Introducing kids to a new dog can be difficult at times. Whether that is bringing your newborn home to the hospital, or introducing your child to a new dog. Not only do you have to keep your child safe, but you also want to make sure it is a positive experience for both parties. If all goes well, your baby will hopefully love their dog and your dog will love your baby.
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Bringing your newborn Home
It can be a stressful situation bringing your newborn home for the first time, and not just for you! Your little furry children have probably been acting a little off leading up to this big day, and that is because they are feeding off of your energy. Introducing your children to a new dog, no matter what the age, can be nerve racking. Here are some tips and our experience with introducing our baby to our pups.
If you prefer to listen instead of read, check out my podcast on the episode HERE.
We have two dogs, Shadow and Nova. Shadow is our 8 year-old rescue and is a Lab/Border Collie mix. He is a great dog (now) after years of training, showing him the love he deserves, and a lot of hard work. The poor guy was abused in his last “home” and found himself at the pound. My husband and I adopted him 5.5 years ago, when we were still newly dating.
He was the dog we were worried about, because he just has some weird quirks. Shadow hates scooters, strollers, and bikes (anything with wheels pretty much). He also hates men, men in hats, smokers, and really anybody that seems threatening (which isn’t really a downside). The problem with having a dog that hates so many things, is you never know what new thing could set them off. 99% of the time he is the world’s greatest dog, but it took us some time to make sure he never fell into the 1% while he was around the baby.
Nova is the complete opposite – she is our Lab/ German Shepard mixed puppy. She was almost exactly a year old when our son was born and she loves anything and anyone. She is gentle and loving and so incredibly calm, especially for a puppy.
There are a few things you can do before the baby arrives to help with this first introduction. First, you will want to start making gradual changes to your dog’s routine. If you know you won’t be able to take the dog for a walk every morning at 7 am, try shifting that routine beforehand so they don’t associate this change with your newborn. The same goes for other things like feeding schedules or where they get to sleep at night.
Some people want to give their pups extra amounts of cuddles before the baby gets here, but this can actually be a negative thing. You don’t want them to get used to these extra cuddles, just for them to abruptly stop once your little one arrives. Instead, slowly decrease the amount of play time you give them. This doesn’t mean don’t love your pups – you can still continue to love and cuddle them, just try to limit the amount of times you go to the dog park. You will definitely not want to take your newborn to the dog park in the beginning.
Work on additional training with your dog. Master a few necessary commands like “go to your spot”, “sit”, “stay”, and “gentle”. These will come in handy once the baby is here and you are trying to give commands. You will also want to eliminate jumping up when you walk in through the door. Before the baby, this can be a cute show of affection, but you will not want them jumping on your while you are holding that fragile baby.
Get them used to baby items, smells, and sounds. You can play recordings of crying and laughing so they are familiar with those sounds. Also, make sure they are comfortable around strollers and wheels so they don’t try to attack it on your first outing. For smells, let them roam around the baby room sniffing everything, introduce them to the smell of lotions, and let them sniff the baby clothes after you wash with any specific detergent. This will allow them to become familiar with all of these different things, so the only new variable is the baby itself.
The First Encounter
When you first get home, have a family member go in first to greet the dog(s). Give them attention but don’t rile them up. You want to get some of their initial excitement out before you bring baby in. It is always a good idea to make sure everyone is calm when introducing your kids to a new dog.
Once they start to calm down a bit, introduce something of Baby’s. We had a swaddle blanket and a hat. I let the dogs sniff the blanket while I talked calmly and gave them lots of attention so we could associate good feelings with the smell. After they started to get distracted from the blanket, we decided it was time to bring in the Baby.
Keep baby in the carrier and up out of reach when you first walk in. I had my husband hold the baby while my parents and I kept a hold on the dogs. We set the baby down (in the carrier) on the couch so the dogs could sniff the carrier while still on-leash. We didn’t let them get close to the Baby, we just let them sniff from afar. It’s really important to watch the signs that you dogs gives off (you can read more about these signs below).
After a few days, you can let the dogs sniff the baby in a closer proximity while on leash. Make sure to have assistance holding the dogs and the baby so everyone is controlled. Give the dog lots of love and pets while they sniff. It is important to allow the dog to approach you and baby instead of forcing the baby on them. Some dogs can be fearful and you don’t want to associate the baby with fear.
Once your pup gets used to the baby while on the leash, you can try an off-leash experience. Just make sure you stay between the dog and your baby so you can intervene if needed. Babies can flail their arms, cry, or scream suddenly and this can scare the pup. It’s best to keep both dog and baby in a controlled environment so you can intervene if necessary.
Most dogs adjust very quickly and might even become protective of the baby. If you follow all the steps, your dog and baby will grow up to have a mutual respect for one another. Always remember to never leave the baby unattended with the dog.
Introducing your children to a new dog
This second part is all about introducing your children to a new dog. This can apply to a dog owned by someone else, or if you are adding a new dog to the family.
If you prefer to listen instead of read, check out my podcast on this subject HERE.
My brother-in-law came to stay with us when our son was about 5 months old. With him came his 1 year old german shepard, Sam. Although she was as sweet as can be, she was extremely hyper and did not understand how big and strong she is. The first few weeks were difficult and she was constantly trying to jump up and play with him. After abiding by the following suggestions, we were able to get her used to having him around. Now they can both hang out in the living room together (supervised) and dogs love to crawl over and lay next to our son.
Have someone hold the dog either by the collar or on a leash. For younger kids that aren’t able to stand, sit baby on your lap or at your side while you interact with the dog. You want the baby to seem like an extension of yourself. Gently take Baby’s hand and approach the dog. If they seem okay with it, you can very gently pet the dog while saying something like “Gentle” or “Easy”. This teaches the Baby how to be gentle with the dog, and also shows the dog that you are in control of the baby and they will not hurt them. Make sure to watch the dog and read his/her signals.
If your children are older, try to have them be as still as possible. If your kids are running around and screaming (even screams of joy), this can really make the dog anxious. Have them be calm, hold out their hand, and let the dog come to them and stiff them first. You will also want them to be standing or sitting on your lap. This is to avoid them being on the ground so the dog doesn’t think they are trying to play.
Avoid giving the dog treats or toys during the first greeting. This can make them very excited and you don’t want them trying to rip it out of anyone’s fingers (especially little tiny fingers). During later interactions, you will want to teach your child to respect food boundaries and remind them not to take food away from a dog. Some kids will accidentally drop the treats and then try to remove the food from the dog’s mouth. This can cause accidental biting or aggression if the dog sees the child as competition. Some dogs are okay with owners removing food from them, even removing it directly from their mouth. However, a child can be seen as competition and your friendly pup may not be okay with them doing the same things you can do.
No matter the age of your child, you will want to teach them how to gently touch and pet animals in general. Kids love animals for the most part, and will often get excited to see them. However, they don’t usually understand how to be gentle when showing their affection. This can lead to ear/fur pulling, hitting, or tail yanking – all of which can lead to a dog snapping. Show your child how to be respectful of animals.
The golden rule when it comes to kids and pets, is to never leave them unattended. Even the best dogs can snap when a child is messing with them, pulling their fur, sitting on them, or just being annoying. It is just a good idea to keep an eye on the dynamic duo so everyone stays safe.
When dealing with other peoples pets, always ask permission before approaching another person’s dog. This is always important to remember as an adult, but it’s especially important to teach your child. Not only does it keep your kid safe, but growling or nipping can cause children to fear dogs.
Our rescue dog loves children, but is afraid of wheels and will bark, nip, and growl at anything that rolls. I’ve had children that ride up to us and want to pet him without even asking. Although he is a friendly dog and looks like a big hunk of love, he is stressed out and not his normal self. It can be hard (and awkward) to hold him back while also asking the children nicely to stay away from him. I’ve also had children who ask to pet him, I say no, and then they reply with “it’s okay, he looks friendly”. Luckily my bub IS friendly and he was okay once they put their bikes down. This just scares me for dogs that are NOT friendly. Just a reminder to make sure and cover dog safety and teach your children how to respect their boundaries.
Reading a Dog’s Body Language
It is important to observe how the dog is acting before approaching them. And especially when introducing your children to a new dog. There are many signs to look for with their tail, ears, and even fur. Here are the signs to look out for.
The most obvious emotion a dog can portray is a happy wagging tail. For the most part, a wagging tail means a happy pup. It is important to look at the other signs to see if the wagging tail might be a sign of any other emotions. A fast wag is a pretty good sign that your dog is happy, but a slow wag can indicate nervousness. If they tuck their tail between their legs you know they are anxious or scared. This can easily escalate to aggregation if you don’t tread carefully.
The position of your dogs ears is another good indicator of their mood. It is easier to read the signs if your dog has pointy ears like a german shepard, but you can also see signs of a floppy-eared dog if you pay attention. If their ears are pulled back and their tail is wagging, this is a good sign that they are in a good mood. But if their ears are flat and straight back or to the side, this can be a sign of fear and can also be a sign that they are preparing to attack. If their ears are pointed up, they are most likely just trying to listen in on something or someone.
Raised hackles (or the hair on their neck and back) can be seen as a sign of aggression in most cases. However, it can also be a sign of fear, anxiety, excitement, nervousness, or may stand up when they are angry. In any case, it is probably a good idea to give your dog some space if you see this.
For more information on reading your dog’s body language, you can check out this comprehensive article on Petcube.
American Kennel Club – Introducing babies to dogs: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/how-to-introduce-babies-and-dogs/
Reading Dog Body Language: https://petcube.com/blog/dog-body-language/
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