In 2009 my husband and I had already been trying to conceive for months with no success. Each month came disappointment and discouragement that comes with infertility. I really needed a positive in my life, so we did the most logical thing I could think of.
Get a dog.
An 11-ish week mixed puppy found without her mother by a rescue agency outside of Calgary, where we lived at the time
Now before jumping to conclusions, I had always wanted a dog but never had one growing up due to family allergies. I was the odd one out and allergy free. So I talked my hubby into getting a dog. But we were warned when we got her that because her breed origin was unknown, so was her adult size. They said ‘you can’t give her back if she gets too big’. Ok…how big is big? Well, she topped out at 95lbs and towers over most of the male dogs in the neighbourhood. So big enough.
Before we brought our little furry bundle of joy home, I researched and read everything I could get my hands on about dogs and babies. Because while a pet isn’t a child, they certainly are family and no one was going anywhere. So I prepared myself for when our puppy would meet our (then hopefully) baby.
We worked hard with our puppy so that she would be prepared for our child(ren) but it was definitely a learning curve and maybe a few mistakes were made.
But now we have a dog who loves her human siblings. She’s tolerant and calm, and loves playing with them. Even my 7 year old son can walk her (with adult supervision of course)
Our ‘method’ is what worked for us. We were prepared for our dog AND our baby so we knew how to help them get along. But things don’t always go that way.
I had an opportunity to discuss introducing dogs and children with Nikki from DOGS & Walk Play Love in St Catharines. Nikki is a Certified Master Trainer and runs a training school for dogs and their people, and provides private in-school consults. Here are some ways to help a smooth transition when introducing your baby and your dog!
Please remember – Like babies and their parents, all dogs are different
Prepare your Fur-Baby Before your Human Baby Arrives
To begin, remember that you have almost 9 months to prepare your dog for your new human addition, so take advantage of the time you have. Dogs learn their world using their mouths and noses. Bring in a fake baby doll for the dog to get used to, hold the doll like you would a baby. Let the dog sniff the doll, but no licking or mouthing.
This may also be the time to purge all of your dog’s stuffed animals and rope toys. Dogs won’t be able to tell the difference between their toy and the baby’s, and they may become territorial. Two or three toys that do not relate or look like a child’s toy are all a dog needs, according to Nikki.
Teach your dog boundaries around the home, especially the baby’s room. The dog should not be allowed in the baby’s room without you and without invitation. Using a leash and collar helps teach your dog these rules, and a trainer can help you learn how to create these boundaries.
Leave baby stuff around the home – diapers, shirts, toys, and use these items to teach the dog the boundaries and that the baby’s stuff is not their stuff. If they go to put their mouth on the item, correct them with a leash and collar.
Boundaries work the other way too. Give your dog their own space to retreat if being a big sibling gets to be too much, and teach your newborn and children to respect that space. Using a penned area where the dog has water, food and a bed, can be great for this.
Help your dog feel like they are not being replaced by their new sibling. Include them on walks and family activities. Prepare your dog for walking with a stroller even before baby arrives – practice walking your dog with an empty stroller and teach them to walk beside you and not to pull or walk ahead of you or the stroller.
When you bring your baby home
Having an extra person around to help control your dog during the first introductions to your newborn can be key to help your dog learn their boundaries. Do not allow your dog to get into your baby’s face, and keep your dog on a leash and collar for extra control. Teach your dog to approach you and baby by invitation only, and keep baby above the level of the dog, not on the floor. If your dog begins to push too much into you or baby’s space, move the dog away. This will help reinforce boundaries.
don’t just train your dog
Children from a young age can learn boundaries and rules. Help them learn to respect your dog’s space. Don’t allow riding, pulling, or anything that might hurt or irritate the dog, and if your child does pull on the dogs fur, correct them and teach them the proper way to interact with the dog. Incidents, like a child getting bitten, happen when children don’t follow the dogs boundaries.
Never leave your child and dog unsupervised
Prepare your Human Babies for your Fur-Baby
Your children ask and ask and ask for a dog, and you finally decide it’s time. Good for you! But before you go and bring home your furry friend, do your homework. Research dog breeds and look at activity and energy level, and if the breed is family friendly. Hearding breeds, like collies, will nip and chase because that is what they are bred to do! If you choose to purchase a dog, research the breeders and the parents of the puppies. If you choose to rescue a dog, make sure you know the history of the dog to ensure it is the right fit for your family.
Go slowly when introducing a new dog to your family, and watch the dogs body language for signs the situation is getting too much for them.
Nikki even recommends hiring a dog trainer before getting a dog. A trainer can help you decide what is the best type of dog for your family and help you prepare for your new family member!
Ask for help
Despite everything you may have done to prepare your dog and your family for the upcoming changes, your dog’s behaviour may change. Nikki recommends using a leash and collar to help reinforce boundaries, but if the behaviour escalates or becomes difficult to control, contact a local trainer to help you.
Nikki is a Certified Master Trainer and Owner of DOGS and Walk Play Love in St Catharines. She runs a training school with a variety of classes, and provided private in-school consultations.
If you are interested in using Nikki’s services use the Promo-code MAMACOACH for $25 off of an 8-week session!