Introducing a New Baby, Part 2.3 - New Sights and Obstacles

The last part I'm going to talk about in terms of the physical environment is introducing your dog to the new sights and obstacles that will become part of your home. One of the biggest physical changes in most households is the introduction of baby furniture.  Sometimes this will be mostly confined to one bedroom, but oftentimes, especially in small city apartments, there are changes throughout the home.  In our apartment (~950 sq. ft.), furniture was rearranged everywhere to accommodate our first son when he was born.  Besides the “office” being converted to a baby room, we added a Pack ‘n’ Play to the living room, a swing near the dinner table, and, eventually, a playpen in the middle of the apartment.  If all of these changes had happened at once, I think Beskow (our more anxious dog) would have had a heart attack!

  • FurnitureThere is not much training around the furniture, assuming your dog does not jump up on the crib or changing table (if they do, make sure you work with a trainer to change this behavior), but do set it up ahead of time.  That way the dog can get used to it being around, and by the time the baby arrives, the excitement of new “stuff” will have diminished.  Here is a list of the biggest common additions:
    • Crib
    • Changing Table
    • Swing
    • Diaper genie
    • Pack ‘n’ Play – Special Note: We had a Pack ‘n’ Play in our living room so we had somewhere safe to put the baby down if we had to leave the room, even for a moment.  Remember- NEVER, ever leave the baby on the floor with the dog in the room.  For us, the Pack ‘n’ Play was an easy solution to provide a safe play space for our newborn.
  • BarriersAlso before the baby is born, you should get your dog acclimated to being blocked from certain parts of the house.  We set up baby gates between the kitchen and the rest of the house, and at the entrance to our baby’s room.  This way we could be in either of those places, with the baby on the floor, without the dogs being underfoot.  Our dogs were not used to being closed out of places where we were working or hanging out, so it was good to get them used to the experience before it could be paired (in their minds) with the baby getting attention.  Weeks before the baby arrived, they got over whining and pawing at the gates and just found somewhere else to lie down.

    Our dogs were also not used to being crated when we were at home and awake.  They were used to being crated when we were not home and occasionally at night, but not when we were home during the day. They really like their crates and will hang out in them when the doors are open, but being crated when we were home watching TV or entertaining visitors was NOT something they were used to doing.  So, we had to practice before the baby arrived. I highly recommend it, because that way you won’t have to deal with them whining or barking at you for attention once you are also dealing with an infant.  (If your dog isn’t already crate trained, a trainer can help if you’re not sure how to go about it.) If your dog likes their crate, they’re likely to get over this relatively quickly.  This was also our go-to solution when we brought in a babysitter.  Until we had a regular babysitter who knew our baby, our dogs, and our rules about the dogs around the baby very well, we always crated the dogs if we weren’t there to monitor them.

Introducing a New Baby, Part 2.2 - New Smells

Continuing with environmental changes... When preparing your dog for new smells, it can be useful to get a relatively life-sized baby doll that you can “put” the smells on and carry around like a baby, up high out of reach.  This baby doll can also be used to get your dog used to how you will transport your baby.

  • Baby diapers
    • To us, baby diapers stink.  To a dog, well, I can only assume they fall into the same category as cat poo, dog poo, and dead mice… i.e., “Ooh, hurray! Delicious!”... Silly pups.  Anyway, it is worth making sure that your dog is not too interested in diapers before you’re carrying around a baby in a dirty diaper. Although it sounds disgusting, try to recreate a “wet diaper” before the baby is born.  Put a tiny dab of your pee on a diaper or get a diaper from a friend with a baby and rub the wet side against a clean diaper to put a little smell on it.  (A truly wet diaper is a little too gross to keep around.)  Put this diaper on a doll and let your dog take a sniff.  If they don’t care- great!  If they do, let them have a short sniff, then say, “That’s enough,” and move away.  Reinforce them with a cookie for being polite.  If they keep bothering you and jumping up to sniff, you need to do more work.
    • Get a Diaper Genie (or something similar) to contain the diapers.  If your dog gets ahold of a poopy diaper once, they’re likely to try again.  If you block this behavior from ever occurring you won’t have to worry about it.
  • Formula
    • You can’t really prepare for the smell of breast milk, but if you plan on using formula, make a little up ahead of time and drip that on the baby doll’s clothes, too. If you are formula feeding, your baby will almost always smell like that. Practice polite behavior around the smell, just like with the diaper exercise above.
  • Lotions/Powders
    • Lastly, whatever lotions or powders you will be using, you can either add them to the baby doll, or just smear a little on some towels, the changing table, or in the crib so those places start to smell like “baby.”  It’s one less change for your dog to adjust to once the baby arrives!

Tomorrow: New Sights and Obstacles

Introducing a New Baby, Part 2.1 - New Sounds

Preparing Your Home’s Physical Environment for the Introduction of Baby Part 1 of 3 - This is going to be a three-part series posted over three days.  Stay tuned!

It is a huge change in your dog’s life and environment when your brand new little baby comes through the door.  There is a sudden barrage of new sounds, smells, and movements.  Pair that with a drop in the amount of attention your pup will receive from you and it can be an extremely confusing time for your dog.  There really is no way to avoid those changes happening suddenly and unexpectedly, but you can make it easier on your dog by preparing your home as much as possible in advance. Our two dogs are very different.  One of them needed a lot of work on these environmental changes, while we could skip many of these preparations for the other.  Work with your dog and a trainer to figure out what you need to do for your family.  These are just general "good ideas".

When I think about the environment in terms of how your dog interacts with it, I break it down into sensory categories rather than rooms.  Regardless of where you decide to put the baby’s furniture, try to make sure you prepare your dog for the new sounds, smells, and sights in their environment.

Sounds

  • Baby cries
    • A baby’s cry can be anything from a grumble to an ear-splitting wail.  It can hurt our ears to listen to it, and we know it means we need to pay attention to our baby and fix what’s wrong.  To a dog (I assume), it’s a very loud, uncomfortable, meaningless noise.  Some dogs couldn’t care less about loud sounds, but some are extremely sensitive.  Before you bring your baby home, look up a video of a crying newborn on YouTube and play it for your dog.  Be sure to start at low volumes, pair it with treats, and increase the volume gradually.  You want to get your dog used to the sound, not scare them!
  • Baby swing clicking/swinging
    • As a mom, I can tell you that we LOVE our baby swing.  Our baby naps very well in it, so it runs a lot throughout the day (and sometimes into the night). The swing makes clicking and swishing noises as it rocks back and forth.  It also has the option to play music or white noise.  My dogs never cared about those sounds, but it is possible that your dog will.  To find out, run the swing a few times before the baby is born and make sure your dog doesn’t mind the noise.  Just like with the baby cries, be sure to build up to the full experience.  Start with your dog in the next room and either let them move closer or move them closer gradually with treats if they don’t seem to mind the sounds.
  • Music/white noise machines
    • Whether it’s the noises on the swing, the Sleep Sheep in the crib, or (in desperation) the iPhone in the stroller, people play lots of white noise and music to their babies.  Make sure your dog isn’t bothered by these sounds, just like with the noises above.

Tomorrow: New Smells.

Introducing a New Baby, Part 1 - Safety

How Do I Make My House Safe For My Baby And My Dog? This is the start of a new series on preparing your dog for your baby’s arrival.  There are lots of good sites out there that deal with this topic, and I highly encourage you to look at them!  In this blog, my plan is to share my personal experiences in preparing for our first baby – what worked well, what I wish I had done differently in hindsight, and why I think these steps are important.  Everything I write is based on information I’ve collected as a behaviorist and dog trainer, combined with what has worked anecdotally in my own house.

Does every dog need lots of preparation for the arrival of an infant?  Probably not.  There are probably super mellow, old dogs that are truly unflappable and couldn’t care less about the huge change in their environment.  I would hazard to guess, however, that nearly every dog needs some sort of preparation, and most dogs need a fair amount of groundwork to make sure they are truly comfortable and relaxed once there’s a new baby in the house.

There are several aspects to this preparation that I plan to cover:

So… the topic of the day is Safety!

I chose to cover this topic first, because it is clearly the most vital.  Eventually, you will have to worry about keeping your dog safe from your baby, but your initial concern is naturally keeping your infant safe from your dog.  Almost all family pets are lovable, tolerant, wonderful members of our families – I don’t doubt that your dog is amazing! – BUT all dogs are dogs.  All dogs are animals.  And all animals can bite if they get scared or confused.  The good news is, bites can be avoided with some careful planning and precautions!

Never, ever, ever leave your baby on the floor where your dog can reach them, unless you are actively paying attention to your baby.  NEVER.  We’ve all heard the tragic stories in the news, and it just is not worth the moment of inattention to check your email, run down to change the laundry, or step into the other room to get the phone.  If you are not actively paying attention to your baby, they should never be within reach of your dog.  And no, I don’t just mean this if your dog is a “scary breed” or big dog, I mean this for all of the little, fluffy dogs, too. In fact, a 2008 study found that “Breeds with the greatest percentage of dogs exhibiting serious aggression (bites or bite attempts) toward humans included Dachshunds, Chihuahuas and Jack Russell Terriers (toward strangers and owners); Australian Cattle Dogs (toward strangers); and American Cocker Spaniels and Beagles (toward owners)” (Duffy, D.L., Hsu, Y. and Serpell, J.A.: Breed differences in canine aggression Applied Animal Behavior Science 114: 441-460, 2008).  I’m not saying this to malign any breed, just to emphasize that all dogs are capable of biting and that regardless of their breed you have to be careful!

Of course, like the rest of us, you will want to give your baby floor time and get chores done.  There are several ways to handle this:

  1. Crate your dog.
  2. Put your dog behind a baby gate (if they can’t jump it)
  3. In our house, our infant spends a lot of time in his Pack ‘N Play.  He’s not old enough to need more room than that, and that way he is safe and, as an added benefit, his toys are also not all over the floor.
  4. When you stand up, take your baby with you.  Put them in a carrier, a car seat, a stroller, or a swing for the few minutes you need.  Just make sure they are securely contained and up off the floor.

Keeping your infant safe from your dog is not rocket science, but does require vigilance.  While it is statistically unlikely that your dog will hurt your infant, there is always that possibility and so you have to be careful.  I know that from the moment I found out I was pregnant my hopes and dreams for my child almost all included our family dogs by his side— sleeping next to his bed, playing with him when he was lonely, and greeting him when he got out of school.  I would hate for anything to happen that might disrupt that future relationship.  So far, that carefulness has paid off and we have a home with two happy dogs, two safe children, and no looming fear of bites. :)