Before our twins came along, our black lab was our baby. Our days were filled with walks along the Chicago lakefront, stops at our favorite dog parks to meet up with our K9 friends, and a few games of fetch and tug of war before retiring for cuddles on the couch each evening. Our pup came along for errands, patio brunches, and there wasn’t a trip to Target that was complete without snagging a new dog toy (which would inevitably be destroyed within minutes), but she was worth it all. Like most dog owners, we treated our furry friend like a human child – until we had human children.
We knew things would change for our dog once our babies were born, but we wanted to do everything in our power to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone involved. Given that she’s a generally socialized and welcoming animal, we were hopeful that their initial introduction would go well, but we had also heard stories of dogs being less than accepting of their new roommates. We also understood that within several months of being born, our twins would be crawling and eventually walking around with little to no awareness of their surroundings. In short, our poor pup was bound to be a target for a soft and easily climbable jungle gym. Through lots of research, we figured out a few essential steps we could take to keep our dog from feeling attention deprived and our kids safe and sound as they established their very special friendship.
From the initial meet and greet to daily life with a 75-pound furry beast and two babies, here are some tips to keeping everyone happy.
Do some prep work
With a basketball-sized belly, shifting hormones, and a slower than usual pace, you might think your dog is already expecting a change even before you deliver. Unpacking clothing and toys in the soon-to-nursery? Let your dog sniff around all the new gadgets and gear, so by the time the baby arrives, this stuff is old news. Does your dog follow basic commands like sit and stay? If not, now might be the time for a refresher obedience course.
If your dog has never been around babies or children before, find some way to make some introductions. Maybe it’s having a neighbor with a child come over and play or simply walking down the street next to your friend’s stroller. We actually played the sound of babies crying on our phones a few times before our twins came home since we knew that’s a noise our dog had never heard before. All of these occurrences will soon be common practice, and practice makes perfect. Once the baby is born, have a family member or friend bring a receiving blanket that smells like baby home before you return. This allows your dog to familiarize themselves with the baby’s smell. You can also stock up on some new dog toys and your dog’s favorite treats to give them during those first few hectic days at home so they feel the love.
When you finally arrive home from the hospital, your dog will undoubtedly be excited to see you, as it’s probably been a day or two since you were last home. Take the time to greet your dog as you normally would without your baby in tow. Once you decide to bring your newborn inside, focus on sight, smell, and sound before you let your dog get up close and personal. Those first few days, we tried our best to give our dog attention every time we gave our babies attention. Change a diaper? Treat. Feeding? Treat. Cuddles time? Treat. This helps send home the message that babies aren’t bad. Once you’re able to observe your dog’s behavior and feel comfortable that they’re calm, you can allow a little sniff of the swaddle or lick of the foot. Once you feel really comfortable, we were all for building our babies’ immune systems with puppy kisses all over, all the time.
Keep things consistent
There’s nothing that will throw your dog into a tizzy more than changing too many things at once. Just like people, dogs like routine and consistency. This means keeping meal times regular, providing frequent potty breaks for your pup, and making sure their water bowl is kept full. It’s the little things that make a big difference here. If there’s someone who frequently watches or walks your dog, this is a great person to have watch your dog while you’re in the hospital. The more your dog feels familiar with everything else around them, the less likely they are to freak out about their new family member.
Make time (even when there really isn’t any)
The week we took our twins home from the hospital, we made it a point to take our dog to the dog park several times. We knew even a short 20-minute break in a familiar place away from the newborn chaos would be beneficial to her adjustment. If you can’t carve out time for a full outing away, something as small as a belly rub can go a long way in making your dog feel good about the change.
There’s a lot that your dog can and should be a part of if you’re working towards a good relationship between your child and your pet. Whether your dog sits at your feet while you feed or change or you let them snuggle up next to you during tummy time, the more time your dog can spend around you and the baby, the quicker they can adjust to their new normal. Locking them out of the nursery or any space the baby might spend time will only prolong their familiarization.
Even before we brought our twins home, we made it clear to our dog which toys were hers and which were not. It was certainly confusing for her at first because every plush stuffed animal in the past had undoubtedly been hers to destroy. To distinguish baby toys from dog toys, we made sure to keep her toys in one bin, making sure to exclaim “Mavi’s toy!” every time we handed her an appropriate toy. The only baby toy we lost to the dog was Sophie, which to Mavi’s defense really does sound like it’s meant for an animal. After everything we put her through, we figured a $15 teether turned dog toy was the least we could do for her.
Our dog is trained not to put her nose or paws on the babies’ highchairs but knows that anything that falls on the floor is fair game. She’s not always perfect, but we strive to stay consistent. We set boundaries with the kids too. They are not allowed to hover over her while she eats, we have a firm “no playing in the dog’s water bowl” policy (which we do our best to implement), and whenever they touch her, we remind them to be “gentle.” If they don’t listen, which happens because they are toddlers, it’s our job to physically remove them from the situation to keep everyone safe.
Understand nature vs. nurture
At the end of the day, a dog is a wild animal. That means no matter how well-trained any dog may be, they still have animal instincts that take over. Even though our pup has an amazing relationship with our babies, there are times where she still acts like a dog. If our daughter dangles a piece of cheese in front of her snout, she’s going to snatch it. If I throw a toy and our son gets in the line of fire, our dog will knock him over. If someone rings our doorbell, she will trample anything and anyone in her way for a proper greeting. How do we manage these situations? If we hear the doorbell ring, we’ll scoop up the kids. If my daughter is eating something we know the dog will want to nosh on, we’ll have her do so in the highchair. The best advice when it comes to dogs being dogs is to anticipate that even the best-trained dogs are not perfect.