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It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are tips for preparing your dog for the youngest pack member from two experts: Cesar Millan, star of the National Geographic Channel’s The Dog Whisperer and author of 2009’s How to Raise the Perfect Dog; and Victoria Stilwell, host of Animal Planet’s It’s Me or the Dog and author of the book of the same name.
Honestly evaluate your dog—and yourselves. Your new baby may not be safe if your dog exhibits aggressive, territorial or other unwanted behaviors. If your time, energy and resources prohibit rehabilitation, Millan suggests donating your dog to a reputable sanctuary, along with a generous contribution. “Dogs move on much faster than people do,” he says.
If doggie stays, start early. Alter your routine months in advance of your due date to reflect what life will be like after the baby is born, Stilwell advises: “Gradually cut back now on time and attention so your dog doesn’t suddenly feel a lack when the baby comes.”
Walk often with stroller and dog. Mom and stroller go out the door first, Millan stresses. Pack items with “baby scents”—diapers, powder—and perhaps a crying doll. A doggie backpack loaded with snacks, water and baby goodies will help show the dog she has an integral role to play with this new “pack member.”
Pretend a doll is your new baby. Stilwell suggests that you buy a baby doll and hold it, rock it, dress it and so on. Whenever the dog is behaving well around the doll (and, later, the baby), reward her. When the doll is gone, so are the treats.
Introduce a blanket with the baby’s scent. Do this before bringing the baby home from the hospital.
Make sure your dog is well-exercised beforehand. Inside your home (the baby’s turf), one parent should confidently hold the baby while the dog is several feet away. After a few days, invite the dog closer. Look for healthy body language—sitting calmly, wagging tail, a curious nose, head lowered. “If a dog turns her back and avoids the baby, take this as a red flag,” Millan says.
Good News: Experts in our The Truth About Germs page stress that you don't need to keep your home virtually spotless to head off allergies in your little one, re-emphasizing that pets can have a positive effect on allergy and asthma.
Never leave an infant or toddler alone with a dog. This is especially important when the baby is on the floor, Stilwell says.
Include the dog when people stop by. Remember, the dog was part of your pack first, Millan says. Enlist the help of a calm and trustworthy person in the house to be responsible for the dog when you and your partner are not able to.
Practice displaying “calm, assertive energy.” It’s good dog psychology and great for future parent traps like setting boundaries and dealing with tantrums and power struggles, Millan explains.