They say dogs are a (hu)man’s best friend, but there’s nothing quite like seeing your beloved fur baby and your real baby together. The bond they share is something that is like no other, and if it’s your first born then it really is like their first friend or sibling. But while this picture is so sweet, there are also lots of other things to think about/plan/do if you’re hoping to have a pooch in your family dynamic.
For many, the dog-baby balance can be really tough to manage, and your tolerance for misbehaviour when you’re sleep deprived and dealing with a screaming child can be very low. Chances are, your pooch – no matter how well-trained, will act out when he realises he’s no longer top dog.
If you already had your dog before your children came along, there’s good news. They’re (hopefully) already toilet trained and behaved enough to sit and stay and follow (at least) basic commands. So that’s a relief. However, the problem arises when your dog feels territorial and suddenly neglected, so even the most well-natured, well-trained dogs can feel threatened when a new baby comes home and is receiving all the attention they once did.
Here are some tips to consider before bringing your new bundle home to meet Rover:
1. Does your dog have the run of the house?
Before the baby arrives decide if you are still happy for this to be the case – eg if the dog sleeps on your bed, this is something you might need to reevaluate. Work towards changing these things including any routines before the baby comes, so that they don’t associate any of this change with the baby coming into the household.
2. Familiarise through scent
Before bringing your baby home from the hospital, bring an item of clothing it has worn home with you, to let your dog smell it and become accustomed to the smell. The RSPCA suggests letting your pet explore the baby’s sleeping and living areas, so that it becomes familiar with the new smells that it finds interesting. If they try to grab or drag any of the baby items, avoid entering into a tug of war game and simply take the item away. You can do this by swapping the item for a treat or one of your pet’s toys.
3. Never leave the two alone together
Whilst it might seem fairly common sense to do so, it can be tempting to quickly duck into another room while your baby is sleeping. Just as you wouldn’t leave your baby unattended in the bath, you should never leave a baby unattended with a dog – no matter how much you feel you can trust the dog.
4. Make sure the dog still gets plenty of attention/exercise/stimulation
Easier said than done we know but it might be worth booking a walker or getting a friend or relative to come and walk the dog if you can’t. The RSPCA also suggests spending time pre-birth, teaching your dog to walk to nicely and obey your commands, especially when crossing the road. That way you will be able to take the dog with you when you go for a walk with the baby. If the dog pulls excessively, a head collar such as a Halti or Gentle Leader should reduce this tendency, but it must be fitted correctly.
5. Ensure you set and maintain strong boundaries with the dog
This way they know who is in charge. Dogs understand life in terms of a pack mentality, with mum and/or dad as the leaders, establish them as the bottom of the pack with training, and things like feeding them after the rest of the family, and having their dog bed on the floor not at the same height as you – seems simple but this is how they are programmed to understand the pecking order.
6. Toddlers can be particularly tough on dogs
As your little one grows and reaches toddlerhood, it can present with a whole new set of challenges. For example, they might whack them with a toy or pull them by their collar or its ears or tail because they don’t understand the concept of being gentle yet. Some dogs might not like this and might snap back, so be particularly diligent with toddlers around dogs. Spend time teaching the toddler how to properly treat a dog (also a good lesson for when they meet other dogs) and make sure you reward the dog for not reacting to these things too.
7. Toddlers also like to get into everything, including the dog’s food bowl
Yes they may possibly even try some but it’s important to train your dog to not be aggressive around food or his bowl, so if little fingers try and get in there they won’t get bitten.
8. Create a space of retreat
Make sure your dog has a place of his own to get away from everyone, and when the dog does take itself away from the action, use it as a firm sign they don’t want to be disturbed and keep the children away. It is important to keep this area separate to the baby’s and never allow your dog to sleep on the baby’s furniture. The same goes for toys! Try to ensure your dogs toys aren’t similar to the baby’s, never mix them and never let your fur baby play with the baby’s toys.
9. Is your dog exhibiting worrying behaviour?
If they are displaying bad behaviour at any time, spend the time teaching good manners and habits. They need to learn that in order to receive favourable attention from you they must display good behaviour. If you are having trouble training your dog or your dog is exhibiting worrying behaviour – you might need to think about getting some expert training or speak to your vet for some advice.
10. Introducing solids with a dog around
When your child starts on solids, you might suddenly find yourself fighting a constant battle of keeping the dog away from the baby food. Make sure you are careful with what the baby is throwing off their high chair – we all know chocolate can be dangerous for dogs but it is less widely known that sultanas and grapes (both common toddler snacks) are too. These can be fatal to some dogs or end up costing you hundreds of dollars in vet bills, so make sure you keep the dogs away when these are on the menu. But there is one good thing about having a dog around when the kids start solids – there is much less clean-up after meal times as they pick up all the leftovers off the floor!
Outside of the behavioural and safety problems, merging a newborn into a household with a dog can come with a myriad of other problems you might not have anticipated – especially if the dog lives inside. Things like cleanliness! We’re talking about things such as keeping the dog clean around the baby, trying to stop it licking the baby (a near impossible feat) and making sure the dog doesn’t drag anything or do anything ‘unpleasant’ inside the house where the baby might get to it – eek! We’re not sure how much truth there is to it, but they say kids with dogs tend to have a better immune system or perhaps we just tell ourselves that to feel better.
While it won’t always be easy merging your fur children and your real children – when your little one learns to say their name and call out for them from their cot, or look for them when they’re not home, all the hard work seems worthwhile. Here is a cute compilation of what you can expect from the growing bond between babies and dogs from Funny Vines.
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