Introducing a New Baby, Part 3 - Transportation

At some point, you’re probably going to want to leave the house with your baby and your dog.  If you’re at all like me, you spent time during your pregnancy fantasizing about evening strolls with your new baby in the stroller and your dog heeling precisely at your side while old ladies stop you to coo over how perfect your newborn is… and at the same time, harboring the fear that you’ll be the one walking through the park with your newborn wailing to be fed and your dog leaping at the end of the leash and barking as the old ladies shy away from you.  Well, this post is not about curing your dog of barking at old ladies, but it is about preparing your dog to exist politely with any kind of conveyance you plan on using for your baby- whether it is a car seat, a stroller, or some kind of baby-carrier.  If your dog cannot remain calm and disinterested in the various types of baby transport, be sure to work with a trainer to help them learn.

Car Seat

  • Most babies arrive home in a car seat and are frequently put into it and taken out of it as you go in and out of the house.  The car seat itself rarely causes problems, since the baby is completely snuggled into it and often asleep.  However, if you transport your dog in the car, it is worth considering your travel arrangements before the baby arrives.  We own a Volkswagen Golf- it is definitely not a big car, but with careful planning we now transport two babies in car seats, three cats in their carriers (fastened to the center seatbelt), and two dogs tethered with harnesses in the trunk.
  • For your car, you need to consider how you will restrain your dog.  Even if you don’t think your dog will bother the baby in the car seat, they should not be loose, as they can become a very heavy projectile if you have to stop quickly. According to AAA, “An unrestrained 10-pound dog in a crash at only 30 mph will exert roughly 300 pounds of pressure, while an unrestrained 80-pound dog in a crash at only 30 mph will exert approximately 2,400 pounds of pressure. Imagine the devastation that can cause to your pet and anyone in its path.” (http://newsroom.aaa.com/2011/07/2011-kurgo-pet-surve/) So, take care of your pet and your baby by restraining your dog!  With a seatbelt, your dog can still put their nose up to a cracked window, lie down comfortably, and won’t distract you.
  • The options for transporting your dog in a car are generally a crate, a seat belt, or (if you have a hatchback or SUV) a pet barrier between the trunk and the backseat.  If you plan on using a pet harness, you have to be comfortable with your dog being in the backseat within reach of your baby.  If you don’t fully trust them, plan on using a crate or barrier.
  • Whatever you decide to go with, start traveling with your pet restrained using that system well before the baby is born.  That way, if they bark or whine to be let loose, you can work through it before you have a sleeping baby in the car!

Stroller

  • Many dogs that heel very nicely on-leash get confused once a stroller is added to your walk.  Be sure to get the stroller out ahead of time and see if your dog needs some extra heel training when walking with a stroller.  If not- great!  If they do, it’s better to work on retraining the skill before your baby is actually in the stroller.  Never attach any dog’s leash to the stroller, as they can bolt suddenly when you least expect it.
  • If your dog has had trouble with wheels in the past (for example, barking at skateboards, bikes, rollerblades, or trash bins), make sure you start early and with the stroller at a comfortable distance from the dog.  This would be a good situation to contact a trainer to work with you, as this can be a very difficult behavior to get past.
  • Lastly, with any dog, take them for a walk around the block with a “screaming baby” track playing from your phone or iPod in the stroller.  Make sure your dog can remain calm and not obsess over trying to look into the stroller.

Baby Wearing

  • I found that the easiest way to walk my dogs with my baby was by wearing my baby in a carrier.  My first son preferred the Sleepy Wrap initially, but my second son prefers the Ergo.  I like both of these options better than the Baby Bjorn, as they keep the newborn totally enclosed (no dangling limbs), and their faces tucked in by your chest.  Especially if you plan to take your baby to dog parks, where strange dogs might come sniffing and jumping on you, please consider using a carrier that does not have your baby staring straight out and exposed.
  • Whatever system you choose to use, put it on in the house and stick your “practice” baby (doll) into it.  See how your dog reacts.  Some initial curiosity is fine, but they should not be jumping up on the carrier to see what’s inside.  If they don’t settle down and lose interest, do some training with sits and heeling while wearing the carrier.

However you choose to arrange your baby and dog, you should all be comfortable with it.  Walking your dog should be relaxing, rewarding, and a good way to get out of the house for some exercise with your baby.  Some of my favorite moments of the week are when my husband and I get out with both our sons and both our dogs for an evening walk.  I hope it’s that way for you, too!