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Quite a while ago, I promised I would look for a paper I wrote for school about introducing a new baby into a home with a dog. It took me a while to dig it out, but I finally did. Keep in mind that our papers are more informal in nature some of the time. This is one of those. The first part in italics was our paper topic. The rest is what I wrote. I know every situation will differ, and every pet is different, but thought this might be a good guideline/information sharing from someone who is studying animal behavior. (Also of note: I got a 100%/A+ on this paper!)
As a pet behavioral counselor, you are hired by a young family about to bring their first child into the world. Unfortunately, they also have a new puppy and only four months until the baby is due. The parents have hired you in a proactive approach to possible problems they see:
1) How to introduce the baby to their dog.
2) How to keep the child safe around the dog.
3) Preventing behavioral problems in the dog after the baby arrives.
Their overall concern is reducing or eliminating either fear or aggression in their dog once they have a child.
Use your combined knowledge from the last few modules to address both fear and aggression and come up with a plan for the soon-to-be parents. What sort of environmental changes might cause anxiety in the dog? What forms of aggression should we anticipate? How can we address fear and aggression before the baby is born?
First of all, is the puppy aggressive NOW? That would be my first question! If so, might not be the best idea to keep the puppy at all. But that’s a different situation. Let’s address the problem at hand, and assume that the puppy is not showing abnormal signs of fear and/or aggression at this time. The puppy is exhibiting normal “puppy” behaviors.
In order to put together a proper plan for this couple and their puppy, I would need some additional information, which is not provided. In cases where this is important, I will make some assumptions.
At this point, all we know is that the dog is a puppy. We do not know “how puppy” it is. Are we dealing with a 3 month old puppy, or are we dealing with a 1 year old puppy? Nor do we know what kind of puppy (i.e. what breed) this couple has. There is a big difference between a teacup poodle puppy and a german shepherd puppy! Understanding the breed we are dealing with will make a world of difference in helping this couple. How long has the couple had this puppy? Are they, too, just getting adjusted to the puppy (and the puppy to the couple)? For the purposes of this essay, I will assume the following:
• The puppy is an 8 month old altered male golden retriever. The couple has had the puppy for 3 months in their home. The puppy is exhibiting normal puppy behavior, and not showing any signs of extreme or abnormal aggression or fear.
• For ease of reading (and writing!) we will call the dog Wallace (named after a senior rescue dog I fell in love with online a couple years ago!), and the couple is Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
• Mr. and Mrs. Smith have no other children and no other pets in the household.
The Smiths are excited about the upcoming arrival of their new baby. However, they are right to give forethought to bringing a new baby into the home where they already have a new puppy! Wallace loves the Smith’s, but he is a rambunctious puppy. He loves to run, he loves to play, and he loves to chew on shoes, toys, pillows, anything! Wallace is growing up fast. He is still a puppy, but getting bigger every day! When their new baby arrives, Wallace will be 1 year and 2 months old…still a puppy! Wallace has about another 8 months before he is full grown, and at least another year until he stops thinking like a puppy and starts thinking like a grown up dog! That is a lot of “puppy time” to deal with when the Smith’s bring home their new baby.
The Smith’s spend a lot of time with Wallace. They take him for walks every night after dinner, and let him run around their yard during the day. They brush him every other day, because, let’s be honest, Wallace is a shedder! There is dog hair everywhere! Wallace has a good set routine, and eats 2 times a day – morning and night. Wallace sleeps in his own bed, on the floor of the Smith’s bedroom.
The baby’s arrival is not far off, and the Smith’s know that some things need to change. With all the time they spend with Wallace now, they know they will not have the time (or energy) to give him the same amount of attention once the baby arrives. But not only that, they are worried that Wallace will not appreciate this “ignorance” and lash out at that which, in his eyes, caused the disruption in his lifestyle.
The first thing they need to do is ensure that Wallace does not see the baby as a threat to him or to them. One might wonder how something as little as a baby could be perceived as a threat. I assure you, anything can be seen as a threat…if it’s NEW.
The baby is a human, just like the couple. But Wallace doesn’t know that. Wallace knows that a baby is something small, different, and newly present in his house. Because Wallace will have a hard time generalizing, this new “thing” is unknown. This baby is not tall, does not talk, does not wear the same type of clothes, and does not walk like Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Wallace will likely exhibit some fear of this new “item”. Along with that fear, comes curiosity. Wallace may want to sniff out the baby, mark his territory (though Wallace is altered, so hopefully this will not be an issue), or take a little taste to check it out. There are many considerations that need to be taken into account before the arrival of the baby.
Introduction of the baby to their dog
The key to this is going to be slowly introducing Wallace to a change in life. Anticipating the changes that will happen when the baby arrives, the Smiths should begin incorporating these changes with Wallace as soon as possible. This includes changes in feeding times, shorter duration of walks, new location of walks, new toys to play with, etc.
Let’s assume that Wallace has not been around children before. The Smiths have no other children in the house, and Wallace has not encountered too many during his nightly walks. To help prevent (or at least reduce) the possibility of fear and aggression in Wallace, early socialization is going to be key. Since the baby is not yet born, the Smiths need to find another way to introduce Wallace to small children, and if possible, babies.
The Smiths should begin changing Wallace’s routine to include a walk to a nearby park. Previously, they took him on a walk around the neighborhood, where there were few children out after dinner time. By switching the walk time from after dinner to before dinner, and modifying his walk path to include a park, the likelihood of Wallace encountering children is much greater. They should first bring him within sight of children. Have Wallace sit and watch the children run and play. Observe his reaction. Does he watch them? Does he look away? Is he remaining calm, sitting still or is he pulling at his leash trying to run towards (or after!) the kids? By observing Wallace’s behavior and reaction from a safe distance will help the Smiths determine how much work they have to do to acclimatize Wallace to children. If, in this situation, Wallace doesn’t seem to mind the kids, they can work towards slowly bringing him closer to the children, eventually letting the children pet and play with Wallace. This is an example of habituating Wallace to the presence of children. But children (assumed toddlers and school aged kids) are different still than babies. Because it will probably not be acceptable to perform the same habituation exercise with other people’s babies, we will take another approach.
Dogs have a heightened sense of smell. Once that baby enters the home, it will not only be a different object, but it will also have a very specific scent. Novel items can be anything from a new trash can to a new perfume the owner is wearing. Not only will the baby be a new physical “item”, it will have its own novel scent. A common way to alleviate a dog’s negative reaction to a new baby is to introduce the dog to the smell of the baby before it comes home. Once the baby is born, the Smiths should designate a baby blanket to use for helping Wallace get used to the baby’s scent. At the hospital, after the baby has spent some time in/on the blanket, Mr. Smith can bring the blanket home to Wallace. The blanket will smell like the baby. Once the baby is able to come home, while Wallace may still perceive the baby’s physical presence as novel, the baby’s scent will be familiar to Wallace. This will help reduce some of the fear potential in the dog. The Smiths should allow Wallace to see the baby, at a distance, and eventually, bring the baby closer to Wallace so that he is able to take in the baby’s scent. With any luck, he will recognize the scent as familiar, and not be fearful of this new person in the house.
But this new baby will not only have a new smell, but it will produce new sounds. Wallace is used to adult talking (or even singing in the shower!), but not baby coo’s, crying, and other baby “noises”. To help introduce Wallace to these types of sounds, finding a TV program or movie with babies might be a good option. Or, finding a CD/recording of baby sounds to play for Wallace might help him get used to hearing these types of noises. Suddenly new, strange noises might frighten Wallace.
It is important to also consider that Mrs. Smith will be attending to some new item. To help habituate Wallace to the idea of this, she could carry a stuffed animal or baby doll around the house, and “tend” to it as she might with the real baby. By treating this “baby” as she would the actual baby, Wallace will learn that this is normal. (Be careful! Don’t ever leave the “baby” sitting on the counter unattended, or in a place where Wallace might mistake this as a toy!)
How to keep the child safe around the dog
Now that the baby is home, we need to ensure that the baby is safe around Wallace. First and foremost, the Smiths should not leave the baby and Wallace unattended. (While this might go without saying, you never know!) When the child is a baby, the focus will be mainly on Wallace’s actions towards the baby. With proper attention to the interaction between them, there should be minimal issue. However, as the baby grows into a toddler, bigger issues arise. The child can crawl, which puts the child on the same “playing field” as Wallace. Wallace may see the child as a toy, and try and “play” with the child. By this time, Wallace will be full grown, and still full of energy, and without intending to, may harm the child. Again, keeping a close eye on the pair will go a long way towards preventing problems. At this point, Wallace is acting reasonably well towards the baby, and few problems have arisen. However, accidents can still happen. Consider the situation where it is dinner time for the baby. This dinner time used to also be Wallace’s dinner time, before the baby arrived. Now, the baby will eat first, and then the Smiths will feed Wallace. Mrs. Smith is feeding the baby in a highchair, and Wallace has just returned from a pre-dinner walk with Mr. Smith. Wallace is extra hungry tonight, since it was such a nice night, and they took a longer walk than usual. Wallace sees Mrs. Smith feeding the baby, and rushes over to join in the feeding. In all his excitement, Wallace plows into the high chair, and knocks the baby to the floor. Another possibility in this scenario is that Wallace walks calmly over to the highchair, realizes that the baby is being fed instead of him, and bites the baby on the foot.
These might seem like extreme examples, but accidents do happen. There is no way the Smiths can prevent every single accident from ever happening. How might they prevent these situations from arising in the first place?
Some precautions can be taken, in the above example, keeping the dog outside or in another room while the baby is eating. Providing Wallace with a toy or bone after his walk (before his dinner), while the baby is eating is another way to distract him, without punishing him. After all, Wallace hasn’t done anything wrong; he is simply adjusting to a new routine. Alternatively, ensure that all of Wallace’s toys are out of reach of the baby. While a toy might be suited for a dog, it may be harmful to a baby (i.e. if the squeaker got out of a toy and was ingested by the baby!). More importantly, however, if the baby started playing with a Wallace toy, and Wallace became possessive of his toy, he may try and take the toy back from the baby, and might (intentionally or not) harm the baby. Yet another possibility is if the baby is playing with Wallace, and pulls Wallace’s tail (or pokes him in the eye, or yanks his ears too hard), Wallace might react aggressively (out of pain).
Another potentially important consideration is the health of the baby. Young children, but especially newborns, do not have fully developed immune systems yet. The Smiths should ensure that Wallace is up to date on all required vaccinations, and talk to their vet about any other “optional” vaccinations that might be beneficial, given that there is a new baby in the house. Other considerations to prevent accidental injury to the baby include ensuring that Wallace’s nails are trimmed and his coat is brushed regularly (to avoid excess hair that might either bother the baby, or create clumps of hair around the house for the baby to eat!). Ensure that Wallace does not have access to the baby nursery. This is baby area only, and keeping it free of Wallace and Wallace-related “materials” (dog hair, dog toys) will ensure a healthy environment for the baby!
Finally, whenever there is a time that Wallace treats the baby properly (i.e. gently, softly, nicely, etc.), reward and praise him!
Preventing behavioral problems in the dog after the baby arrives
Once the baby is home, and Wallace is used to the baby in the house, the Smiths might think they have nothing else to worry about. However, all of a sudden, Wallace could start marking all over the house, or chewing the cushions on the couch! Or worse yet, Wallace bit the baby’s foot. What could be wrong!?
Since the baby’s arrival, many things have changed for both the Smiths and for Wallace. Wallace has a new routine – he is being fed at different times of the day, he is going on a walk at a different time of day, and on a different route. Wallace is beginning to feel ignored and left out, while the Smiths tend to their baby. The Smiths are busy with their new addition, and no longer have the time they used to have to spend playing with Wallace. Additionally, they have had to alter their family routine to best fit the needs of the baby, and that means change for Wallace. And to top things off, Wallace isn’t the only one sleeping with “mom & dad” these days!
Wallace is going through a period of adjustment to this new lifestyle. While the Smiths used to give him all of their attention, that attention is now divided and likely not equally, between Wallace and their new baby. With not having as much time to play, perhaps his walks are getting shorter, and with a general decline in attention from his family, Wallace is getting bored. He will find other ways to unleash his energy, and entertain himself. While he may see these new things as fun, the Smiths may not. Wallace may start chewing on furniture, or may start digging holes in the yard. While Wallace has never been a “barker”, all of a sudden, he barks at everything, including the mailman, who just happens to come to the house during the baby’s nap time each day!
It may be challenging, but the Smiths will need to find a way to keep Wallace busy. Providing him with extra enrichment might be a good start. Give him toys he CAN chew, things that squeak and are fun to play with. Provide him with a rawhide bone a few times a week – this hopefully will take some time and energy to eat and chew, and serves a dual purpose. It not only keeps him entertained, but it also takes work, and thus energy. With any luck, this will help offset the shorter walks. (Not to mention it is also good for his teeth!). While Wallace still has his “alone” time with Mr. Smith each day during his walk, it might be Mrs. Smith who he misses. Have her carve out some time each week, perhaps during the baby’s nap, or sometime where Mr. Smith can take the baby for a few minutes. This is Mrs. Smith and Wallace time. Even if it is just 5 minutes, that is 5 more minutes than he used to have.
Stress is another issue. Wallace was used to seeing Mrs. Smith pregnant. That is, Mrs. Smith had a big belly! Now, she may look completely different without the baby inside. Just something to consider as a possibility if Wallace starts acting out or differently towards Mrs. Smith. He may not understand the change, and this may cause stress, or even cause him to become fearful of her. To prevent this, she should ensure she does not treat him any differently than before the baby. Her tone of voice should be the same, her mannerisms towards him, the way she pets him and feeds him should all remain as they were before the baby. This should help alleviate any fear or stress. And they should be careful not to overly scold the dog just because they are stressed, or overtired! This will mean added stress for Wallace!
But what about fear of the baby? One day, Mrs. Smith is feeding the 1 year old baby in the highchair. The baby is drinking from a “sippy cup”, and Wallace is quietly chewing on his bone nearby. The baby becomes excited, squeals, and Wallace looks up. Next thing you know, the baby chucks the sippy cup off the high chair and it smacks Wallace in the nose. Now, Wallace associates the baby with pain. Wallace is now frightened of the baby, and of the baby’s “happy squeals”.
To prevent Wallace from turning that fear into aggression, steps need to be taken to immediately remedy this fear. Wallace needs to learn that the baby (and said sippy cup) is not dangerous to him. Traditional techniques of counterconditioning might work well here. It might be challenging, but try tossing the dog a treat the next time the baby squeals. Maybe every time the baby goes into the high chair, Wallace gets a treat. While it would not be my first choice, Wallace may need to be put in a crate in the same room as the baby during feeding time. This would only be used as a last resort. In my opinion, this might contradict the Smith’s intentions by Wallace learning to associate the crate with a bad incident, and thus, the crate would never be a positive place for him. In this case, Wallace is neutered, which should make him less aggressive than he might be if he were not. (In the case of a family that has a non-altered dog, they should consider getting the dog altered.)
What sort of environmental changes might cause anxiety in the dog?
In summary, bringing home a new baby into a household with a relatively new/young puppy can be a challenge for everyone – both Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Wallace. New routines, new events, new smells, new sounds, new toys, and new behaviors by the Smiths are all things that need to be taken into account. While the baby itself might evoke a fear reaction in the dog, the change in routine/lifestyle might evoke the anxiety. The Smiths are smart to get ahead of the situation before it becomes, well, a situation!
What forms of aggression should we anticipate?
Aggression can take on many forms. In Wallace’s case, the most likely types of aggressive behavior we should expect are fear driven (novelty of the new “item” – that is, the baby), stress induced (stemming from a change in routine or lack of attention from the Smiths), and potentially even assertive (if Wallace feels the need to reclaim his house!). With Wallace specifically, the fact that he is a golden retriever will help reduce the possibility of assertive aggression, as this breed is known to be more “family friendly” than others. Similarly, the male goldens are typically less assertive than females. Finally, later in life, we need to be prepared to expect pain based aggression. As the baby grows older, the baby may “play” with Wallace in a way that causes (unintended) pain – babies think tugging on dogs’ tails is fun…I bet Wallace would disagree! Of course, there is also the possibility of mixed aggression, which would stem from any combination of the aforementioned forms.
How can we address fear and aggression before the baby is born?
By preparing as far ahead of time as possible (i.e. now = 4 months!), the Smiths can make great strides in reducing the potential for fear and aggression in Wallace. Despite doing all the right things before hand, and taking all the right steps to prepare for this situation, constant vigilance is going to be key. Accidents will happen. The Smiths need to keep a close eye on Wallace and note any changes, no matter how small, in his behavior, mannerisms, and attitude. Once the baby arrives, Wallace may just leave everyone alone…which at first thought, might seem like the perfect situation! However, this might be Wallace exhibiting a fear reaction (flight!), and could lead to much greater problems in the future if it is not recognized and addressed properly.
Wow Karin, thanks so much for sharing!! Although I must say I am really glad I wont have any pups around when Jordan comes--the youngest will be almost 2 when he is born
But still, there are lots of great tips, some of which I will definitely be using!
Shockey at first was not happy with us bringing home Mason. He quickly went from being the king of the house to second fiddle. He would eat anything I left out of Mason's. One morning I woke up and he had gone into the trash that night and pulled out everyone of Mason's dirty diapers and had thrashed them across the living room. I was LIVID!!!!!!!!!!!! Shockey almost didn't survive those first months lol. But now it's getting a lot better. My two boys adore each other. Shockey is always licking Mason's face and Mason is always grabbing onto Shockey's. It's so cute. We didn't do any adjustment preparations before hand other than set up baby stuff. I don't really know how much of a difference it would have made since Shockey was just an 8 month old puppy. I think our future kids it'll be a lot easier on him.
I just did a Google search and it looks like a type of beer? My husband loves beer and brews his own, so it would work for both meanings! Of course I'd probably want to get him some Arrogant ******* for him to try to go with the beer meaning...
Yepper! Brewed right here not just in "san diego", but where Danee and I live, Escondido (north of SD). If I'm perfectly honest, it's nasty, but I know MANY people who love it. I like some of their others much better, but that one I've had a hard time choking down! Keep an eye out for it...I would guess harder to find out there, but you might have luck at a specialty beverage store
It says, "My daddy is an Arrogant *******" lol. It's Dave's FAVORITE beer. I actually like the Oaked Arrogant ******* but the regular is just okay. I could manage to get a glass down but that's about it. The Oaked version though is much smoother and more enjoyable.