I’m back with another post about how I prepared my dog Baxter for the birth of our first baby. Today’s post is about the first greeting between your dog and baby
A reminder that you can check out all of the posts in this baby prep series here. And if you have serious behaviour concerns or special needs our best advice is to work with a reputable, professional trainer.
The first meeting between our dog Baxter and our new baby was something that I thought about quite a bit.
I wanted it to be as positive as possible, so that Baxter associates the baby with goodness right from the start. Therefore, I tried to plan an introduction that addressed Baxter’s needs of meeting his new housemate in a relaxed and happy manner and my needs of making sure the baby is safe.
If you’re planning for a similar scene, keep in mind that your strategies may need to change depending on how delivery goes and what your recovery is like. However, thinking through the first introduction, rather than just letting it unfold is a worthwhile exercise.
The first greeting between your dog and baby
My strategy was one of divide and conquer.
I was on dog duty, and my husband was on baby duty.
I entered the house first and greeted Bax. Matt had been home several times between Ellie’s birth and our first homecoming, so Baxter had spent some time with him—and Matt was responsible for ensuring Bax had a walk before my arrival.
Since I was away a bit longer, Baxter was excited to say hi to me.
The walk before I came home was important even for our low-energy dog. I didn’t want Baxter to have excess energy or be looking to go outside. I wanted my dog to be as calm and relaxed as possible. If you have a high-energy dog, figure out how he can get some exercise before you get home.
I spent some time greeting Bax and moved into the living room which is an open space and an area where Baxter is usually very calm. If your dog tends to get over-excited when you return home, spend some time before the baby is born working on encouraging calm greeting behaviour.
Then it was Matt’s and the baby’s turn. Ellie was asleep, which was an important part of my plan. I did not want Baxter’s first exposure to her to be with her crying.
Matt took her out of the car seat and came into the living room and sat on the couch with me. I feel it’s important to not set the baby on the couch or on a blanket on its own. One of us was always holding the baby for Baxter’s early interactions. Baxter was able to come up, greet Matt and sniff baby on his own time. We talked to Bax in calm, quiet, low voices.
For dogs, the most important part of encountering something new is being able to smell it.
For the first greeting between your dog and baby, lots of people suggest sending a blanket home from the hospital, so that the dog can smell the baby on the blanket before meeting the baby itself. Our trainer felt that this was unnecessary. She said, “Your dog has been smelling your baby for nine months while it’s been inside you. He already knows what your baby smells like.”
Even if your dog is familiar with the baby’s scent from your pregnancy, or from the blanket, or from your partner coming home, the dog will still be very interested in meeting the real thing. The blanket may not lead to calmer behaviour.
If you choose to send a blanket home first:
If you do choose to send home a blanket first, make sure that your dog’s interactions with it are calm and relaxed. Don’t present it to your dog with a very excited voice. Definitely avoid letting your dog play, tug or chew on the blanket. And do not tuck the blanket into bed with your dog.
When planning to meet the real thing, our trainer encouraged us to hold the baby so that the dog starts his sniffs at the feet or bum end, so that we can easily protect Ellie’s vulnerable head. We kept our hands in strategic spots so that we can move between the dog and the baby if we need to (and we still do).
(By the way, baby was not cooperating when we reenacted this for blog photos! Haha!)
Standing up to get the baby out of the dog’s reach is also an option, but I feel this may seem too much like a game of keep-away and with some dogs may lead to jumping or over-excitement.
Another strategy may be to keep a leash on your dog, so that you can use that to direct him if needed.
I had planned that if Baxter seemed uncomfortable or over-excited (watching his body language was very important), since I was on dog duty I could redirect his attention or help him to move away.
The greeting took place at Baxter’s pace as long as he seemed relaxed. He could sniff as much or as little as he liked. I hoped—and expected—that after a short while, Baxter would go lay down in his chair or bed across the room, and that’s exactly what happened.
For me, this was the ideal behaviour. Matt and I sat on the couch for awhile longer, and we were together as a family for the first time, calm and relaxed in our new normal.
I expected to repeat greetings several times, as Baxter got more familiar with Ellie. Even now two months in when he exhibits curious, calm behaviour and a desire to interact with the baby, we continue to allow him to sniff and investigate at his own pace.
He occasionally sniffs her, but for the most part Ellie and Bax coexist and he seems to have accepted her as part of our family.
My 9 tips for the first greeting between your dog and baby
1. Greet your dog. While the baby is your focus, your dog will want to say hi to you too. Make sure to acknowledge his greeting.
2. Exercise your dog before introductions. Ensure your dog is as calm and relaxed as possible by arranging for him to have a walk before you get home.
3. Divide and conquer. Have one person take the lead with the baby while the other takes the lead with the dog. If you have more than one dog, you may want to let them meet the baby one at a time.
4. Keep the environment calm. Speak softly and gently. Time the greeting so that your baby is calm and quiet. Choose a space for the greeting where your dog is usually relaxed.
5. Have the baby at the dog’s level. Make sure that your dog can easily sniff your baby. Hold the baby in your arms, rather than setting it on a blanket or furniture. Don’t hold the baby out of reach in a game of keep away. I recommend sitting over squatting, as you’re more stable and relaxed.
6. Be ready to move your hands between your dog and your baby. If a dog’s greeting becomes to exuberant, move your hands between his nose (or maybe tongue) and the baby.
7. Let the dog greet at his own pace. The dog should be able to come up to the baby on his own. Do not call him over, make him come or drag him to the baby. Let him sniff as much or as little as he likes. When he moves away, let him go. If he exhibits anxious or uncomfortable behaviour redirect his focus or gently encourage him to move away.
8. Spend time together right away. Don’t immediately get up and walk away with the baby as soon as the initial greeting is done. Sit for awhile so that your dog gets accustomed to his new family reality.
9. Repeat as needed. The baby will be new for all of you for awhile. Allow your dog to continue to investigate it at his own pace, making sure to protect your baby, project relaxed energy and encourage calm behaviour from your dog.
What tips would the rest of you add to this list for the first (and second and third) greeting?
Let us know in the comments.
Julia Thomson is a blogger at Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating. She writes regularly for That Mutt.