Welcome to the next post in the series of how we prepared our dog Baxter for the birth of our first baby. This post was actually written before my daughter was born.
Today I’m sharing my plan for all of the areas in our house and what will be shared between Baxter and baby. This is an important step in my overall goal of keeping everyone safe and making sure dog and baby respect each other. To see all of the posts in this baby prep series, click here.
A reminder that if you have serious behaviour concerns or special needs particularly when adding a baby to your family, our best advice is to work with a reputable, professional trainer.
As we’ve been preparing Baxter for baby, one of the most helpful resources has been our trainer.
In my very first conversation with her after I told her I was pregnant, she talked about the importance of space and boundaries—and training both babies and dogs to respect those boundaries.
Her comments got me thinking about what I want to be shared space and what will be exclusive to the baby or to Baxter.
With our trainer’s own daughter, she established a perimeter around where the dogs laid down most often. She didn’t set up a physical barrier, and instead just instructed her daughter to not go too close. While this approach may not work for every child, our trainer said, “By 8 or 9 months, she had learned to respect that space.”
How to create safe space for your baby and your dog
The dog’s space
Baxter’s main bed is in our living room next to his food and water. It’s a central spot where he can keep an eye on what is happening in the house. It’s also a spot where Baxter has been sensitive sometimes.
If strangers are over for a visit and they pet him while he’s in bed, he occasionally has growled. So we’re declaring Baxter’s bed and food a baby-free zone. That is Baxter’s space, and I want him to be confident that he can go there if he wants to be left alone. Same goes for Baxter’s beds in other spots of the house.
This will also be the spot that we send him if we feel we need some space. Baxter responds reliably to “go lay down” by going to his bed, so we’ve been practicing this command from various places in the house to ensure he’s rock solid by the time the baby arrives.
(See our post on how to teach your dog the “place” command.)
The other spot that’s going to be exclusively Baxter’s is his chair in the living room—which he claimed long ago. Although he’s not possessive of the chair, I will not be using the chair for nursing and will not be putting the baby on the chair for a cute snugly photo op with the dog.
The baby’s space
The baby needs its own spaces too. We have put a blanket and bouncy chair on the floor in our living room upstairs and our family room downstairs, and after an initial sniff to investigate the new additions, we’ve asked Baxter to stay outside those areas.
There’s lots of debate about the “leave it” command and people using it too broadly. Baxter has a very reliable “leave it” and a broad definition of what leave it means (everything from the basic, “no don’t eat that” to “stop sniffing that” to “move away”). So we’ve been using “leave it” to ask him to move away from the chair or blanket.
The other tool I’m planning to use to create my happy baby-dog house is a play yard—the modern version of an old-school playpen or the human version of the dog crate. Baxter has never been crated and we’re not planning to start that now. However, there will be times that I need to step away for a minute, but I don’t want to leave Baxter and baby loose in the room together.
One of the books that I read talked about thinking about your dog like a swimming pool. You would never leave your baby alone in a swimming pool, so don’t leave your baby unsupervised with your dog.
Having the play yard for the baby will be enough separation to keep everyone safe for a few minutes without me being right there. We’ve set up the play yard now so that Baxter has plenty of time to get used to this new fixture in the living room.
As for the rest of the house and furniture, I’m hoping that we will all share.
Baxter has been curious about the baby’s room (a room that we didn’t spend a lot of time in before) and by his own choice he’s been keeping us company when we’re in the room sorting baby clothes or setting up furniture.
I’m glad that he’s treating the room like any other in the house. I don’t want him to feel anxious or uncertain about the room, and I hope he’ll continue to feel welcome in the nursery once baby arrives.
See our update on how they’re doing here.
Shared furniture is something I’ve been thinking about carefully. Baxter is allowed on the upstairs couch and our bed, but both are usually invitation only, which he respects.
Our trainer’s advice was, “If your dog is allowed on the couch, let him be on the couch with you while you’re feeding the baby. This can be a good bonding time for you and your dog and also help your dog become more familiar with the baby. If you don’t want your dog on the couch with the baby, train him now to stay off the couch.”
I am conscious that it will be important not to force Baxter to be on the couch or the bed with the baby if he doesn’t want to be.
Yes, pictures of dogs and babies snuggling together are super cute and get lots of likes online, but I’ve seen too many photos where the dog looks miserable, and those make me cringe. It’s a short step from a dog being uncomfortable to a dog being dangerous.
No matter where we are in the house, I want Baxter to feel comfortable and safe. Likewise, I want to feel comfortable that our baby is safe. Thinking about how we’ll use the various spaces, setting up boundaries right from the start, respecting each other’s spaces and teaching baby and dog right away will hopefully help us to accomplish that.
Update: Baxter and Ellie are doing well, as you can see:
Summary: How to create safe spaces for your baby and your dog
- Train the baby and the dog. Babies and dogs need to learn that there are boundaries and to respect each other’s spaces. For example, teach the baby that the dog’s food and bed are out of bounds. Or you may want to teach your dog that the couch or the nursery is a baby only area.
- Use physical boundaries to help manage interactions between your dog and baby. Crates, baby gates and play yards can be helpful if you need to separate your dog and baby. Set them up early so your dog has time to get used to them before the baby arrives.
- Think of your dog like a swimming pool. Don’t leave your baby unsupervised with your dog. Even the best dog can make a terrible mistake. Stay close enough (within reach) to intervene if needed.
- Make sure your dog has a space of his own. Sometimes, a dog just needs to get away. Make sure he has a few safe spaces where he can go if he wants to be alone. Don’t put the baby in his safe spot, even if it’s just once for the cutest photo ever. Your dog should feel secure that he will not be bothered if he’s feeling overwhelmed.
- Let your dog choose to engage or share space with the baby. Don’t force your dog onto the couch or into the nursery. If he chooses to join you, great. If not, let him approach the baby in his own way at his own pace.
- Brush up on important commands. “Place” or “settle” or “go lay down” can all be invaluable if you or the baby need a little space. Depending on your situation or training, “leave it,” “off” or “away” may also be helpful. Make sure your dog responds solidly to these commands—including if you’re not standing right beside him—before the baby arrives.
Do you have exclusive dog or baby spaces at your house?
If you missed it, read my birth announcement here.
Julia Thomson is a blogger at Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating. She and her husband live on a 129-acre farm in Ontario, Canada. Follow Julia on Twitter here and Instagram here.