How to prepare your dog for a new baby
Discover what you can do to help your pooch adjust before your child arrives
Most expectant parents have plenty of time to spend preparing for a baby, but for unsuspecting dogs their new housemate appears overnight. If you’re expecting a baby, it’s important to ensure your dog always feels part of your family.
In this article, you can discover how to prepare them for the change in their routine, plus all the unusual sights, sounds and smells that the new arrival will bring. We’ve also got some specific advice for puppies.
If you do this with plenty of time to spare, your dog is more likely to adjust well to this new experience. Take a look at our video below for a quick overview.
Why do some dogs have difficulty with a new baby?
A new baby arriving overnight can be a dramatic experience for dogs – a completely unexpected change of lifestyle.
Dogs tend to like routine as they feel confident knowing what to expect and when. Unless they’re thoroughly prepared for the changes that new babies can bring, they might feel very unsettled.
A new baby in the family could mean your dog receives less attention or shorter walks than they’re used to. They might also need to be left alone for a little longer than before, or not be allowed into certain rooms.
Babies also mean new things in the house: loud and unusual sounds, unfamiliar smells and potentially a lot of visitors too. It’s easy to see why.
How to start preparing your dog
The earlier you start preparing your dog, the more time they’ll have to adjust and feel comfortable. You’ll also be able to go at your dog’s pace which is important for their confidence.
Think about the situations your dog will need to get used to and gradually introduce these to your dog, ready for when these happen in real life. Always use rewards your dog enjoys and make sure you go slowly so your dog has plenty of time to learn, practise and get things right at every stage.
The time you put in now will really pay off when your baby arrives. You’ll be able to devote your time getting to know the baby, confident that you’ve already taught your dog useful skills to help them feel settled too.
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Set up baby equipment and toys
Don’t wait for your baby to arrive before you start setting up their new things. In the months leading up to your baby’s birth, gradually place around your house equipment such as:
- baby gyms
- mobiles that move and make unusual noises
This allows your dog plenty of time to become used to them. Make sure your dog is always allowed to approach and sniff the items as they wish. Let them investigate at their own pace and build a positive association by giving them treats, chews, a game or a fuss whenever you introduce something new.
Playing baby noises at home
Baby sounds can come as a shock to dogs, so it’s best to introduce them gradually by playing audio clips at home.
We have a collection of sound clips that includes a set to help prepare your dog for the arrival of a new baby.
Start off by introducing new sounds associated with babies at a very low volume while your dog is doing something they enjoy, such as playing or eating.
As long as they stay calm and relaxed, then you can increase the volume over the next few weeks and months to a lifelike level. If your dog seems worried or anxious at all, then stop the recording and, next time, go down a volume level.
Introducing baby smells at home
Asking friends with babies for some unwashed baby clothes and blankets can be a useful way to introduce baby smells into your home. As with noises and equipment, take care not to overwhelm your dog but introduce these gradually and allow your dog to gently investigate in their own time. Again, associate them with something your dog finds enjoyable such as a fun game, treats or a fuss.
Changes to your dog’s routine
Think about how your dog’s routine might change once your baby arrives. Gradually introduce changes long in advance of your due date so your dog has time to get used to a new structure. This might mean:
- less attention from you, or attention at different times of the day
- shorter walks and different routes
- restricted access around the house, for example not being able to go into your baby’s future bedroom
- more visitors, including healthcare workers who are unlikely to be interested in your dog
Introducing baby gates to restrict access to certain areas of the house can help when you have visitors coming to see your baby.
Settle training – a vital skill
Teaching your dog that they can feel comfortable being the other side of a gate from you, enjoying a tasty treat or a stuffed interactive feeder, can help them to relax by themselves when it’s useful to have them safely out of the way. See our advice on training your dog to settle for more.
Consider teaching your dog to feel confident and comfortable relaxing within a crate. If your dog enjoys resting inside their crate and feels safe in there, it can be helpful to use this as somewhere to put them if you have visitors such as healthcare professionals.
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Practising carrying and interacting with a baby
Carrying and interacting with a lifelike baby doll means your dog can see you holding and talking to a ‘baby’.
If your dog jumps up, make sure you don’t give them any attention for this but do get ready to reward them for keeping all four paws on the ground.
You could try dropping treats onto the ground whenever you pick up the doll until your dog starts to automatically put their nose to the floor when they see you pick up the doll.
Then you can continue to reward them for not jumping up. They’ll learn that keeping their paws on the ground is always a good choice when you’re carrying the baby.
Out and about with your baby and your dog
Once your baby arrives, your walks will be very different. You’ll potentially be juggling baby, buggy and your pooch all at once. Things will be easier if your dog already knows how to walk alongside the buggy – so why not practice before your baby arrives?
Put some treats in your buggy bag and use them to reward your dog for being next to you as you walk along. Our walking nicely on the lead page provides further details on how to teach this important skill.
Recall training is useful as you can exercise your dog, knowing you can call them back to you quickly. Always reward your dog for reaching you and practise in the house or garden first until you are confident your dog will come when called. Our recall training page gives lots of useful guidance on how to teach this vital skill.
When everything is so new and you’re concentrating on building a happy family, it’s hard to think about going back to work. However, when you do start making plans to return remember your dog might find this difficult too, as their daily routine will change again.
Help them out by preparing them for their new routine just as you did before your baby arrived, so it won’t be such a shock for them that you’re no longer at home as much.
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Putting safety first when your baby arrives
It’s important to always be actively engaged when supervising and never leave dogs and babies alone. This means always being interactive with your baby when they’re in the same space as your dog, making sure you can give them your undivided attention without being distracted.
For example, you could give your dog a long-lasting treat and leave them completely alone in their bed to enjoy it while you are spending time with your baby in the same room. This way your dog has something fun to do all by themselves, which means you can spend some time having fun with your baby without having to worry about your dog.
How to help puppies feel comfortable with babies and children
Puppies need to meet a range of different people during their socialisation period between around three and 12 weeks of age. This helps them to accept contact with people as a normal and positive part of life.
Ideally this includes meeting children. Meeting at least one older child of eight years or older and a baby or toddler is ideal. For safety, contact with children should be actively supervised.
Where younger children or babies are introduced to puppies, they should be held by their parents. Where access to young children is not possible, it helps if they can hear good-quality recordings of children playing and babies crying.
To make sure they see people as consistently positive, puppies need to be introduced to new experiences gradually and in a controlled way.
It’s also important that puppies are not already anxious or fearful when they interact with adults or children, as this will increase the risk that they will associate contact with these negative feelings.
Learn vital skills with your faithful friend
Teaching your dog all sorts of useful behaviours to help them fit into family life as your baby grows can be a great deal of fun. Our Dog Schools run informative and helpful seminars on how to introduce dogs and babies, so do get in touch.