They say dogs are a (hu)man’s best friend, but there’s nothing quite like seeing your beloved fur baby and your real baby together. The bond they share is something that is like no other, and if it’s your first born then it really is like their first friend or sibling. Seeing my 15-month-old son Kai and our 2-year-old Groodle, Memphis, together still makes me teary on the daily – I’m not ashamed to admit it! Their friendship continues to grow in leaps and bounds and I can’t wait to see it evolve more (I also can’t wait until Kai can start picking up Memphy’s poo tbh).
While this picture is so sweet now, there were also lots of other things to think about/plan/do in the lead up to these two besties meeting for the first time.
I say from experience that the dog-baby balance can be really tough to manage, and your tolerance for misbehaviour when you’re sleep deprived and dealing with a screaming child can be very low. Chances are, your pup – no matter how well-trained, will act out when they realise they’re no longer top dog.
If you already had your dog before your children came along, there’s good news. They’re (hopefully) already toilet trained and behaved enough to sit and stay and follow (at least) basic commands. So that’s a relief. However, the problem can arise when your dog feels territorial and suddenly neglected, so even the most well-natured, well-trained dogs can feel threatened when a new baby comes home and is receiving all the attention they once did.
Here are some tips to consider before bringing your new human baby home to meet your fur one.
1. Does your dog have the run of the house?
Before the baby arrives decide if you are still happy for this to be the case – eg if the dog sleeps on your bed (ours does), this is something you might need to reevaluate (we didn’t.) Work towards changing these things including any routines before the baby comes, so that they don’t associate any of this change with the baby coming into the household.
2. Familiarise through scent
Before bringing your baby home from the hospital, bring an item of clothing he or she has worn home with you, to let your dog smell it and become accustomed to the smell. The RSPCA suggests letting your pet explore the baby’s sleeping and living areas, so that it becomes familiar with the new smells that it finds interesting. If they try to grab or drag any of the baby items, avoid entering into a tug of war game and simply take the item away. You can do this by swapping the item for a treat or one of your pet’s toys.
3. Never leave the two alone together
Whilst it might seem fairly common sense to do so, it can be tempting to quickly duck into another room while your baby is sleeping. Just as you wouldn’t leave your baby unattended in the bath, you should never leave a baby unattended with a dog – no matter how much you feel you can trust the dog. After all, dogs are still dogs and while, to us, they are our faithful, fluffy companions, they can still be unpredictable – especially if they are feeling stressed or threatened.
4. Make sure the dog still gets plenty of attention/exercise/stimulation
Easier said than done we know but it might be worth booking a walker or getting a friend or relative to come and walk the dog if you can’t. The RSPCA also suggests spending time pre-birth, teaching your dog to walk to nicely and obey your commands, especially when crossing the road. That way you will be able to take the dog with you when you go for a walk with the baby. If the dog pulls excessively, a head collar such as a Halti or Gentle Leader should reduce this tendency, but it needs to be fitted correctly.
5. Ensure you set and maintain strong boundaries with the dog
This way they know who is in charge. Dogs understand life in terms of a pack mentality, with mum and/or dad as the leaders, establish them as the bottom of the pack with training, and things like feeding them after the rest of the family, and having their dog bed on the floor not at the same height as you – seems simple but this is how they are programmed to understand the pecking order.
6. Toddlers can be particularly tough on dogs
As your little one grows and reaches toddlerhood, it can present with a whole new set of challenges. For example, they might whack them with a toy or pull them by their collar or its ears or tail because they don’t understand the concept of being gentle yet – this is something Memphis can definitely attest to. Now, some dogs might not like this and might snap back, so it’s a good idea to be particularly diligent with toddlers around dogs. Spend time teaching the toddler how to properly treat a dog (also a good lesson for when they meet other dogs) and make sure you reward the dog for not reacting to these things too.
7. Toddlers also like to get into everything, including the dog’s food bowl
Yes they may possibly even try some but it’s important to train your dog to not be aggressive around food or his bowl, so if little fingers try and get in there they won’t get bitten. While we’re on the subject, if your child is anything like mine – kids really like the water bowl too. So, unless you want to be constantly mopping up H20 (and apologising to a thirsty dog) I’d keep the bowl out of reach for the time being.
8. Create a space of retreat
Make sure your dog has a place of his own to get away from everyone, and when the dog does take itself away from the action, use it as a firm sign they don’t want to be disturbed and keep the children away. The Ambient Lounge Wild Animal Dog Bed is perfect for this. These super luxe, super comfy beds provide the ultimate retreat for pups who just need a bit of a break from being climbed on or having LEGO pelted at their nose. What’s even better is that these beds can be used indoors or outdoors so you can set up your dog’s safe space wherever suits you best. And, bonus, the dog is also 99% chew proof so your faithful friend can’t destroy it if they are feeling particularly vexed!
Here’s a pic of Memphis loving life on his very own Ambient Lounge Bed:
9. Is your dog exhibiting worrying behaviour?
If they are displaying bad behaviour at any time, spend the time teaching good manners and habits. They need to learn that in order to receive favourable attention from you they must display good behaviour. If you are having trouble training your dog or your dog is exhibiting worrying behaviour, it’s always a good idea to reach out to an expert such as a dog trainer or behavioural expert.
10. Introducing solids with a dog around
When your child starts on solids, you might suddenly find yourself fighting a constant battle of keeping the dog away from the baby food. Make sure you are careful with what the baby is throwing off their high chair – we all know chocolate can be dangerous for dogs but it is less widely known that sultanas and grapes (both common toddler snacks) are too. These can be fatal to some dogs or end up costing you hundreds of dollars in vet bills, so make sure you keep the dogs away when these are on the menu. But there is one good thing about having a dog around when the kids start solids – there is much less clean-up after meal times as they pick up all the leftovers off the floor!
Everyone’s experience with introducing real and fur babies to each other is going to be different and each person may find one specific part of the process more challenging than another. However, my personal experience has been that witnessing the bond between a dog and their human sibling develop is one of the most heartwarming and hilarious things I have ever witnessed. Not only that, but there is strong scientific evidence to suggest that kids who grow up with dogs have better immune systems – and this seems to be ringing true for us so far!
Even more than that, when I see Kai’s face light up every time he sees Memphis (or any dog for that matter) I feel like I am giving him a childhood full of happy memories, snuggles and, hopefully, setting him up for a lifetime of empathy (and picking up poo).