What You'll Learn
- How to Prepare a Dog for a Baby in Advance
- Ways to Safely Introduce Your Dog to a Baby
- Signs that Your Dog is Stressed and Overwhelmed
- How to Handle Resentment and Irritability Towards Your Pet
- Why It’s Important to Act Before a Crisis
Preparing your dog for a baby is important and intimidating. What steps can you take to get your dog ready? How do you handle the introduction? Will your baby be safe? Will your dog become stressed?
Certified Dog Trainer Dominika Knossalla provides safety tips for how to prepare your dog for a baby—creating a plan, introducing your dog to the baby, and minimizing the stress (for you and your pet)!
Dogs and Newborn Babies: A Major Transition
At this stage of my life, I don’t have a pet. With three boys running around everywhere, I can’t imagine caring for another living thing! But I have enough friends with dogs that I’ve seen the stress of adjusting to newborn life with a pet firsthand.
It’s an issue that comes up all the time with my clients and followers. You have a dog. You love your dog. Your dog is your baby.
But when you bring home a helpless little newborn everything changes. Suddenly, your entire job in life is to keep this little baby safe. You are going through a massive transition–and so is your dog. They may display their stress with increased barking, accidents, and sometimes even aggression towards the baby.
You are going through a massive transition–and so is your dog.
Your mama bear instincts might leave you feeling panicked, resentful, guilty, and heartbroken.
But when I connected with Dominika, I began to see that with the right plan, preparation, and tools, the transition could be easier for everyone involved.
How to Prepare a Dog for a Baby in Advance
There are two major components to helping dogs and newborn babies mix well—the planning, and the introduction.
Creating a plan in advance means you don’t have to make complex decisions when you’re in the difficult postpartum period—sleep-deprived, overwhelmed, and consumed with adjusting to the baby.
The first step is training your dog before the baby comes—safety training drastically reduces the risk of a bite or attack.
Dominika also recommends working ahead of time to create a plan for the first three months postpartum.
One of the most important parts of that preparation is planning for where the dog is going to sleep. As Dominika points out, when you’re asleep, you’re not supervising your baby. That means the dog should not be loose in the room with the baby. Start getting your dog used to sleeping either in a kennel, gated off from the baby, or in another room.
She also suggests preparing your dog for being away from you in general. If your dog goes with you everywhere, try closing the door when you go to the bathroom, practicing with baby gates when you’re cooking, or just spending a little bit of extra time apart (especially if you’ve been home more often working from home!)
Think in advance about how you can offload some of the responsibilities of caring for your pet. If you have a support circle of friends and family who will come offer help, ask them to assist you with walking the dog or taking them out to play.
Planning and preparing will help your dog adjust easier when the time comes to bring the baby home.
Ways to Safely Introduce Your Dog to a Baby
Eventually the time will come when you bring your newborn home to meet the dog. Dominika points out that YouTube is full of terrible examples—coming in, putting the car seat down, and having to react when your dog rushes forward to examine the baby.
The most important thing to remember is that you need to be in charge at all times. Make sure that the dog is on a leash or a harness so that you can intervene at any time easily.
The most important thing to remember is that you need to be in charge at all times.
Dominika also recommends keeping the baby higher than the dog at all times during the introduction and using a larger, open space instead of a hallway.
If possible, rehearse the introduction in advance so you can visualize and plan where you’re going to put the baby, who is going to hold the leash, and what you’re going to do if the situation doesn’t seem safe.
Signs that Your Dog is Stressed and Overwhelmed
Remember that even if your dog loves children, adjusting to life with a newborn is hard for them (just like it can be for you).
Dominika says to watch for signs that the dog is anxious or stressed—having accidents on the floor, increased barking or whining, or acting depressed or not like themselves. (This can increase after your child becomes mobile as well.)
Sometimes, you just need to give your dog space and time to safely and securely adjust to the newborn. Other times, you might need to take a trip to the vet. Some dogs need medication to help take the edge off and stay calm.
How to Handle Resentment and Irritability Towards Your Pet
Mommy rage doesn’t always come out towards your spouse or your children—pets can bear the brunt of it too. It’s common to find out that things that used to not bother you (like barking, jumping on the furniture, or dog fur everywhere) suddenly trigger irritation and anger.
Some moms even find themselves bothered by their pet just being near them. When you’re touched out, exhausted, and overwhelmed by being constantly needed, a pet can seem more like a burden than a beloved part of the family.
This happens because our expectations of motherhood are often so different than the reality. We just have no way of knowing how sleep deprivation and postpartum life will affect us.
We just have no way of knowing how sleep deprivation and postpartum life will affect us.
Pay attention to what’s bothering you and find ways to get help or address it. Maybe your spouse sweeps or vacuums every day. Maybe a friend can come to play with the dog to release some pent-up energy.
Remember that the newborn season will eventually come to an end. You’ll find the swing of things again.
(Take note of your own reactions. If you find your irritability is overwhelming, constant, or worrisome, you may be experiencing postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. Don’t be afraid to seek help. Our therapist support is a great place to start seeking mental health resources.)
Why It’s Important to Act Before a Crisis
Planning and prevention can keep your child and your dog safe and happy. If you see signs of aggression or territorial behavior (growling, guarding everything that falls on the floor, or predatory barking), address it early.
If you find yourself mourning the change in your relationship with your dog, remember that just because things are different doesn’t mean that they are bad. Your dog will still have a wonderful life—eventually with more hands to pet them and more love to go around.
Your dog will still have a wonderful life—with more hands to pet them and more love to go around.
Sadly, in some cases, families discover that their dog can’t live safely in their home, or that the safety concerns are too overwhelming.
Sometimes, the decision to find your dog another loving home is the right one. This decision comes with a lot of heartache and guilt. But Dominika points out that the decision to surrender your dog comes from a place of love. It’s far better than keeping a dog in an unsafe or unwanted situation out of guilt.
Remember that safety should always be the priority, along with your mental health.
Battling Mommy Rage? Feeling angry toward your pet, your spouse, your children, or your life? Our course, All the Rage: Raising Kids with Less Anger and More Connection can help you develop strategies to prepare and stay calm in the most triggering situations! Join us now!