By Dr Kate Mornement Ph.D, BSc(Hons)
Having a baby is such an exciting time in the life of new parents and their families. Much
thought, time, preparation and money(!) goes into setting up the home for the new little
bundle of joy.
But sometimes, we fail to consider how a new baby will impact our dogs.
Indeed, preparing your pet dog for the arrival of your baby is strongly recommended to help
ensure bringing home baby is as smooth a transition as possible for new parents and their
Even before you discover you’re expecting there are things you can do to help prepare your
dog for life with a baby. Most expectant parents don’t start to think about these things until
they find out they’re pregnant, or after the birth, and this can be a mistake. Having a baby
brings with it significant changes to your routine and lifestyle and these impact your pets
too. Dogs are affected by these changes in different ways, sometimes mildly and sometimes
Past experiences, temperament, personality and the degree to which your dog’s life changes
after your baby arrives all influence how your dog will respond. For example, if your dog has
a tendency to be fearful and timid and has no previous experience or past negative
experiences associated with babies or young children they’re much more likely to show
these behaviours in response to the new arrival. Whereas if your dog is generally very calm
and relaxed and unphased by change and new things, you’ll probably find they adjust really
well to life with a newborn.
It’s also important to realise that recovering from the birth can take weeks, sometimes
months. Coupled with less sleep and the exhaustion that comes hand in hand with caring for
a newborn, finding the time and patience to deal with behaviour problems in your dog can
be challenging and stressful. Indeed, this is usually when I get a call from distraught parents
whose dog’s behaviour has severely deteriorated. But try not to stress! With a little
preparation and know how you can help reduce the likelihood you’ll encounter problems
with your dog once your baby comes home.
Preparing Your Dog
Preparation is key!
When it comes to ensuring life as new parents goes as smoothly as possible for you and
your dog, properly preparing for this event in the months prior is critical. Here are some of
the common things I recommend to clients:
- Brush up on your dog’s basic obedience. Behaviours such as sit, drop, on your bed and stay really come in handy when you’ve got a baby. However it’s important that your dog is compliant and actually performs the behaviours when asked. If not, then now is the time to practice with some positive reinforcement!
- Get your dog used to all things baby. This includes baby sounds (available on the internet and apps), you carrying a baby (i.e. doll wrapped in a blanket), new furniture and all the other paraphernalia. These things should be introduced gradually and paired with treats, meals and praise to build a positive association.
- Implement the routine you will have in place once baby arrives in the weeks and months before the birth. This will help your dog adjust to changes in their routine too.
- Once baby is born, it’s a good idea to bring home a piece of clothing or a blanket with the baby’s scent on it. Allow your dog to smell it and create a positive association with the scent by pairing it with praise, favourite treats and meals. Repeat as many times as possible.
- Ensure your home is set up with baby gates etc to help with management. Restricting your dog’s access to parts of the home, such as the nursery or bedroom, is a good idea in the first few months and should continue if needed.
Bringing Baby Home
The moment you bring home your new little bundle is both exciting and a little daunting.
Rather than placing a lot of pressure on the very first meeting between your dog and new
baby, take a gradual approach and introduce them slowly over several days.
The initial introductions should take place when everyone is relaxed, including baby.
A sleeping baby is less scary for a dog than a screaming one. Have your dog on lead or safely
restrained and mum sitting down holding baby. Slowly allow your dog to calmly approach to
sniff your bub for a few seconds and then call them away. Repeat several times. Use lots of
positive reinforcement (treats and praise) to reward good behaviour. Over the days and
weeks these sessions should get progressively longer so that your dog learns that spending
time near baby is a really positive thing and gets used to all their sounds and movements.
Always make sure your dog has their own quiet and cosy space to retreat to if they want to.
Living with a newborn can be hard for dogs as well as new parents and it’s important they
can get some down time, away from baby if needed. It’s also important to try to maintain a
routine with your dog because they like to know when important events, such as meal time
and walks, occur in their day.
Remember that as your baby grows and becomes more mobile, management becomes even
more important as does ensuring interactions between baby and dog are appropriate.
Toddlers should not be allowed to corner, approach dogs who are sleeping, resting or
eating, take food from dogs, pull their ears, fur or tail, climb on or hug dogs. All these
actions can lead to aggression and a bite, often to the face.
Finally, there’s nothing quite like having a professional who is experienced consulting
expectant and new families come in to provide tailored advice specific to your individual
circumstances. If you’re unsure in concerned about your dog’s behaviour, reach out to a
qualified and experienced professional who assists new and expectant parents.
Further information and resources:
We are Family – for Expectant Parents (The Victorian Government)
Tell Your Dog You’re Pregnant by Lewis Kirkham
By Dr Kate Mornement Ph.D, BSc(Hons)
Applied Animal Behaviourist and Consultant
Pets Behaving Badly – Solutions with Dr Kate