If you’re due to welcome your first baby into the world, there are a million things to think about to prepare your home for their arrival – but what if you also already have a dog?
It’s worth thinking about how you’ll introduce your bundle of joy to your first four-legged baby – something the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would have faced after the birth of Archie, as the couple already had a labrador and a beagle.
Both the Blue Cross and Dogs Trust pet charities say that all families should ideally start preparing their pet for a new arrival well before the birth, because dogs can become very anxious if there are sudden changes in their environment.
Hollie Sevenoaks, head of education at the Dogs Trust, says: “Dogs like routine so it’s never too early to get your dog used to changes before the baby comes home. By making changes while you or your partner are still expecting, your dog won’t associate the baby with upheaval.”
While Kerry Taylor, education manager at Blue Cross, which has produced a leaflet, How to keep your baby safe around your dog, adds: “Dogs can be very confused by big adjustments in their lives, so getting them used to new objects around the home, like a pram, cot and toys, is a good idea. It’s really worth the effort – pets mean so much to kids when growing up.”
Here’s some advice to help make sure babies and dogs become friends for life.
Don’t put the baby on the floor with the dog and never leave your dog unsupervised with the baby, even if they have an excellent temperament. Use a stair gate for the nursery so you can keep the dog out but still see and hear the baby. View this post on Instagram
2. Listen to babies
Before the birth, to help prepare dogs for the sounds babies make, Blue Cross suggests playing quiet recordings of a baby crying and gurgling for short periods. Only increase the volume gradually when your dog is calm.
3. Baby aromas
Get your dog used to the new smells like baby lotion and nappy rash cream before the birth, and have playpens, cots, high chairs and changing mats in place for your dog to become accustomed to.
4. First meeting
The best way for your dog to meet the baby for the first time is when the dog is tired after a long walk and play session. The baby should be introduced in a quiet room where the dog has few associations – not in a place where they usually sleep or eat. Hold the baby and allow the dog to sniff it. The dog will appear interested for a few seconds and will then lose interest. When they back away, praise them and give them a treat. View this post on Instagram
5. Advance training
Tackle any dog training well before the birth. Blue Cross points out that if dogs pull on the lead or don’t come back when called it could be more of a problem if you’re trying push a pram at the same time. Practise walking your dog next to a pushchair before the baby arrives, although the Dogs Trust suggests a sling might be easier than a pushchair as it leaves you with your hands free to hold the dog’s lead.
6. Keep away from dog food
Blue Cross advises owners to keep babies and children away from dog food bowls, and ensure they’re able to eat food in peace. And if your dog snatches treats, teach them how to take them gently from your hand.
7. Dog-free zones
If you want to sometimes keep your dog in a separate area after the baby’s born, Blue Cross says you can help your dog get used to this before the baby arrives by placing them behind a stair gate, with a tasty chew, a few times a day for several minutes. Gradually increase the time they spend there, so it becomes something they regularly expect.
“It’s essential your dog associates the baby with positive feelings, so if you’re intending to make some rooms dog-free zones and using baby gates, start doing this well before your baby’s born,” stresses Sevenoaks. View this post on Instagram
8. Dog time
Always make time to stroke or groom your dog, so they have your undivided attention away from the kids.
9. Toys away
Put the dog’s toys away after play, or even reserve play time for the garden or walks. This will make it easier for your dog to understand play occurs when you produce their toys, rather than when they pick up a toy in the house, which may, of course, be a baby toy made of similar materials. This also prevents your baby from picking up the dog’s toys and putting them in their mouth.
Sevenoaks says: “Dogs love cuddly toys but can find it tricky to differentiate between their toys and the baby’s, so keep the dog’s toys separate and perhaps smear a tiny blob of peanut butter on them.”
10. A quiet place
Pets should always have a quiet, safe place to go to whenever they need to rest. This will be especially important to them once the baby arrives and eventually begins to toddle about. Teach your dog to go to a place that makes them feel safe and happy, like a bed in the corner. View this post on Instagram
11. Healthy hound
Make sure your dog is in good physical health and free from fleas and worms. Blue Cross warns that any pain or irritation the dog experiences will lower their threshold for aggression and make them more likely to growl, snap or bite.
12. Treats and praise
Associate your baby’s presence with positive, enjoyable experiences for your pet. When they are behaving well around the baby, give lots of gentle praise and tasty titbits, and always praise your dog for behaving gently with your baby.