I'm pretty sure I couldn't even see my chocolate lab Gus for the first month of my son Noah's life, I was so sleep-deprived and otherwise incapacitated by new motherhood. He was a brown blob that darted around our apartment and under the coffee table, hiding from the baby. The dog I had previously referred to as "my baby" had become virtually invisible.
I had attempted to do the requisite things suggested when you Google "how to introduce your dog to a baby," most of which I learned were not realistic: Bring a blanket home with the infant's smell so your dog can get used to it? You try remembering to do that after 18 hours of labor!
When I finally was able to see straight again and peered into Gussy's normally soulful eyes, they looked...depressed. We've since recovered our close relationship and he has resumed his rightful place on our couch and in my heart. But in the hopes of preventing a similar fate for those who have a babe on the way, I asked Brooklyn Dogtime trainer Rachel Cohen Maso for her advice on how to make sure your dog feels good about the new family member.
Start now Her first tip? Do as much as you can before you have the baby because...you temporarily lose your mind after!
Assess your schedule Start by evaluating your dog's routine and how it will change. For example, if you anticipate not being able to feed and walk him at 6pm, start to shift your schedule now. And if you don't have a walker, consider getting one at least until you can get your feet back on the ground post-birth.
Rethink your space Since the layout of your home is bound to change—and furniture switcharoos can cause stress for pups—create a safe, cozy area that's specifically for your dog where they can escape there (this is especially helpful once the little one is on the move.) Also decide whether your dog will be allowed into the baby's room and set that boundary. I made the mistake of allowing Gus in Noah's nursery and now he thinks it is his play room too.
Set new rules Does your pup like to jump up to greet you when you get home? Work on training him not to now (as opposed to when you are holding a small infant in your arms.) Several cues will be particularly helpful when your baby arrives, too, like "leave it" "quiet" and "down." Brush up on those commands or even enlist in a basic training class for a refresher.
Introduce new sounds No one wants to listen to a baby wailing longer than they have to, but pups' ears are particularly sensitive. Introducing them to the sound of crying slowly and at a non-stress-inducing level (through an app like "Baby Sounds") can get them used to it so they don't freak out when they hear sobbing in the middle of the night.
Be "gentle" You'll wind up saying this to your babe once he's old enough to pet your pup ("Gentle, please!") But in the meantime, try to be patient with your dog and don't scold him for getting in the way or acting anxious around the baby. And never force an interaction between the two, always let your pup know it's okay to move away if he clearly doesn't feel comfortable.
Keep busy Treat-dispensing and puzzle toys are your new best friends. Always have one on hand to keep your pup occupied and enlist friends and family to take him for a walk to get all that energy (and potential frustration) out. Once I broke the Kong and peanut butter out, Gus' eyes lit back up.
Pair the baby with good things Dogs build negative associations quickly. When you bring the baby into your main living space the first few times, throw some treats on the ground so your pup will think, "Awesome, every time this tiny human comes in here, I get rewarded!"