It goes without saying that bringing a new child into your home is a life-changing experience. Parents painstakingly prepare everything for the arrival of their newest family member, but often forget to consider how the new child will affect one of their family's current members: their dog!
While it's easy to think that our dogs are independent animals that are unaffected by change, that simply isn't the case. The arrival of a new baby is a life-changing experience for both humans and dogs alike.
Here are some tips on how to help prepare your dog for your new baby:
Before the Baby Arrives:
A very common question for dog owners to ask is, "Are some breeds better or worse with babies than others?" The answer, for the most part, is no. What ultimately matters is the temperament of your individual dog. Some breeds of dogs do, however, have a more difficult time adjusting to the new baby. Smaller dogs, for example, are more likely to be held and treated like a baby by their owners, and can thus get jealous when you display that same behavior towards your human child.
When it comes to training and temperament, take careful note of your dog's current behavior. Does he have any behavioral or obedience issues (e.g., excessive barking, leash pulling) that need to be addressed? If so, take care of them ASAP -- it will be much harder to address them after the baby comes.
You also want to consider how you interact with your dog and whether this interaction is going to be appropriate for a baby. As an example, is your dog used to roughhousing with you (i.e., getting on the ground and wrestling with each other as play)? If so, start putting an end to that behavior in advance of the baby's arrival. While dogs can usually tell the difference between a baby and an adult, they tend to give humans less slack as they become walking, talking toddlers. If your dog still thinks roughhousing, jumping and nipping are acceptable forms of play in your house, he may try to play with the toddler in a similar manner (which could result in unfortunate accidents).
After the Baby Arrives:
Once the baby comes home, managing the interactions between your dog and your child is relatively straightforward. The one rule of thumb to remember is to never let your dog be around the baby without supervision -- even the nicest family dog can bite a child if they don't like what the child is doing. In this same vein, don't be afraid to let your dog interact with the baby. If you yell at or punish your dog every time he comes near her, he may start to perceive the baby as something negative. You want to allow your dog to investigate this new member of the family and create positive experiences with her.
However, as a parent, you must teach your child what types of interactions are appropriate and safe. Again, while dogs may be fine with certain behaviors from a baby, they will eventually stop tolerating being sat on, squeezed, or having their ears pulled as the child ages.
It's also important to note that, contrary to popular belief, dogs do not like to be hugged. They tolerate hugging from adults because we usually scratch and rub them while we're hugging them, and we are the dominant figure in the household. Children on the other hand are considered lower on your dog's social structure and therefore hugging is not a tolerable interaction. Instead, teach your child to scratch behind your dog's ear, throw a ball, or give him treats to show affection.
Lastly, regardless of their actual age, dogs are the emotional equivalent of 2.5-year-old human children. Your dog will get jealous, feel isolated, and be insecure about the baby in the same way an older human sibling would. As such, you should handle the situation in the same way: Try to involve your dog in your life as much as possible, and make sure that his daily schedule is maintained. Take him for walks, feed him, and play with him at his normal times.
For this same reason, it's also important to have alone time with your dog - you can kill two birds with one stone by having someone else watch the baby while you two go for your walk, or playing in the living room or backyard while the baby is asleep in her crib.
Failure to give your dog the attention he needs could result in him becoming depressed, anxious, or withdrawn, and sometimes in destructive behaviors like ripping apart furniture or shoes, peeing in the house, and obsessive barking.
Bringing a new child into your home will be both an incredibly challenging and rewarding experience. With these tips in mind, you can help ensure that the relationship between your dog and his newest lifelong companion gets off on the right foot (and paw).