How to Introduce Dogs to a New Baby
with Tressa Fessenden-McKenzie of PathandPaw, Training Advocate

5 Keys for a happy, safe homecoming for your dog when your new baby arrives!

Is a new baby joining your family soon? How should you plan for your dog to meet this intriguing new family member?

Those of you who know me already know that in addition to being certified as a professional dog trainer and Family Paws Educator (kids and dogs specialists), I also have a baby boy Wiley. And we happen to have two rescue dogs.

With that opportunity to truly live my training, I wanted to share with you, stage by stage, how to set yourself up for success in life with your dog and new baby. So you can be confident, safe, and happy every step of the way!

Your dog's first introduction when your baby arrives

Here are 5 key steps for a calm, comfortable, safe first meeting and a good ongoing foundation between your dog and new baby:

1) Have a plan well in advance for when and how you will introduce your dog to your new baby

Long before you bring your baby home, you'll want to have a plan for everything about that first meeting with your dog. Everyone involved, every single family member and and non-family supporting cast members (even your trusted dog walker, for example, if involved) should know what you're doing in what sequence and who is doing what when introducing your dog to the new member of the family.

Who will be watching your dog and where during the baby's birth

You'll want to have someone set up to stay with your dog while you're at the hospital; or in our case, since our baby was born at home, someone your pup can stay with while the delivery hubbub is going on and until everyone is settled and rested after.

Preferably, that someone is not only trusted but familiar, and also flexible since delivery time isn't totally predictable (nor was the recovery period for us). There's enough newness with this major life change now, so you want this time to be as normal, predictable, and comfortable for your dog as possible.

How we managed our dogs during the baby's birth:

As planned, my stepdad came over and picked up my dogs before things intensified, as I felt the delivery experience would be too stressful for them.

Although I intended to have our dogs return within a day or two, delivery of a 9 lb 8 oz (!) baby took quite a toll on me, so they stayed a few extra days at Grandma & Granddad's house. It was a huge relief having the dogs stay somewhere where they are familiar and comfortable while I took some time to heal and begin adjusting to mothering a tiny person.

2) Get plenty of exercise for your dog before meeting the baby

During your time away at the hospital or your dog's time away if your pup is staying elsewhere, be sure there's the usual, regular exercise for a healthy workout of your dog's stress and energy.

The day of your dog's first meeting of the baby and right before arrival, exercise is especially important. You want your dog to get rid of excess energy and be at a nice, even keel emotionally before introducing your dog to the baby.

How we exercised our dogs before meeting the baby:

When my mom brought the dogs back, we followed a plan to make the first steps of co-existence as mellow and relaxed as possible. I also asked her to film these first moments. You can watch how it went in the accompanying video below -- this is me being raw and real with you all in the hopes that seeing our homecoming (puffy face, tousled hair and all) will help you create a plan for your dogs when meeting your baby!

When our dogs arrived, my husband went out to greet them, and let them out for a potty break and to run around the yard to get a little bit of their zoomies out. He knew it was important to spend time asking our dogs for basic behaviors to give them mental exercise and focus to get settled before meeting the baby.

3) Know where you and everyone will be when you introduce your dog to the baby

As you start preparing your plan for how you'll introduce your dog to the new baby, consider including these steps in your sequence:

  • After your designated person has exercised your pup outside, your dog comes in and settles in a comfy spot inside. Meanwhile, you have taken your baby into the house to hang out in your bedroom or other separate quiet room until your dog is settled back inside.
  • Greet your dog without your baby first to get through the excitement of seeing you. Treat generously to keep your pup calm with paws on the ground, get used to the new smells on you, and get settled.
  • While you're greeting your dog sans baby, you'll have someone else designated to watch the baby in the baby's room or another room.
  • Have someone stay with your dog and reward with plenty of treats for lying down on his/her mat or dog bed as you go to get your baby. If this is a skill your dog doesn't already own, it's a great idea to take time long before your baby arrives to teach your dog to "go to mat" and relax with a chew toy or a nap. You'll find it endlessly useful in a million ways after your baby arrives and really anytime. You can find my step-by-step series on teaching "go to mat" here in the Manners Channel on Dogly.
  • Once your dog is calmly situated, you can return and this time with your baby in your arms. Keeping everything low-key, get situated in a comfy chair with your baby.
  • Then your dog can be released from the mat or bed to walk over to you if he or she chooses to check you out and sniff out the new baby's scent.

How we introduced our dogs to the baby:

The plan for introducing our dogs to the baby was as follows: I stayed in the bedroom with Wiley when the dogs first came in. My husband went out to greet them, and let them out and got them exercised, de-stressed, and calm. Then my mom came into the bedroom to hang out with Wiley so I could go and greet the pups.

We kept the treats flowing to make sure the dogs greeted me with all their paws on the ground in spite of the excitement. The dogs were VERY interested in my new smells and took a long time to assess all the new odors on my body.

Once our greeting was over, and everyone was a little more settled, Evan had the dogs each go lie on their mats (a behavior they have a strong reinforcement history for, see "go to mat" above) as I walked out with Wiley in my arms.

4) Invite your dog to come to you and the baby

One of the bedrock principles of Family Paws education is expressed in a simple rhyme so we all remember it: invites decrease bites.

That means always give your dog choice, let your pup consent to meeting your baby now -- or not. That applies to all kinds of situations whether it's someone rushing up to you with their dog so their dog can "meet" your dog or a person who reaches into your dog's space to pet your dog.

Many of the bite incidents that happen are simply a reaction to some interaction being forced on a dog. We all want to consent to who we interact with and how, why wouldn't our dogs?!

Many people are concerned with the dog and baby "meeting" and will lower the baby towards the dog or otherwise put the baby into the dog's space. Remember, invites decrease bites, and let your dog come to you and engage on his or her terms!

How we invited our dogs to meet the baby:

Once the baby and I were settled in our comfy chair, each dog was released one by one to come over and sniff the baby's scent if they so desired. Of course, we kept in mind invites decrease bites -- so it was truly the dogs' choice if they wanted to approach or not.

Ultimately, they both walked over, gave a very perfunctory, natural dog sniff, and then re-oriented to Evan (and his delicious treats). For me, a casual sniff and a walk away was just fine. Once the camera was put away, and the dogs were released to do as they pleased, they did each come back for a slightly more thorough sniff of the new baby in my arms.

5) Always remember: dog and baby on the scene, parent is in between!

Another saying from Family Paws we always keep top of mind is: dog and baby on the scene, parent is in between. Like many of the Family Paws principles, this not only applies to your meeting right after your baby's arrival. It's a constant, ongoing guideline that all parents, key caregivers should be aware of and commit to with dogs and babies.

That means whenever your dog and baby are in the same room or same space, a parent is physically between them so you're positioned to be a physical barrier and able to make any needed safety move in an instant. No need to be tense or stiff about it -- you want everyone to be comfortable, but it's an important, valuable safeguard.

Additionally, equipment like a baby gate can be helpful as you set up your home in various spaces for extra safeguards. If you haven't already, check out my guide to Setting up Your Space here in the Kids and Dogs Channel.

Be ready for how your dog will react to new sounds, new routines, and a new schedule

Awareness of where everyone is at all times sets you up to manage any different reactions from your dog to different situations. A sleeping baby, of course, is very different from a baby making noise. I kept some treats near my glider so that when Wiley began stirring, we could toss some treats for a little basic counter-conditioning to our dogs.

Many dogs are simply curious about the mysterious baby sounds, while for some dogs crying or high-pitched squeals can make them anxious and worried about what this squealing critter is.

For our dogs, when the baby sounds happened, each dog's behavior was exactly as I expected based on their personalities. Muchacho, my more fearful guy, was disconcerted and decided to go into the other room to get some space from the new being. Koa on the other hand was very interested and watched with great interest as I fed and burped the baby, tagging along to watch as his diaper was changed.

Where we were after a couple days of settling in with the dogs and new baby

Now, the dogs had been home for two days. Muchacho was still not totally sure about Wiley, and we respected his need for space. As the days passed, he got a little more confident about being in the same space as the baby or approaching occasionally for a sniff -- always on his own terms. Koa is still very interested and likes to "check on" the baby when he fusses, but I'm happy to report that she hasn't been obsessive, and is easily redirected away when needed.

The overarching goal of our homecoming plans and effort was to make the baby no big deal for our dogs (you can hear me saying that to my husband in the background on the video). With all that in mind, here's to making your homecoming and ongoing life with your dog and baby happy and safe!

Next up in the Kids and Dogs Channel on Dogly!

Now that you have your plans and skills ready for your homecoming, you have a great foundation for what comes next in your baby's growth. Check out the next guide for more on how you can set everyone up for calm, happy kids and dogs life in more and more situations.

If you have any questions on how to manage life with kids and dogs or other questions about your growing family life with your dog, just ask us in our Community Discussion.

Continue in our Kids and Dogs Channel where you'll learn everything you need to know for your dog from our community of Dogly Training Advocates.

If you need more personalized dog training guidance, get started in your dog's training plan here.

Tressa Fessenden-McKenzie of PathandPaw

Training Advocate
Dogly loves Tressa because she sees training as a journey to better canine communication.

Tressa guides you

Anxiety - Kids & Dogs - Manners - Bite Prevention - Reactivity - Walking

Tressa is certified

Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner - & Family Paws Parent Educator