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When you're adding a new baby to the family, one of the most important things you can do is set your dog and baby up for success before you even bring the baby home from the hospital!
Working with a force-free certified professional dog trainer is always a good idea to best understand your dog's behavior and prepare him/her for baby's arrival, but training your dog to go to bed before the new baby arrives is one of the most beneficial behaviors you can teach your dog yourself.
Training your dog to go to a "station" (or go to bed, go to place, go to mat, etc) is a powerful multi-function skill that can help with tons of problem behaviors before a new family member enters the home. Acclimating dogs to a baby takes time so let your dog adjust, just as you are adjusting to being new parents!
Here are five situations where teaching your dog to go to bed/place/mat before your baby's arrival can make the first few months with your new baby more enjoyable:
Situation 1: Feeding the baby
Let's face it - you're going to be feeding your baby a lot! When you think about what you want your dogs to do while you're feeding, relaxing on his/her mat or station is a great choice. Practice training your dog to be calm and relaxed in their specific space without needing to get into the baby's space, ideally before the baby is even there! Cueing your dog to lay on his/her bed while you feed the baby will keep your dog out of the dog-in-danger zone, but still within sight and feeling a part of the family.
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Further down the road when baby begins to explore eating solids, food will most likely be flying, so it's best if your dog knows how to be stationed at a distance with distractions. This will help prevent any food stealing or finger nibbling when the baby is in his or her highchair. Of course, you'll want to always monitor your pup and child together, especially when feeding time is over.
If you haven't yet, go through my six part guide on how to teach your dog to go to bed/mat/place. If you and your dog already have this cue mastered, practice in the environments where you'll be feeding the baby, acting as you would during feeding time. We want your dog to be relaxed on his/her bed or mat during all types of feeding possibilities before you bring baby home.
Situation 2: Bouncing/carrying/soothing baby
Babies fuss and babies cry! Your new routine may include a lot more strange pacing, bouncing, and moving about that your dog is not used to. Some dogs may be sensitive to the noises babies make and to the movements you're making with the child. Instead of letting your dog get underfoot or stressed with all of these new baby moves, sending your dog to lie in his or her spot is a great alternative. Just like people, dogs also appreciate safe and secure locations where they can go when things get too overwhelming.
Go back through my six part guide on how to teach your dog to go to bed/mat/place, especially focusing on the guide on distractions. If you and your dog already have this cue mastered, practice creating distractions like the movements and sounds you'll be making when you're carrying the baby around a room and your house.
We want your dog to be relaxed on his/her bed while you pace around the room or bounce the baby to sleep so start this training early to give your dog enough time to gradually acclimate before you bring baby home.
Situation 3: Diaper changes
Hey, what's that smell? Dog's noses are incredibly sensitive, and unfortunately for us, they tend to find the yucky stuff most interesting. Nothing like a baby's scent of a fresh dirty diaper! Using stationing can help your dog adjust to understanding that even though the smell may be tempting, diapers from this new family member are off limits. A better option than sniffing a fresh diaper is for your dog to watch from afar as he/she relaxes on their mat.
Go back through my six part guide on how to teach your dog to go to bed/mat/place, this time focusing on the guide on distance. After that, I'm going to let you get creative for this exercise on how to create a diaper change before the baby arrives! If your dog is already familiar with the "go to bed" cue, start to get him/her comfortable going to bed/mat when you're at the changing table. And I'll let you take it from there how you practice this real life scenario with your dog before the baby!
Situation 4: Tummy time
As the Family Paws saying goes, "Dog and baby on the scene, parent in between!" As baby begins to develop new muscles, hanging out on the floor is going to be important. For many dogs this can signal "playtime" which is not a safe association when a newborn is involved. Having a good reinforcement history for hanging out on their mat is a great way to facilitate inclusive family time without worries about those clumsy paws landing on your child.
Go back through my six part guide on how to teach your dog to go to bed/mat/place, this time focusing again on the guide on distractions. If your dog already has a reliable go to bed cue, get on the floor and get weird! Try to move around like babies do making it as close to a real world example for your dog as possible without the actual child. Your dog should be happily relaxed on his/her bed or mat with lots of treat reinforcement coming from you.
Situation 5: Guests visiting baby
As parents to a super cute new baby, you're going to have adults and kids of all ages wanting to visit you. Your dogs may be confused about why all the attention is on this new small friend instead of on them! When your family is trying to bond with the baby, having a wet nose urgently making its way into their lap is not a safe or comfortable experience. Instead, having the ability to cue your dog to go hang out on their bed with a chew is a better option that allows for inclusion without intrusion.
Once your dog has a reliable go to bed cue with distractions, invite a friend over to practice with you and your dog. Slowly increase in difficulty (ie different guests visiting and other human distractions) as your dog is comfortable.
Remember, bringing a new baby home is a lot to process for everyone involved! New sounds, new smells, new motions and a new schedule - it's a whole new world for you and your pets! Do as much prep work as possible while you're expecting to set both dog and baby up for success in the long run. It's never too early to get get professional help. The goal is to have dogs and babies thriving successfully at home together with their parents.
Next up in the Manners Channel on Dogly
You've now successfully completed all six guides to teach your dog to enjoy being on his/her bed or mat. Congrats! You now have a dog who will be happily relaxed in a safe and comfortable place while you have guests over, enjoy dinner, or change the baby. If you missed any of the "go to bed/mat" guides, you can start from the beginning of the training here.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the Community discussion in the Manners Channel or get started training in Leash Manners, Food Manners, Holiday Manners, or even Travel Manners.