My wife and I know a young couple, I’ll call them “John” and “Marsha.” John called me up the other day, very excited to tell me that Marsha was pregnant. They were going to be first-time parents! Parents of a human baby, I mean. Their first child, Kody, is a three-year-old Siberian Husky. They’ve raised her from a puppy, and she’s still as fun-loving and frisky as ever.
“Congratulations, that’s great!” I said.
“Yeah,” he replied, “We’re totally stoked. But I’m really going to miss Kody.”
I was surprised. “Why? Did something happen to her?”
“No,” he sighed, “but Marsha’s worried that Kody might hurt the new baby. Plus she doesn’t want the baby exposed to all the germs.”
I can definitely understand Marsha’s fears – my wife and I had been in the same boat when we were expecting our first baby. We had tons of questions, scared to death that if we did something wrong, we would damage our new baby in some way. But it horrified me that they thought they had to get rid of their beloved dog.
Yes, it’s true that there are some illnesses (called zoonotic illnesses) that can be passed from pets to people and vice-versa, but the truth is, your kid is more likely to catch a sickness from exposure to people than from pets. And with the right kind of preparation, your dog will probably accept your family’s new addition.
How to introduce your dog to your new baby? For John, and anyone else in his shoes, here’s an important checklist, based on my experience and the research I did when we were getting ready for our first baby:
- Training is the most important thing. Work with a professional trainer. You’ll find the basic commands, like “heel,” “sit,” “down,” “stay” and “come,” valuable in everyday situations with your baby. Manners, such as not jumping or nipping, will be the key to a happy household.
- Make sure your pet is well socialized with other dogs and with children, too. If possible, introduce them to your friends’ babies.
- Desensitize your dog to the kind of touching a toddler is likely to do, including tugging at the dog’s ears and tail.
- Get your dog used to the sights, sounds and smells that will soon invade your home. Put a baby doll in the crib and pretend it’s the real thing. Apply any lotions or baby powder you’re planning to use and put a real diaper on the doll. Play a tape of a baby crying.
- If you’re planning on keeping the dog out of the baby’s room, get a mesh gate to close off the doorway – that way, your dog can still see what’s going on.
- As soon as possible after the new baby is born, bring a blanket home with the baby’s scent on it, and let your dog become familiar with the smell.
- When the new baby comes home, make sure to give your pet some attention and a treat to let them know you still love them and that they haven’t been replaced.
I just want John and Marsha to know that there is hope. In our case, after our dog got used to the idea of the new baby, he became very protective and loving, sometimes acting like the baby’s third parent. And once the baby started eating in a high chair, messily slopping much of his food onto the floor, the two became friends for life.