Are you expecting your first child or plan on adopting, but you’re worried about how your dog might react towards their new sibling? Or maybe you’re just hoping to be better prepared this time around. We talked to Dominika Knossalla-Pado, of IG account Dog Meets Baby, an expert certified dog trainer that specializes in working with dogs and children. She even has full online courses and resources to help families prepare their dogs for welcoming a newborn into the home called Dog Meets Baby.
“The truth is with the right preparation and introduction, the majority of dogs can thrive,” says Dominika. “It may not be the Instagram vision you thought, where the dog and the baby sleep together (which is not safe anyway, and I would not recommend), but they can coexist and have a good relationship – one that’s a true bonding experience where they respect and have fun with each other.”
Dominika knows firsthand how stressful the acclimation process can be because she’s experienced it in the worst way. When she brought home her newborn twins, her lab Lola, had an unexpected predatory reaction towards them. She was upset, and understandably confessed that it’s still something she doesn’t like to talk about, “But I realized that although I knew what to do because of my training, many people wouldn’t in that situation.”
From there Dog Meets Baby was born, to help educate expecting parents. We were lucky enough to have Dominika share some of her recommendations to make the transition safe and seamless for dog, baby, and you! She also offered some great suggestions for how to encourage your toddler to interact with your dog as they grow up. These helpful tips can allow your child to experience all the benefits of growing up with their furry companion and reduce your anxiety around their interactions together for years to come.
Prepare Dog Early
Step one, Dominika recommends is to start preparing your pup today, “Naturally, as humans we prepare for a baby, and we prepare our firstborn child for the second baby. So I think it's only right to prepare your dog,” she says. According to Dominika, it's much easier to prep your dog now, “Undoing things can be so much harder, especially if things go wrong because it's hard to trust your dog after a very scary experience with your newborn. And I know this because I’ve been there.”
Introduce Them to Baby Equipment & Baby Sounds
Maybe you have noticed when you have taken your dog to a friend's house or a new environment that they seem noticeably more on edge. According to Dominika, this is common, “Dogs can get nervous around new things due to a lack of proper socialization to a variety of sounds. Sometimes, it can be breed-specific, and they are already naturally suspicious of things that are strange and unpredictable,” she says. That’s why it’s a good idea to acclimate your dog to the new equipment and baby sounds that will be a part of their everyday new normal now.
Introduce them to Baby Equipment: Initially, use plenty of treats while they sniff around the baby crib, swing, and other equipment that your newborn will be spending their time in to get your dog used to these new objects. Dominika says you don’t necessarily want them to hang out by the equipment but the goal is to make sure they have a positive association with these new objects.
Introduce them to Baby Sounds: You might be surprised to learn that dogs aren’t necessarily alarmed by a baby’s cry. “They are much more triggered by other sounds like burping, grunting or squealing, any of the prey-like sounds,” says Dominika. So, get them used to these sounds by turning your phone to a low setting and playing baby noises while rewarding them with treats. If you can tell your dog is getting more comfortable, turn up the volume until it has reached the noise level you might expect from your newborn. You can check out the Dog Meets Baby website ‘Freebies’ section to find a library of baby sounds free for you to use.
Handle Problematic Behavior Before Due Date
Dominika recommends focusing on problematic behavior that you wouldn’t want to have around when the baby gets here. This even includes some of your own behaviors that you might think are helpful, but can make it harder for your dog to adjust to in the future.
Alone-Time Training: Giving your dog too much attention before the baby arrives might not strike you as a “bad” thing. In fact, in Dominika’s experience, most people will do this before the baby comes as a way to load their dog up on snuggles to supplement the attention that they won’t be getting as much when the baby comes home. But this can cause problems, says Dominika, “because the dog may bark or whine for attention. When the parent is busy with the baby and the dog is barking or whining for the attention they used to get all the time - it can be extremely stressful.” To be clear, Dominika is not saying you have to stop cuddling and loving on your pup, but rather practice alone time training for a few minutes a day or for 30-60 mins by getting your dog used to spending time in a crate, behind a gate, or in a different room. Be sure to give them rewards, and plenty of toys to play with like kongs, or puzzles to keep them mentally stimulated.
Prepare Sleeping Arrangements: Dominika recommends preparing your dog to sleep somewhere else if they currently snooze in your bed. Different countries and cultures practice different sleeping arrangements with babies. Despite your plan to have the baby sleep alone, you may find that ultimately the baby will sleep in bed with you. “When you are asleep, you aren’t supervising, and it is not safe to have a loose dog in the bedroom,” says Dominika. So, get them a comfy bed outside of your room, or make their crate ultra cozy. Be sure to reward them with lots of treats if you do crate your dog, so they know they’re not being punished.
Barking: Ah, yes if you have a noisy pup you might want to work on this. According to Dominika, “Barking is a normal dog behavior, but it becomes an issue not because the dog wakes up the baby, but because the parent is getting such a sensory overload.” So if barking is a trigger for you, or you feel like it will bother you even more when you have your little bundle of joy around, Dominika says it’s probably a good idea to address this behavior.
Jumping: If your dog jumps on you when you walk through the door to say hello, this behavior can pose a risk, especially when you're holding your newborn. This is a behavior Dominika definitely recommends taking care of now. She has some helpful Youtube videos on her site that you might want to check out to put a stop to a dog that jumps, once and for all.
Licking & Pawing: Some dogs simply love to give kisses, but it might be time for them to show their affection differently. “If your dog usually paws for attention or licks a lot, you might not want your dog to do this to your child,” says Dominika.“This is something that I recommend addressing or at least not rewarding.”
Basic Training: It’s time to go back to the basics and make sure that your dog has their training down. You’ll want your dog to get an A+ on basic commands such as, “Come”, “Sit”, “Down”, “Leave It”, and “Go to Bed”. It’ll make your life that much easier when trying to manage a fuller house.
Reach Out For Help: Now, Dominika realizes that these can be some easier behaviors to handle but for other more concerning behaviors you may need to enlist the help of a certified trainer.“If your dog has serious issues like resource guarding, stranger danger, is reactive or has separation anxiety these are some behaviors that I would recommend addressing before baby arrives,” says Dominika.
Create a Slow & Calm Introduction
When the time has finally arrived, what's the best way to introduce your baby to your dog? According to Dominika, it really depends on your situation. Here are a couple of things you will definitely want to do.
Dominika recommends introducing your dog to your baby in a neutral space while using a calm voice and body language. You might be tempted to use the same voice you do when you're playing or rewarding your dog to try to create a positive association, but it can send mixed signals. Like, you just brought them home a new toy and it’s play-time, the exact opposite of what you're trying to communicate. You’ll want to always monitor the dog and never leave the baby and dog in the same room alone. It’s vital to know your dog and their body language – if they are visibly nervous and uncomfortable, don’t force them to be in the same room. Instead, praise them for taking the space they need as they adjust to the baby’s presence. According to Dominika, “You don’t need to bring a baby blanket from the hospital for your dog to smell (it’s a myth!), but having a step-by-step plan for the introduction will give you confidence, peace of mind, and set your dog up for success.”
When Baby is on the Move:
When your baby starts to crawl it can be a little more difficult to manage interactions between them and your dog. It can also be scary for your dog to have a little human with big eyes crawling toward them. Here’s what Dominika says you should do.
Separate Baby & Dog: The best solution Dominkia recommends is a baby gate where your dog can watch and get used to their new mobile sibling. This is also where that separation training comes in handy so your dog knows that they aren’t being separated as a way of punishing them. Again, don’t forget to give your dog their favorite chew toy and things to do while they are separated from you and your child. Always ensure your dog has a safe space to separate themselves from the dog. Reward your dog when they move away from the baby to show that they need their space. Repeat to the baby or child that the dog needs their space right now, and we need to respect that.
How to Help Toddlers Interact with Dogs:
Building a positive relationship between your child and dog is an ongoing process that requires mutual respect. So, you’ll want to start communicating what this looks like to your toddler. Here are some tips for encouraging your toddler to have good interactions with your dog.
Modeling: When it comes to teaching your toddler what to do and what not to do around your dog, Dominika believes it relies heavily on your own interactions with your dog. “The best way to communicate is through modeling. What you say matters, but what you show matters more,” says Dominika. “This means no kissing or hugging your dog when the baby is present. No approaching a sleeping or resting dog, especially on their dog bed. And no putting your face in your dog’s face.” Many times a dog will allow their adult owner to snuggle up on them like that, but absolutely do not want a baby or child to do the same. Dogs know that children can be unpredictable in their behaviors.
It is very important to teach kids that not every dog is like their dog, and many dogs do not want to be pet. When meeting another dog, every child needs to know that they must ask the dog’s owner if the dog would like to be pet. It is imperative that we teach our children to never approach an unfamiliar dog, whether they’re on a walk, at the park, or at a brewery.
Teaching Kids Responsibility: “There are many social and emotional benefits to giving your kid responsibility for their dog, and teaches them to be more responsible in general,” says Dominika. You can be creative here like teaching them how to pour their food or clean their dishes. As they start to get older, including your child in training your dog can be super rewarding for them both. Dominika just welcomed a new puppy to their family and has started to let her 6-year-old twins help out, “I'm not kidding, my daughter just spent the last hour training her, and she's good at it! She practices one behavior for a really long time but she keeps it fun and rewards our puppy with play breaks. I can definitely tell how much the dog enjoys training with her; it really builds a strong bond between them.”
Looking For More Resources?
If you're looking for additional resources or a full preparation list, check out Dog Meets Baby website or their YouTube channel and Instagram. But before you head over there, here is a quick encouraging story from Dominika. Having worked with several families that were really concerned about how their dog would react, she will still hop on her email and see something that puts a big smile on her face, “There is the dog and the baby in a safe way, with the parent holding the baby and the dog next to them. And they are all in the same room or on the same couch and the dog is relaxed, and they’re just like one big happy family. I just want you to know that you can have that too!”
Thank you, Dominika for taking the time to share your experience and expertise with the Wilderdog family. If you're expecting or plan on adopting we hope this blog is helpful and most importantly we want to congratulate you on this exciting time! Learn more about peaceful coexistence between babies and dogs by following Dog Meets Baby on Instagram, YouTube, and reading more at dogmeetsbaby.expert!