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Introducing your dog to your newborn.
Introducing your dog to your newborn.
If your dog has a pulse, then (s)he has a very wide spectrum of emotions.
Thus, it stands to reason that if your dog has emotions, there are plenty of
reasons to be nervous about an introduction and initial weeks of interaction
between your newborn and your dog. After all, this is the ultimate mix of
jealousy, liftesyle change, nervousness on your part, post partum
exhaustion, and so on.
Now, I'm no authority on this subject, but having just gone through it with
pretty good success across the board (the "board" being a trinity of
Ridgebacks with very different personalities), I'm happy to share what has
worked well for us. For what it's worth, here's how we made for a happy and
smooth transition from being without kids to bringing our first child into
The process starts *months* before the baby's birth. Here are some pre-birth
measures to consider :
Rather than bombard your dog with new baby stuff (furniture, contraptions,
lotions, clothes, swings, seats, strollers, etc.) when the baby comes home,
it's best to introduce the baby-related "stuff" to your dog before the baby
is born. "Trick" your dog into thinking that the stuff has nothing to do
with the baby. After all, how can he make the connection between the baby
and its stuff when the baby isn't in the picture yet? Take all the baby
stuff and just place it around the house. Especially in the high traffic
areas like living rooms, family rooms, kitchens, and so on. Let it just sit
there for a couple weeks.
Invite friends with infants to visit your house. Reward your dog with praise
and treats) when he shows *gentle* concern for the baby. Encourage him to
become "light-footed" and to hold back his exuberance if he's inclined to
throw himself around when he gets excited.
Buy a doll and talk to it so that dog understands that this universe allows
for the possibility that you might talk to and care for someone else, other
Use baby lotion on yourself to accustom the dog to the baby's smell.
If your dog is allowed up on the bed, you'll want to give some thought to
how this will work when baby comes home. If you have a large breed dog and
he's allowed on your bed, the baby (who presumably will be on the bed with
mom for nursing, etc.) is at some risk. Is now the time to wean the dog off
the bed (or, better yet, to learn the limited conditions under which being
on the bed is okay)? I'm not a bif proponent of taking dogs' "rights" away
from them, but this is one circumstance that may merit an exception.
Test the waters with other infants *in public* (and under controlled
conditions); reward gentle behavior with treats and praise. Do yourself and
your dog the favor of being selective, though. If you introduce your dogs to
toddlers whose coordination isn't keen yet, it could quickly tun into a slap
and pull fest in which the dog learns to dislike little people.
The day before the baby comes home, have the dog smell a hat / towel that
was on the baby (bring it home in a plastic ziploc bag). This will prepare
the dog for the baby's actual presence. Repeat the name of the baby over and
over in a soothing way as the dog takes in deep scents.
The big day :
On the big day, have mom walk in without baby (they'll miss her and possibly
be too excited for her to hold the baby safely). Dad comes in a couple
minutes later with the new family member.
The most crucial part : how you react to the mingling. If you behave in a
panicked way and push the dog away from the baby, there's the potential for
the dog making an immediate association that something is very much alive,
very much real, and too good for the dog to be involved with. Instead,
stroke the dog and coo gently with praise as the dog "checks in with" the
baby. Let the dog know that it has a job (i.e. to take care of the baby by
checking in frequently, showing concern and love). Doing otherwise could be
the beginning of big problems. No licking on the face, but the top of the
head and the rest of the body is fine.
The first few days of the newborn's life might seem like the least likely
time for you to take the dog down the street for a walk, but it is
super-important that you erase all possibility that the dog make the
association of the baby's arrival with a degree of compromised attention. It
might not be a long walk, but it *needs* to happen and it needs to be
genuine and intimate (as does your other interaction during the day). These
walks need to be consistent for the first several days. I realize that this
is the least convenient time in the world, but think of it this way : if you
don't pay now, you just might pay later. Trust me, it's worth it. It goes
without saying that this is a daddy job, not a mommy job.
In the long run, what you're looking for isn't unbridled love, exuberance,
and loads of unabated enthusiasm from the dog. This would be an unrealistic
expectation --- not to mention dangerous for the baby. Instead, you are
looking for anything within the spectrum of indifference and concern for the
baby's welfare. (The dog should be given the option of showing no particular
attachment. That can be developed later).
One last word on "quality time". It wasn't until 8 or 9 days after my baby's
birth that I realized an odd thing. Whereas before the birth, I would never
go by one of my dogs without making an intentional step in their direction
and being lovey-dovey with them (even if just for a few seconds), I caught
myself passing them as if they were invisible after the birth. I would step
over them to get where I was going, or just walk around them. As
insignificant as that may seem, I think it triggered a concern on their part
that I was still willing to walk them, be with them, etc., but that my
attention was no longer of a very high quality. Don't let this happen to you
and your dogs! Your dog needs your time, but he's smart enough to know where
your heart really lies. Think back on all the times when your dog has made
you feel more complete, more assured about life, etc. The least you can do
at this stage is to let the dog know that his quality of life will remain
high and constant. And if that isn't enough motivation to do the right
thing, go back and read http://www.hsyc.org/HowCouldYou.htm .
It's all a lot of work, but the harmony and love that your baby and dogs
will share makes the whole process pay for itself quickly.
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