We adopted our rescue dog in 2012. When we started a family, our dog was five years old and well established in our household. She has always been an indoor dog and was used to twice daily walks and personal attention. I didn’t realize at the time that dogs and babies was such a hot topic.
Looking back now, each life stage (newborn, baby, toddler, preschool) has had his challenges and benefits while having a pet dog. I am sharing my first hand experience with having a dog and a baby, along with what to expect and tips to make the transition go easier in your household.
Dogs and Babies
About Our Rescue Dog
After our daughter’s birth I received a lot of questions about how her and Lulu were adjusting. These questions continued well into the toddler and preschool period. Our friends and family were familiar with our household setup. We adopted Lulu in 2012 when she was two years old.
Lulu is a Lhasa Apso mix and came from a rescue shelter. Her full grown size is roughly 15 pounds and she has long hair which we keep trimmed to about one inch long. Prior to having our daughter, Lulu enjoyed walking with me twice a day, enjoying her many pet beds throughout the house, having a decent amount of attention, personal grooming at home and more.
Our dog has never taken to learning tricks, fetch or using toys. When we adopted Lulu we wanted to be able to walk her without her pulling on the leash. After a lot of research and interviewing dog trainers, we took her to an intensive week-long training regime.
She spent eight hours a day with a trainer, then in the evening we would reinforce the training. Along with learning to walk well on a leash she learned commands such as: sit, stay, come, let’s go and leave it. We chose to not allow our dog to sit on furniture, and trained her not to. This is a decision I’m incredibly thankful for now with dogs and babies.
Having a Baby and a Dog
Pregnancy and Preparing for Baby
Prior to our daughter’s birth, my husband and discussed how life with a dog and baby would be. I also read up on tips on how to best adjust and introduce your dog to a baby. Lulu had been around toddlers a few times in the past, but not on a regular basis.
To our knowledge she had never been around a baby. During the last few weeks and months of pregnancy we began to give Lulu a little less attention. It may sound harsh but this was one of the tips we had read.
Once the baby arrived we would be forced to spend less time with our dog, so adjusting her slowly was ideal. The natural progression of pregnancy helped with this. While I remained fit and healthy during my pregnancy, my stamina and mobility waned as I got closer to the baby’s due date.
At the beginning of the pregnancy, I used to walk an easy three miles daily with Lulu. Toward the end, those walks were more like one mile. Now those walks were every other day and not daily. She didn’t realize it, but Lulu was already slowly adjusting to the changes.
Introducing the Baby to the Dog
After the birth, my husband took a baby blanket home from the hospital and let our dog smell it. Prior to that trip, we had friends check on our dog while we were at the hospital. Our dog was home alone when we arrived home a day later. We came in the door like normal, which was to not greet or overexcite our dog.
Of course, our dog Lulu noticed something was different, there was a little person in a car seat making noise. We took our daughter out of the car seat a few minutes later and held her. We sat on the living room couch and didn’t make eye contact with Lulu or act like anything was different.
We just wanted our dog to calm down to the idea of someone else being in the house. She has never been too great with guests, so really this was kind of like a new guest visiting. Only this guest would stay. After some time had passed we let Lulu sniff the baby. This was done quickly and very cautiously.
When our daughter began to cry, our dog Lulu became upset. Our dog started whining and yelping. We chose to ignore the behavior. This continued every time the baby would cry. However, within two days Lulu stopped whimpering and came to terms with a crying baby being a new normal sound in our household.
Having a Baby When You Have a Dog
Newborn and Infants: Dogs and Babies
By ignoring our dog’s behavior, we did not draw attention to her behavior or provoke her to continue it. This was exactly what we had hoped for in introducing our dog to a baby. Besides the whining, Lulu did act up a bit during this time, which is probably why everyone asks about how dogs and babies work together.
The odd part was she actually began acting up late in my pregnancy. She started jumping up on furniture, which we had previously trained her not to do. After our baby’s birth, our dog Lulu continued to do this. We had to be vigilant to catch and reprimand her every time.
She also jumped on the couch a few times and tried to steal and eat my nursing supplies when I wasn’t in the room. She did the same with a few pieces of baby clothing that had spit up on them. I think the smell was too enticing for her. Eventually the behavior stopped. In many ways this period was easy.
We could sit our daughter down and let her play on the floor or in a bouncer and Lulu would ignore her because the baby wasn’t showing her any attention. The two of them basically co-existed for many months. Once our daughter learned to crawl this changed.
She could crawl up to Lulu and pull her fur. This is more of a problem if you have a long haired dog. However, it’s also common for babies to try to pull on a dog’s tail or ears. Lulu expressed a mix of confusion and intrigue. We tried to redirect our daughter but during the infant stage there is little you can do to teach.
Having Dogs and Babies
Toddlers and Dogs
Sometimes our daughter pulled at our dog’s fur a little too much or too hard and Lulu growled. In these cases we were quick to defer the situation either by telling our dog Lulu to move (literally with a command, which is another reason teaching your dog commands is great).
We have also redirected our daughter elsewhere, such as to a toy. As she moved from the infant to toddler period and matured, we were able to begin teaching her the proper way to pet the dog. This is important because while your dog may tolerate a tail tug you do not want your child to learn this as acceptable behavior.
Pets need to be respected and it also helps to teach the child how to interact with dogs in other situations such as if they see a dog at a park or in someone else’s home. We also began to teach where to pet the dog and to ask permission from an owner before petting a dog.
It took some time, but Lulu finally learned that growling at a baby is not OK and that if she doesn’t want to be touched she can go elsewhere. Usually Lulu will go to her crate which is a “safe place.” We have taught our daughter the dog should not be petted or bothered while in her crate. I highly recommend having your dog crate trained to help with dogs and babies.
Preschoolers and Dogs
We continue to monitor the two of them as best we can, regarding dogs and babies. Our daughter laughs at Lulu and finds her cute and funny at times. If the house is eerily quiet we usually know one of the two of them is up to trouble. Again it has helped tremendously that we had Lulu trained prior to our daughter’s birth.
We can easily give commands to make Lulu come to us or move away from a situation or go to her crate. This helps when my hands are full and I can’t physically pick up either of them, or when I’m in another room and hear something going on. Once our daughter began walking we put put a baby gate up.
Initially the gate worried me because we had previously taught Lulu to ring a bell to signal she has to go potty. Over time Lulu adjusted to the new setup and we actually enjoyed the gate for keeping our dog contained as well. If she had to go out she usually would pace or whine a bit to let us know
However, when our daughter turned four we realized we were long past due in removing the gate. We removed the baby gate and we had a short adjustment period, but our dog quickly went back to the old house rules and started to ring her doggy bell again.
Other Helpful Dog and Baby Tips
After having our baby, I mastered walking with Lulu and with our daughter in a stroller or baby carrier. Again, Lulu’s training to “loose leash” walk was paramount as walking the two of them separate is not always realistic or time-efficient. This allowed me to also get out and enjoy some fresh air.
If you are looking for a baby carrier. I used the Baby K’Tan for the newborn and infant period. Later on I switched to the Catbird Baby Pikkolo and support belt which can carry a toddler. I was an avid baby wearer so if you have any questions about wearing your baby and walking your dog please leave a comment at the end of the post.
Today, we no longer use the stroller. I have transitioned back to walking Lulu alone at a fast pace. Other times we will walk at a slower pace as a family with our dog and our daughter will ride her bike along. If I’m not careful Lulu might get spoiled again. Maybe we will even return to the twice daily walks someday!
I feel bad sometimes I can’t walk our dog as much as I used to, or that she doesn’t receive as much attention these days. But even on the worst days, I remind myself that Lulu is groomed, fed, has a clean bowl of water, a cozy bed and a sunny south-facing window to look out anytime she wants.
Having a Dog and a Baby
Our story is that having a dog and a baby has worked out. Having our dog trained and having house rules in place for our pet prior to having a baby was vital to our success. We had some hiccups along the way and an adjustment period, as expected, but overall having a baby and a dog worked for us.
If you are looking to start a family and do not have a dog, I would strongly recommend waiting to get a dog until your child is older such as age 5 or older. If you plan to have your child walk the dog and take on full responsibility, age 8 to 10 would be more appropriate.
Based on our firsthand experience regarding dogs and babies, I also would not recommend rehoming your dog simply because you started a family. There are so many options with training, lifestyle changes, dog walkers, fenced in backyard, etc. that can be considered to help ease the transition for everyone.
What questions do you have about having a dog and baby?