The first thing I say to all young couples and even singles in the 20's who ask me advice on getting a puppy is think long and hard about what dog is appropriate for where you are going to be in 10 years time and if this involves children then you need to socialize the dogs to small humans when it is a puppy and keep socialising your dog in a positive way through out its life and importantly choose a breed that will fit with your future plans and lifestyle.
It is important to keep your dog in mind when preparing for you new family member ensuring your dogs training is up do date is essential. He needs to have a very strong 'leave it', 'stay', 'outside', 'drop', 'come', 'give', 'down' as well a great loose lead walk so that you can focus on your newborn whilst out and about, a good 'fetch' and 'retrieve' so you and give him his exercise whilst unable to give him his long on lead walk or run. As most families have about 7 months to prepare for a baby's home coming this is plenty of time to get your dogs behaviours down pat.
Dogs are very perceptive to changes in their environment and can often seem to act up when there are major or even minor changes in the household,so it is essential to ensure each change is associated with something good. So when you change the colour scheme and begin to fit out the baby's room take a handful of your dogs favourite tidbits and reward you dog for doing behaviours around the room and the new items. Ensure your dog has his own toys and that he has a good 'leave it' if he attempts to touch any of the articles or toys in baby's room. Its great to train your dog to enjoy kongs, smear the inside with honey which is tasty and a great antibacterial, fill them with wet kibble (that is your dog pellets soaked over night) and close off the ends with peanut butter. Also he must have a good 'outside' command of all rooms especially the babies room.
Whilst it is important to physically have barriers to ensure your dog can not have access to your baby when unsupervised it is just as important to have back up training in case some how your dogs gains access. Its best to use reward tidbits for when he performs and outside so he will want to do it and associate it with a positive action and result rather than feeling as if there is something wrong around or in the baby's room, some dogs are known to act aggressively to things that they are punished for being around as they may think it is the baby that leads to the punishment so they can attack it in order to avoid the assumed punishment...so always keep it positive.
The key to having your dog accept your baby is to always make each change associated with good things so praise and reward with tidbits when new items arrive. Also start to ignore your dog and train him to 'go to place' that is so when you are focused on your baby he dosen't get in your way or get 'jealous' which is him being demanding of your attention like what he had when he was you only 'baby'.
'Going to place' is a command which gets your dog to a set position in the house and stay there(a mat to lie on helps), this helps to free you up to do what's needed around the house and also train your dog not to be around you all the time, so he learns its OK to be away from you and not to associate the baby with the loss of your attention.
Before baby and dog are introduced it is best to bring an Item that has been close to the baby home for the dog to get used to and give positive reinforcement around, so a blanket or first outfit is good and hand feed whilst the dog sniffs the new scent. This allows the dog his first introduction to baby and your ability to see how your dog reacts, well before allowing your dog access to your baby. This will ensure his eagerness that something good will happen when he finally meets baby.
It is best to associate baby with good things and not to rouse on the dog when close to baby as the dog must learn that, she is a good thing and not to fear in any way. But to be cool calm and confident around and to follow your commands when baby is being noisy or giving off new smells.
Babies are often grubby little creatures spilling food and milk, vomiting and making all sorts of noises. So having your dogs 'leave it' is going to help keep you baby safe from a hungry dog who has learnt to leave any food thrown on the floor or spilt all over baby. So once you have 'go to place' and 'leave it' entrenched you can start setting up for your dog to run to his mat when baby is eating and not be around during this sensitive time.
As your baby grows she will no doubt start to want to interact with your dog, this must always be supervised and the dog rewarded for good behaviours, ensure your dog is fine to be pulled and prodded before exposing him to baby, do this with reinforcement as you slowly touch your dog and get a rougher each time going at a pace your dog is comfortable. If your dog exhibits any behaviour you do not like stop and walk away. Over time your dog will learn to stay calm and enjoy the attention of being pulled and prodded so as not to be afraid of baby's attention.
Sometimes dogs just want to be free of children's attention and also for safety it is important to teach your dog to 'crate' that is to go into his crate when requested and also to go there when he wants to sleep or take a break when unsure of what is happening. A new baby also means many new visitors wanting to meet the new family member so having a save 'den' to go to is in the best interest of your dog. Crate training also helps to transport your dog as often is the case with a baby that car trips become more common visiting friends and family. A dog in a crate is much safer and more convenient to transport than one free ranging near baby.
It is important also to teach baby how to pat and interact with your dog, it is a two way street and if your dog wants time out by heading to his crate your baby needs to learn to leave him alone. As your child grows always regard any strange dog as a threat and teach your child bite safety techniques which start with never approaching or looking at a dog without permission from the owner and also to learn to read a dogs signals and body language. If your child ever gets nervous teach him not to wave her hands or run but to stand like a tree and be as boring as possible for the dog, throwing any food item far away as soon as possible.
In over view:
- remember to keep your dog involved in all changes
- make all changes positive, so reward your dog around the new things
- ensure your dog has all his basic training down pat
- ensure your dog has his own toys and learns to 'leave it' when around baby's toys
- set up situations so your dog is not shocked or confused by the new arrival
- ensure your dog 'goes to place' or crate when nervous or needs a break.
- teach your child good dog meeting manners and how to interact with yours and other dogs