How many times have you heard to bring home an article of clothing that smells like the baby and give it to the dog? Probably more times than you can count. When I was at the hospital giving birth to my first child, I had a nurse wrap up my newborns hat and rag and tell me to bring it home and give it to the dogs. I politely agreed even though that was not what I was going to do. Having been training dogs for close to 10 years now, I had my own idea of how the introduction was going to go. There wasn’t going to be one; at least not for now and probably not how one would expect.
I have 4 dogs: Marco, a 12-year-old Dutch Shepherd; Bronx, a 10-year-old English Bulldog; Tyson, a 9-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier (better known as a Pit Bull); and Kai, a 2.5-year-old Belgian Malinois. Marco is a retired military working dog with numerous combat deployments. We adopted him about a year ago after he was finally retired from his amazing 10-year military career. I have owned Bronx and Tyson since they were 8 weeks old. They have always been around other dogs, people, children, babies, etc. Their socialization has never stopped. And for the past 10-years they have been “my babies” that have always had all of my attention. I also got Kai when he was also 8-weeks old. He started bite work training when he was 10-weeks old and then training for French Ring when he was about 5-months old. Kai is very social, playful, and energetic; which he can sometimes get carried away with.
The reason I tell you this is because every dog has a history and each one of my dogs has had a different training upbringing experience even though the training fundamentals have been the same. These are the things I took into account (amongst others) when it was time to bring home our baby. All four of our dogs have always been great with adults and kids, but this was the first time in their lives that they would actually be living with a baby 24/7. I didn’t know how the dogs were going to respond to the high-pitch baby screams. Or how they were going to react to this fragile little person cradled in our arms. So, it was going to be an adjustment for EVERYONE – dogs included. And I was going to be extra cautious about everything because I would rather play it safe and have no issues than to be completely unconcerned and have something go horribly wrong.
When we walked into the house there was lots of excitement, the dogs were thrilled to see us. We had been gone from Saturday morning until Tuesday afternoon. Bronx and Tyson were the only ones who could greet us at the door, Marco and Kai are kenneled. Naturally, they were all very curious about what was in the carrier. So immediately upon closing the door, our new normal had started. Bronx and Tyson were told to go lay down and they did just that. As expected, all of the dog’s noses were up in the air sniffing trying to figure out what this new thing was. Them using their noses was fine with me, they could smell the baby across the room without being next to him. Dog’s are Olympic sniffers, they possess about 300 million olfactory receptors compared to our 6 million. Making their noses about 40 times greater than ours.
How many times have you seen people bring the baby to the dog and literally hold the baby out for the dog to get right in the baby’s face to smell? At a human level, you have the best intentions, you want to capture those adorable pictures of your dog snuggled up with the baby. You want your dog to love this new little person as much as you do, but from a dog’s perspective you can be sending some mixed messages; after all the baby was just presented to him/her. So for our family, there wasn’t going to be an introduction, no big show, and I certainly was not going to present my baby to the dogs. The baby is not for their approval. My process was not about the baby meeting the dogs, it was about teaching the dog’s to respect the baby; which included his space, his sounds, the new boundaries, and the new rules. And I knew when the time was right, the dogs would let me know when they (as individuals) were ready to be near the baby. For the first 2 weeks, none of the dogs were allowed near the baby. I felt that it was too soon and that they were still too interested. When I say ‘too interested‘ I mean they still had a lot of excitement about the baby and I could tell from their body language that they were eager for the opportunity to get closer to him. Being that this was a complete lifestyle change for all of them; I knew that it would take time for them to become desensitized to our new addition. So that is what I gave them: time.
Bronx was the first one to move into the ‘I’m no longer interested‘ stage. BINGO. That’s what I had been waiting for (I wasn’t surprised, he has always had that Honey Badger – I don’t give a shit attitude). So I allowed him back on the couch; he hopped up and put his head on the armrest (opposite side of the couch as the baby) and started snoozing away. He left space between himself and the baby, didn’t react to cries, screams, or little baby whimpers, and wasn’t obnoxious about getting near the baby. In fact, he didn’t even pay attention to the baby. He was no longer eager to meet baby Andrew; instead he was his usual lazy self. There are double standards when it comes to dogs, and I do not feel bad about it – not for a second. Some dogs are not mature enough to have the same freedoms as other dogs in the household. I would never give a young puppy the same freedoms in my house as a 7-year old dog that has shown me he has earned them. It’s no different with my dogs, Bronx was allowed near the baby around week 2 because he was ready and the others were not. Tyson was about week 3 before he showed me the uninterested signs I wanted to see. And don’t get me wrong, I still absolutely love my dogs, but it is my job as a mother and a responsible dog owner to do just that: be responsible. It is my job to keep my child safe and my dog’s safe.
Instead of rushing the process and forcing immediate acceptance with an unknown outcome; I chose to slowly acclimate them. After all, there’s no rush, no deadline to meet so I chose to set my dog’s up for success, not failure. By limiting their immediate access to the baby, I was helping them make better choices and setting the tone for the baby that I wanted them to follow. When they were no longer interested in the baby – then they got to be near the baby. I’m sure not all dogs need this process, but why not play it safe? Who’s to say that a high-pitch scream or cry won’t trigger a prey driven response in a dog? Or a baby toy that lets out a shriek? It’s our job to teach our dogs the household’s new normal. And even when they are allowed near the baby – they are never left alone or unsupervised. Teaching respect is a two way street in my opinion. And just like how I am teaching the dog’s to respect the baby’s space, I most certainly will teach our baby to respect the dog’s space. No child needs to be sitting on the dog’s back or in their face. I get it, yes, I’ve seen cute pictures too, but I’ve also seen the kid with 30 stitches in their head from just that: climbing on the dog, getting in the dog’s face, running up to a strange dog, etc. Those photos are not worth it to me.
Bringing home a newborn and getting your dogs comfortable with him/her is not a quick, overnight event. My dogs are individuals with their own unique personality and traits. Marco is just now being allowed more freedom in the house when the baby is awake. Kai has yet to get that. He has a lot more energy than the others and wants to run around inside (not safe with a newborn in his boppy). Since the baby has been home and Kai’s freedom limited, he gets even more exercise to help with the physical and mental stimulation he needs. I’ll continue to work with him until he’s ready. It may be a few more weeks, month, or year. Either way, we’ll get there, and I’ll guide him along the way.
We are an impatient society that puts time constraints on everything from drive-through times to oil changes. Remember there is no rush; dogs have no concept of time the way we do (unless it’s dinner time). Having a baby and owning dogs are both lifelong commitments to me. So be patient this is a marathon – not a sprint.
And I’m sure there are tons of ways how to properly introduce dogs to babies. This was just my experience as a new mom, dog trainer, and dog owner. For more dog training information, tips, and articles call us to discuss your dog.