the house is empty. Isolation is stressful.

  • Plan baby’s homecoming. Keep your puppy on-leash and let her welcome the baby, too. Correct the jumping and wait until she’s calm to connect.

  • If your puppy’s too boisterous, give her leash a quick tug and say “No.” Spread some butter on your hand and say “Kisses.”

    The butter trick also works as you establish a bond between your baby and your puppy. Dab some butter on your baby’s hand and say “Kisses.”

    Spread butter on the baby’s hand to teach your puppy to give kisses. [Credit: Illustration by
    Credit: Illustration by Barbara Frake
    Spread butter on the baby’s hand to teach your puppy to give kisses.

If your dog growls at the baby, call in a professional to assess the situation.

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