Jim lives east of Toronto, where he writes and designs marketing material for small businesses. He can be reached at [email protected]"
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In a recent court decision, a Canadian judge ruled that dogs do not have familial rights. A loving owner had tried to persuade the judge to order a custody arrangement between her and her ex for their three pooches. Not too surprisingly, the judge felt the dog had no more need of visitation rights than did, say, a butter knife.
Even though divorce law may not acknowledge animals, nearly every dog owner considers his or her fur baby to be part of the family. As a member of the family, it is naturally expected that a dog behave as such and enjoy good social interactions with the rest of the clan. That includes the old and the young, and even the newest members of the group.
Contents & Quick Navigation
Do Babies Need Special Introductions to Dogs?
Socializing a dog and a grown adult, or even a large child, is a fairly simple matter. So long as the dog has already been taught to be sociable, and the human attempts to do the same, there is seldom any real difficulty.
Yes, some folks aren’t “dog people” (I can hear you gasping!), but even a lack of interest in being friends with a dog won’t cause any trouble.
Babies, however, are a lot for a dog to contend with. From a sensory standpoint, they’re almost overwhelming. Don’t believe me? Let’s make a list of baby facts:
- They make loud, high-pitched noises at random intervals.
- They move almost spasmodically.
- They smell like food/powder/vomit/poop, often all at once.
They are, in fact, not entirely unlike a small dog themselves, minus all the fur. And since you wouldn’t just arbitrarily toss another dog into the household mix without prepping your current pooch, neither should you bring home a baby without taking precautions.
Be Sure Your Lab is Well Trained
Fortunately, babies don’t generally arrive without a lot of advance warning. You can take those months to work on obedience training, if you haven’t already. Useful commands for making your dog baby-safe include:
If your dog has not been trained to lie down in a crate, this might be the time to start. A crate can be a good place for your dog to relax and feel safe if things get too crazy. It may also occasionally be necessary to completely separate the dog from the baby, and the crate may be less isolating and upsetting to your dog than being locked in room.
Establishing New Rules and Routines
Life changes quickly when a baby comes along, and your dog will get caught up in the whirlwind just the same as everyone else. While not every eventuality can be planned for, there are some routines and regulations that can be put in place early.
Designate Space for the Baby
If you’re going to prepare a separate bedroom or nursery for the baby, do so as early as possible. Bring in any new furniture and set it up, and allow your Lab to check everything out. Make it clear to your dog what furniture is not to be sat on in the room.
If you have the space, it may be nice to keep a dog bed in the baby’s room. This will allow your Lab to rest comfortably with you as tend to the baby. Spending quiet time with you and your baby will help the entire group to bond.
On the other hand, you may wish to keep it a dog-free zone, in which case you’ll want to establish that boundary ASAP. A baby gate might be a better choice than a closed door if your dog is used to accessing this room.
Bonus tip: When you’re setting up the room, be sure and give thought to keeping items your dog may wish to sample out of reach. Baby toys, food, lotions and especially used diapers need to be kept well away from browsing Retrievers!
Alter Feeding Times
Babies are not always good at sticking to a routine, no matter how hard you try and explain it to them! Your dog, however, may be very accustomed to being fed on schedule, especially in a working household. After a baby arrives, however, routines often go out the window.
Though you can’t know in advance when your baby will want to eat, try altering your dog’s feeding schedule to accommodate whatever inconsistencies may come. For example, if your Lab normally gets its first meal of the day at 8 a.m., try varying that time by an hour or two in either direction. The hope is that by the time the baby comes home, the dog will understand that it will get fed, even if it’s not right on time, and hopefully won’t pester you for a meal when you’re either busy or taking a well-earned nap.
Pre-plan Activities for the Dog
Your dog might be accustomed to regular walks, or visits to the dog park, especially if there are currently no children in your home. Having a baby in the house may take away time (and energy!) normally reserved for doggie fun and exercise.
If you have the means, consider hiring a dog walker to take your pup out for regular exercise. Or, if you have a trustworthy and available friend or relative willing to do the same for free, even better! (From a cost analysis standpoint.)
A doggie daycare facility may be a good alternative to a dog park. The advantage of such places are that you can drop off your dog and come back later, allowing you to make use of the time; and that someone else is responsible for your dog, meaning that person does the cleaning up and chasing after, should the need arise.
Outside of the baby’s room, there may be places you won’t wish your dog to be, or behavior you’ll want curtailed before the baby is home.
For example, you may currently allow your Lab to share your bed. If you think you might need that space for the baby on occasion, you’ll want to teach your dog your bed is no longer his or her bed, too. Doing so before the baby comes home will establish the new rule before it becomes a problem.
You might also wish to teach your dog to stay off any furniture where you may sit with the baby in order to avoid an accident. Again, it is important to teach your dog to stay on the floor before the incredibly fascinating new creature arrives!
Taking Preparations the Extra Mile
If you have the time and energy, here are some extra preparatory steps you may consider to help ready your Lab for an impending baby.
Introduce New Items
Earlier in the article I discussed allowing your Lab to sniff and explore new furniture in the nursery. The same should be done for any baby equipment that will be used in other parts of the house. Examples include highchairs, playpens, basinets, and jolly jumpers or exer-saucers. Allowing your dog to get used to these new items before they have a baby in them should help to increase its comfort level.
Introduce New Smells
Babies are accompanied by a lot of interesting new smells. It may help to try and get your dog used to them in advance. (I don’t recommend trying to simulate used diapers, however!) You might try using baby bath products on yourself such as shampoo, soaps and lotions. Baby powder is also a common item you can try at home first.
Some people recommend bringing home something the baby was wearing in the hospital in advance of bringing the entire baby home. There’s nothing wrong with this idea, however it may be too close to the homecoming to have any useful effect. It has also been my experience that things from a hospital just smell like hospital, and not much like baby at all.
Introduce New Sounds
Yes, babies make a lot of noise of all sorts. Playing recordings of baby sounds occasionally may help your dog grow accustomed to cries, giggles, gurgles and other baby noises at the time, and volume, of your choosing.
Try to play the sounds fairly often, and offer treats and affection while they’re on. This will help to soothe your dog when the noises are on, and should create positive associations when the real thing is happening.
Bonus Marks: Using a Decoy
There are some canine behavior experts who recommend using a realistic baby doll as a test run for the actual baby. If you find one that moves, or makes noise, that’s even better.
If your Labrador sees you carrying around the fake baby, and observes how you interact with it, it will learn that these are normal behaviors and should be less curious about what’s in your arms down the road.
This is also a chance to see how your dog reacts to the mysterious bundle. Will it jump? Or growl? Or merely offer kisses? By learning all this in advance, you’ll be able to correct unwanted behaviors before they can become dangerous.
Bringing Home the Baby
So, the months of waiting have passed and now you’re ready to bring your baby home for good. Of course your dog has been well prepared for the homecoming, but there’s still no way to be sure what’s going to happen when you step through the front door.
The first thing to do is go about business as usual. Send everyone else into the house first to greet the dog. This gives it a chance to expend a little energy before the new arrival. Have someone from the lead group put a leash on the dog in order to have complete control over the situation. Maybe your Lab has never jumped up in its life (which I highly doubt), but you certainly don’t want now to be the first time.
Having a few treats at hand may also be helpful.
Whoever carries the baby into the house should try and be relaxed, but happy. Acting nervous, as any dog owner can tell you, is a sure sign to your dog that something is wrong and may provoke an unwanted reaction. Give treats and attention, and use the appropriate commands like ‘sit’ and ‘stay’.
All in all, keep the experience positive; do not scold the dog, even if it does something you’d rather it didn’t. You don’t want any negative associations with the baby.
Saying Hello for the First Time
Now the time has come for the first greeting between your two beloved critters. Find a quiet place for this initial meeting, somewhere calm and relaxing, and free of unnecessary people or sounds that may excite the dog.
Keep the dog on a leash, and be sure everyone present is calm and relaxed. Speak to your Lab in a loving manner. Keep initial interactions brief: allow a few curious sniffs of the feet, and then have your dog lie down. Give the dog treats and praise for a job well done!
Continue to have short meetings until the dog seems generally satisfied and accepting of the new member of the family. Of course he or she will remain curious and interested for a long time, which is perfectly fine, so long as the baby isn’t making the dog upset or nervous.
Daily Living With Your Babies
Once first contact has been made and everyone seems to be getting along, that’s it, right? Far from it! You’re all going to be living together for a long while, and it’s important to make sure everyone feels included.
Babies demand a lot of attention, and most of the time parents are eager to give it. It is important to not neglect your dog while you lavish time and love on your child.
Teaching your dog that having the baby around is fun is your best bet for a harmonious household. Ignore the temptation to only play with the dog when the baby is napping. Instead, interact and play with your dog while the baby is up and at ‘em. If the dog is getting treats and attention when the baby is present, your dog will quickly associate good times with the little one.
When it’s walk time, consider bringing the baby along, too. If you have a baby backpack or sling, strap it on and take the family for a stroll. The fresh air and exercise are good for everyone, and the bonding time will pay dividends later. Not to mention it will tire both the dog and the baby out, which should lead to some peace and quiet after getting home!
At feeding time (for the baby) you might want to invite your dog into the room to join in on the quiet time together. Bring in some treats or toys to keep your dog occupied on the floor while you feed the baby.
Quick Tips for Baby Safety
Here are a few safety considerations to keep in mind regarding baby/doggy encounters:
- A well-exercised dog is a calmer dog: expending energy outside may prevent over-exuberance inside.
- Keep the baby off the ground when the dog is near: it only takes a split second for a dog to accidentally harm a defenseless infant.
- Do not leave a baby alone within reach of a dog: a Labrador is a large, powerful animal, and even non-aggressive behavior can be dangerous.
- Do not bring the baby face to face with the dog: many dogs don’t like anything right in their face, and an ill-placed finger (in the eye, for example) may anger even the most gentle of pooches.
- Use only positive reinforcement with your dog to avoid any negative associations or resentment towards the baby.
A Few Words About Puppies
A well-socialized Labrador puppy wants nothing more than to play and be best friends with everyone. They are also fascinated by everything in their environment, especially things that smell interesting, move, and make noise. Babies tick all those boxes!
It may be difficult to keep a puppy away from a baby, especially if its training isn’t quite mastered. Nevertheless, it is very important to maintain a safe distance between puppy teeth and baby extremities.
Puppy teeth are sharp and pointy and can seriously hurt a baby, even with a tiny, exploratory nip. Of course a hurt baby is a very noisy baby, and this may upset the puppy and make it nervous. This is not a good beginning for a lifelong friendship!
Once babies begin to crawl and explore, it won’t be long before they get into dog toys and even dog beds. While a grown dog probably won’t mind the intrusion, a puppy might not be happy about this little creature invading its personal space. Warnings from the puppy will go unheeded by the baby (who doesn’t know any better) and a confrontation may ensue.
The safest thing to do is to establish separate play space for puppy and baby until they’re both old enough to interact more safely.
As a parent and a dog owner, I applaud the decision to enrich one’s life with both puppy love and baby love. With proper preparation, there’s no reason why everyone can’t live together in perfect harmony.
Enjoy these days of unwavering and unconditional affection. It’s a rewarding situation, and can be the foundation for years of wonderful family memories.
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