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Preparing your dog for a new baby in the family and home

Most expectant parents have plenty of time to spend preparing for a baby, but for unsuspecting dogs their new housemate appears overnight! It’s important to ensure your dog always feels part of your family, and to prepare them for the change in their routine, plus all the unusual sights, sounds and smells that the new arrival will bring. Doing this with plenty of time to spare means setting your dog up to cope well with this exciting change!

Why do some dogs have difficulty with a new baby?

A new baby arriving overnight can be a dramatic experience for dogs and mean a completely unexpected change of lifestyle. Dogs tend to like routine as it means they can feel confident, knowing what to expect and when. This can help them to feel secure. So unless they’re thoroughly prepared for the changes to their normal routine that new babies can bring about, 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, so it’s easy to see why some dogs might become overwhelmed! But don’t worry, there’s lots you can do to help your dog adjust and feel very positive about their new family member.

Dog in focus with baby bump foreground  

Preventing problems

Puppies need to meet a range of different people during their ‘socialisation period’ (between around 3 and 12 weeks of age) so they accept contact with people as a normal and positive part of life. Ideally this includes meeting children. Meeting at least one older child (8 years plus) and also a baby or toddler is ideal, as they mean very different experiences for a puppy. For safety, contact with children should be actively supervised at all times. 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 recordings of children playing and babies crying using good quality recordings.

To make sure they see people as consistently positive, the introduction of new experiences to puppies needs to be gradual and controlled. 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.

Dogs Trust’s Dog Schools across the UK provide the perfect opportunity for puppies to learn other vital social skills in their puppy classes.

What to do

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. The time you put in now will really pay off when your baby arrives, as 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. Close up of a spaniel    

  • Don’t wait for your baby to arrive before you start setting up their new things. Gradually set up equipment such as baby gyms, highchairs, playpens, mobiles that move and make unusual noises, prams and toys over the months before your baby’s birth. This allows your dog plenty of time to become used to them. Make sure your dog is always allowed to approach and smell these things 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.
  • Don’t forget about noises too! See our free sound therapy for pets and start off introducing new sounds associated with babies at a very low volume while your dog is doing something they enjoy, such as playing or eating. Then gradually increase the volume over the weeks and months, as long as they remain calm and relaxed.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.
  • 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 the nursery, playroom or 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. 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 training information and videos that show you how best to do this, with easy-to-follow steps for success. You might want to 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 pop them if you have visitors such as healthcare professionals. Our crate training your dog page gives full details on how to introduce your dog to a crate in a positive way. It’s important to remember that a dog should never be left in a crate for prolonged periods, or ever be placed in a crate for punishment.
  • Teaching your dog that they’ll receive attention for being calm and relaxed is likely to result in them learning this is a good choice of how to behave! Remember that you don’t have to physically interact with your dog to give them attention, even just telling them what a good dog they are for lying down and settling can be rewarding for them. However, a tasty treat or a chew can be a real bonus!  

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. 

  • Your dog walking nicely while you’re pushing your buggy will mean you can have more relaxing walks. Pop 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.
  • 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.
  • Recall training is useful to give your dog exercise 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 train your dog to come back when called page gives lots of useful guidance on how to teach this vital skill.
  • Teach your dog to settle down when you’re unable to give them your full attention, such as when you’re feeding or bathing your baby or when you have guests present. Always give your dog something to enjoy by themselves and provide them with their own den to relax in where they are never disturbed. Our what to do if your dog is anxious when they're left alone and train your dog to settle pages provide greater detail about how to teach this in an enjoyable way.
  • 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.

If your dog appears worried at any stage, stop what you’re doing and go back to a point at which they were calm and relaxed for a while longer before progressing again.

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 them!

www.learnwithdogstrust.org.uk is a valuable resource for parents, children and schools alike. Here you’ll find a link to our Be Dog Smart information, aimed at teaching children how to behave around dogs and keeping everybody safe, comfortable and happy.

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 if you’re interested please get in touch.

Learn more about dog training