For so long we’ve been talking about “the introduction” but today I am going to mix it up a little bit for you, take some of the pressure off and as a Family Paws Parent Educator, rather we like to call it the homecoming phase. The homecoming phase, is not one single event, it is the time it takes for you and your new little family, including your dog to settle into life at home and to adjust to this huge change that’s just hit all of you.
By focusing on an introduction, I find so many parents (a) can be disappointed by the response they get from their dog and/or (b) can put such a hype around it that they actually create this excited/nervous energy around the baby and dog, when really we want to encourage a calm, relaxed energy.
I do have to admit that coming home from the hospital I was incredibly excited. I missed my dog and I was anticipating how life would be together with Cooper and my new baby. This is normal and I don’t want to take this excitement away from you. But I do want to help set you and your family up for success. So, today I am going to give you some tools to help set up your homecoming phase to be a stress-free time. Those first few weeks really do need to be about you recovering and getting to know your new little person with minimal stress and pressure around the dog.
What is the best way to do this?
For me, and I’m sure for many of you other mamas or mamas to be, bringing your new baby home to meet your fur baby is an experience that you very much look forward to and one that you hope goes smoothly. But today I want to help take a little bit of that pressure off. I don’t want you to walk in the door and rev your dog up and talk to your dog in a high pitch voice and put the baby in the dogs face. Rather, I want it to be more of a non-event. Just like a new piece of furniture coming into the house.
We want our dogs to respond to bringing our baby home as they would respond to anyone or anything else coming through the door. We want to remove the excitement and that big emphasis we have all put on this introduction in the past. If you google dog and baby introductions, it’s scary what you can find on youtube. Being able to read a dogs body language, I notice a lot of stress and pressure being put on the dogs. And more often than not, these situations can become dangerous. So what I want from you now, is to practice what you want your dog to be doing when someone/something new comes into the house. We want to practice teaching the dog to sit or go to his mat, or to be happy in his crate or play pen, rather than jumping up or barking at you and your visitors. Think about how you want that to look. Now is the time to practice. Make it a non-event. And teach your dog calm greetings when people come in because this is what we want to happen when your baby comes in the house. Click here for a step by step on how to teach your dog some of these basic skills.
If you can, reunite with your dog first without baby.
Hopefully by now you have a plan in place for your dog for when you go into labour and for your hospital stay. You also need to have a plan for how things will look when you bring your dog home. Will he be there when you get home from hospital? Will he be staying with your parents or a friend for a few days so you can settle in at home? Whatever it is, make sure you have a plan. It might actually be helpful having an extra set of hand when you see your dog after those few days of being away so you can really greet your dog and enjoy the reunion and someone else can be with the baby.
For us, we had my brother on call when I went into labour, but Cooper stayed at home whilst I was in the hospital and Jase stayed with him. So when we got home from the hospital, Jase stayed in the car with Harper and I went inside to see Cooper first. I knew that he would be crazy excited as my hospital stay was the longest we’d been apart in ages. I was also super pumped to see him. So, we had our reunion inside and it was amazing. We didn’t bring the baby inside until he was calm.
Management – Safe Zone.
Depending on your dog will depend on the sort of management you will need when your dog is first in the presence of your baby and for those first few days and weeks. Make sure your dog knows it has a safe kid-free area in your house. Having your dog on leash, or in a crate, a playpen, or in an area sectioned off with baby-gates are all great ideas and things you hopefully have gotten your dog used to during the preparation phase. These are also very important management tools for you with baby/toddlers when you are unable to have full supervision but can work really well in those early days too when everyone is just settling in. Make sure to give your dog lots of special things when they are relaxed in their safe-zones. Treats, toys, enrichment are all perfect for creating a positive association. Click here for a great resource from Family Paws for different management ideas .
Daily enrichment is so important for our dogs. And this will be a really great tool for you and your dog in those first few days and weeks at home when you are all adjusting. Food enrichment will also be a big help to allow your dog enjoy that separation in their safe zone too. Click this link for more information on enrichment.
Reward the behaviours you want to see more.
During those first few days and weeks at home, make sure to really pay attention to the body language of your dog. If your dog stays calm and relaxed in the presence of the baby; praise and reward him. Use lots of his favourite treats. But if your dog looks uncomfortable and stressed out at any point, give your dog space. Please do not rush this. Building bonds and relationships take time. Use those management tools we talked about and plenty of yum enrichment toys too.
Read your dogs body language.
It’s so important to be able to see when your dog is feeling happy and relaxed versus scared, stressed, alert, etc. A happy and relaxed dog will have a soft relaxed and wiggly body, their muscles in their face will be relaxed, without tension. Whereas a dog that is stressed or uncomfortable in a situation will be more tense and may let off subtle signs to communicate this to you, like a lick lip, a yawn, turning their head, a closed tense mouth, stiff body, shaking off or something we call half moon eyes (which is when they really show the whites of their eyes). Or a not so subtle sign like a growl or baring its teeth, although these may seem scary, these are also a forms of communication and we should be thankful for them. It is our job as the dogs owner and the parent to see these signs, before they turn into a bite, step back and give the dog some space and/or some time out from what was happening. If your dog shows any signs that you are unsure of or worried about please contact a positive rewards-based trainer immediately. Click here for more on understanding and reading your dogs body language.
Ask for help.
In those first few days and weeks at home, take some pressure off and ask for help with your dog. Ask a friend or a family member to walk your dog for you. Ask them to bring your dog a new toy or treat. Or even to help stuff some kongs you can store in the freezer if you hadn’t done so already. Or if you can, have a dog walker to come and take your dog out a few times a week. You need to priorities your recovery and building that bond with your baby.
If you are really concerned or unsure of something your dog is doing or how he/she is responding to the baby, please call on a positive rewards based trainer to come and help you as soon as possible.
** And please, no matter how much you trust your dog, always ensure your dog and child are supervised when together.
Make sure to check out these great resources too if you haven’t already:
- Five tips for dealing with that ‘dog guilt’ after having a baby
- My tips to help prepare families with dogs for life with a new baby
- Does my dog know I’m pregnant?
- Click here for the Family Paws Baby and Dog Safety Handout – it’s a great visual with the do’s and don’ts.
- Click here for a great resource from Family Paws for different management ideas .
- Click here for what Active supervision looks like.
As always, please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or concerns.