So, you’ve had a baby! Congratulations!
And you have a dog — congratulations there, too! We want to make sure everyone gets along.
There’s two main theories for dogs and babies: One is that if we create positive associations with the baby, the dog will like her. The other is that we want the dog to avoid the baby. Personally, I’m a proponent of the latter. If my dog likes a baby, they’re going to want to lick and sniff and take care of them. They’re going to be happy, maybe even excited, when they see the baby. That’s all well and good, but dogs can sniff babies hard enough to bruise, and excited dogs run around and trample little, unmoving babies. On top of that, most dogs like babies, and even if my dog doesn’t like my baby to start out with, the baby is here to stay: once the dog realizes that, they’ll start getting along. I don’t, therefore, feel the need to create positive associations: those will happen naturally.
So, I want my dog to be very, very gentle, respectful, and little cautious of my baby. But let’s back up.
Congratulations! You’re still recovering, while some other family member preps any last minute stuff. This includes your dog. Your baby is going to smell like you when they’re new, but we can prep your dog a little more than that. Take home a baby blanket that smells like your baby, and let your dog sniff it. Leave it in your dog’s bed or crate. This is their chance to realize that someone new is coming and this is what they smell like! (If you had a home birth, your dog should NOT have been in the room with you, so this doesn’t change.)
Once you come home and walk in the door, training starts. (If you don’t have the wherewithal for training, put your dog away until you do.) This will take two people: one to hold the baby, and the other to work with your dog.
Tell your dog that no, they can’t sniff what’s in your arms. They already got a whiff via the baby blanket: they don’t need to come close to realize this is the origin of that smell! Sit down on the couch, and again tell your dog that no, they don’t need to come close to examine. (You can use a squirt bottle or a quick push to keep your dog away: this is up to you.) Your dog should get no closer than a foot within the baby.
We’re doing two things here: first, we’re establishing that your dog has to be so, so, SO careful and gentle around the baby. Second, we’re establishing that the dog isn’t allowed to come near the baby without being invited. We want this to be automatic, so that when your dog gets excited and runs around, they’re more likely to avoid running over the baby.
Once your dog is standing at a distance, stretching their nose out soooo faaaaar to try and get a whiff of that baby smell, then you can pet them and praise them and tell them they’re wonderful and loved. You can even, if you’re feeling all right about it, bring the baby closer. When your dog starts sniffing too hard, give them a nudge away and back off. (“Too hard” is touching the baby. We’re teaching more carefulness than we want, so that when our dog isn’t thinking, they’re as careful as we need them to be.)
Keep doing variations of this over the next several days. Also keep giving him baby blankets, so the smell is always fresh in his bed or crate. We want him to know this baby is part of the pack, and here to stay!
Now, when your dog gets to playing over the next week, the rule is this: No playing in the room with the baby. Stop any rough or running play right away with a squirt bottle or a time-out, and encourage play when the baby isn’t in the room. We’re trying to establish that, again, if your dog is running and charges somewhere, only to see the baby, he won’t run over the baby and hurt her. We want his first reaction to be, “Whoops! Careful!”
When the baby starts crawling or scooting, it will be verrry interesting to your dog. Squirt or nudge the dog away. We want them to learn not to “play” with the baby, even though it can finally move. They won’t realize that babies aren’t like puppies: they can’t do much! We also want your dog to internalize the idea that when the baby is doing weird things, running away is always the best option. Any time your dog leaves the baby, give them a treat. This is prep for when your baby starts standing, and is looking for a handhold to grab onto. We don’t want it to be your dog! Therefore, your dog needs to have distance from the baby, and also to know that running away is the smart thing to do.
After all this, you might be thinking, “But I want my dog to like my child! I want them to play together!” Don’t worry — they still will. As your baby becomes a toddler, and then a small child, you’ll become lax in these rules. The dog running nearby won’t be so dangerous, so you’ll stop correcting for it so much. (Behaviors like playing in the room with the baby will never fully go away: they’ll just lessen, and your dog will become more aware of where your baby is at any given time.) Your child will start baiting the dog into playing, and your dog will realize that it’s okay now. They’ll still be friends! They’ll just be safe friends.
Lastly, if you have a dog that has nipped or growled at people before, call a dog trainer. I can’t emphasize this enough. It’s not worth risking your baby’s face and your dog’s life to save a few hundred dollars. For all dogs everywhere, encourage them to run away when unsure about the baby or when the baby approaches, by giving praise and treats when your dog leaves. If he never leaves, then pull him away and give praise and treats. Again, this is worth your baby’s face and hands or your dog’s life.