Ask the Trainer | Bringing baby home |

Ask the Trainer | Bringing baby home


We are expecting our first child in September. Until now, our 3-year-old Lab, Max has been our baby. He goes everywhere with us, sleeps in our bed and is pretty much the center of attention. He is a really good dog, but has never been around kids much. Our friends are also just starting to have kids, so Maxand#8217;s whole life has been spent mostly with adults. What do we need to do to prepare him for the new addition to our family?

and#8212; Excited Parents-to-be

Dear Parents-to-be,

The absolute best time to introduce a dog to kids is during the first 4-5 months of the pupand#8217;s life. This is the critical socialization period when a young dog forms his view of the world; what is good or bad, safe or dangerous. Even if you never plan to have children yourself, a young pup should be exposed to them in a positive way just because children exist in the world. From a dogand#8217;s perspective, babies and children are strange, unpredictable and loud. They do things that in dog language are threatening like make direct eye contact, hug and hang on them, or take their toys.

In your case, Max is way past this socialization period which means you may have to work a little harder to prepare him for his new brother or sister. If he acts nervous or scared around kids now, your job will be harder and you will have to take the process slowly.

Select a very special treat like steak, hot dogs or chicken. Start working at enough of a distance that Max is aware of the baby or child, but not nervous. Feed him the treats only when he is paying attention to the child or the child appears. Stop as soon as the child leaves. You want him to think that children make the hot dogs happen. The goal is for him to look at you excitedly whenever he sees a child. Gradually move closer to the child, always feeding when they are in view, but closely watch Maxand#8217;s body language. If he looks scared or nervous do not proceed closer until he relaxes.

Routine is important to dogs, just like it is to most humans. Itand#8217;s important to begin to integrate changes to his routine that will come with the new baby way before he/she arrives. You donand#8217;t want him to associate upsetting changes or less attention with the new family member. Some ways you can start this process now are:

1. New room assignments: Is the nursery currently used for other purposes? Is Max used to sleeping in this room? If so, start to change his sleeping place now. Put his bed in another room and give him a stuffed Kong or tasty bone when heand#8217;s in the new location. Block off the nursery so he canand#8217;t go in there when you arenand#8217;t watching. Once the baby comes, it will be important to block that room with a baby gate so he canand#8217;t go in unless supervised. No dog should ever be left alone with an infant or small child.

2. Off limits rooms: If you plan to permanently limit access to some rooms, use baby gates or close those doors now.

3. Routines: Your daily routine (and I use the word very loosely) will change dramatically once the baby arrives. Every day will be different for you, but every attempt should be made to keep Maxand#8217;s routine as consistent as possible. He should still get daily exercise even if you have to hire a dog walker to help for the first few months. Integrate new people into his life now. Heand#8217;s a Lab so Iand#8217;m guessing he eats all his food quickly, but if not establish a feeding schedule to create structure for him and eliminate the possibility of a crawling infant competing with him for food down the road.

4. Polite greetings: All dogs should be taught not to jump on people, but this is extremely important with a new baby in the house. You donand#8217;t want him jumping on someone who is holding a fragile infant. Also, grandparents may want to visit more often and can be injured by a jumping dog.

5. Polite exits: Doors and stairways can also be dangerous and Max should be taught to wait before running out the door or down the stairs.

6. Safe harbors: Your baby will begin to crawl around 9 months of age. Give Max escape routes using baby gates so if he gets uncomfortable being chased he can remove himself from the action.

7. Basic training: Even if you went through a puppy class when he was little, this is a great time to enroll in a positive reinforcement based basic manners class. Learning will help Max and you build confidence and youand#8217;ll have much better control if he knows cues like and#8220;leave it,and#8221; and#8220;go to bed,and#8221; and#8220;down,and#8221; and and#8220;stay.and#8221;

Before bringing your new baby home, wrap him/her in a blanket at the hospital and then let Max smell it before he actually meets the baby. When you arrive home, have dad stay outside with the baby and let mom come in and greet Max. He wonand#8217;t have seen her for a couple days and will likely be excited. Once heand#8217;s calmed down, bring the baby in. Give him some tasty rewards and let him be part of the new family unit.

I wish you all the best.

and#8212; Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at

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