The first introduction between dog and baby can set the tone for their future relationship. A lot of how this goes will depend on your planning and preparation.
Preparing For The Big Day
As I hit my last trimester I started thinking about Buck’s very first introduction to the baby more and more. My German Shepherd, Buck has a good bit of training but thinking about walking into the house with a newborn baby reminds me of how bad my husband and I have been being about Buck’s door manners. My husband and I both love it when we come home and Buck greets us by running around our feet for attention. My husband and I like to compare who he gets more excited for I’m normally the winner. I know that’s not very good trainer behavior, so keeping this in mind I want to make sure that when we come home with the baby it is a happy time for Buck and a safe time for the baby.
A refresher in door manners training is where I decided to start.
Buck already knew “Bed” which for him means to go to your place, lay down, and stay. I am going to take this basic cue “Bed” and use the location as a “reward zone” for him to go to when he sees us coming in holding either a fake bundled up baby or a car seat.
That way if we are walking into the house with our new baby Buck knows to give us more space. I’ll start this by placing his bed in sight of the door and practice sending him to his bed from the front door. Even though Buck already knows this we haven’t practiced at our front door in the new house.
Once he has mastered being sent to his bed with me standing next to the front door I’ll go outside and come back in carrying the car seat. I’ll say “Bed” as soon as I start to crack the door and do five to ten repetitions of this, starting from outside and walking in with the car seat each time. If Buck seems interested in the car seat I will let him sniff for a minute or two. Once your dog is doing this well then try adding a baby doll to the car seat for this exercise. If my dog is comfortable with that then I will put my cell phone in the carrier playing baby sounds. I’ll start with it fairly quiet and gradually increase the sound.
If you are wondering how to teach the cue “Bed” I made a step by step video: https://youtu.be/bm6OJPjdOcM
The Big Day and Their First Meeting
Teaching your dog to feel good about the baby and teaching your dog to settle is going to be huge.
If possible I recommend there being two people when you are ready to introduce the baby to the dog. When you come home from the hospital send the first person in so the dog has an opportunity to greet and get some of his excitement out of the way once the greeting is over with go back outside and hold the baby and have the next person go in and greet the dog. Once the greeting is complete get some very high-value treats (Bacon, hot dogs, boiled chicken, cheese cubes) and put your dog on a leash. Encourage your dog to go to his bed and cue the person outside to bring the baby in. Encourage your dog to stay relaxed and feed treats every 3-5 seconds, the more your dog is struggling to stay relaxed on the bed the faster and more relaxed you should be feeding. Once the dog seems to relax on the bed you can release your dog and walk him up on a leash. Be sitting on a couch, but keep your large dog on the ground. If you have a smaller dog you can allow them to get up if needed.
With the leash, loose let the dog sniff carefully watching your dog’s body language. If the dog seems relaxed allow your dog to sniff for 1-2 minutes then have your helper encourage the dog to come back for treats you can do this 2-3 times on the ground. Do NOT set your baby on the ground next to your dog. Keep your first session short and positive.
If your dog doesn’t seem interested in sniffing the baby he is telling you that he is not ready to meet the new baby. Respect that choice. Your dog will have plenty of time to get comfortable over the next few weeks. If your dog is sniffing other things or is pretending they don’t see the baby there is a very strong chance your dog IS aware of the new family member, but NOT ready to meet. Don’t pull your dog close or use food to try to encourage the meeting instead give your dog a kong and let him relax and settle.
He will get to know the baby from a distance. If this sounds like your dog offer your dog treats whenever you wake up to feed and change baby or whenever baby cries. This will help your dog associate the baby with positive feelings. Don’t worry your dog may need a day, a week and I have seen dogs that need a whole month, but then seem to bond overnight.
It is okay to wait to introduce your dog to the baby. You don’t have to do it right away.
You can keep your baby in the baby sling while you go about your business letting your dog get adjusted to the new schedule, smells, and sounds for a few days before you do the introduction.
If you’re nervous or just feeling unsure about the greeting it is 110 percent okay to wait.
Be sure to review canine body language before bringing home your new baby. Some of the most dangerous body language isn’t barking, growling, or showing teeth that most people associate with “aggression”.
Many dogs looking at prey will be quiet, still, or even wagging their tail. Since babies make erratic movements, sounds, and look different than adults some dogs do not recognize babies as people right away.
If your dog shows aggressive behavior around your baby in any situation—or if you think she might—keep her away from him at all times and immediately contact an animal behavior expert.
Please try to locate a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or Associate CAAB), a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB), or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) in your area. Make sure that the professional you hire is qualified to help you. The trainer you choose must have extensive experience in successfully treating aggression in dogs