When a new baby is on the way, it can be easy to forget about one important member of the family—your trusty four-legged friend! For many parents, dogs often function as “practice children” and are their first experience taking care of another living creature. But human children are accompanied by a huge variety of new sights, smells, and sounds that can easily spook your pooch. To make sure your fur baby and your real baby live comfortably together, make sure to prepare your dog for what life will be like with a younger sibling.

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Train Your Pup

No matter how gentle or well-behaved your dog may be, there’s always the possibility they may react negatively to your new little bundle of joy. Human babies are unlike anything they’ve ever encountered before, and endless crying or strange new appliances can stress out even the mellowest of pups.

To ensure you can always control your dog around your newborn, do a refresher obedience course with them a few months before the baby is due. Have your dog master basic commands such as: sit, lay down, drop the toy, and leave. Because life can get hectic once your little boy or girl arrives, you don’t want to deal with a disobedient dog on top of taking care of an infant. Your dog’s behavior may change with a new baby, so maintaining a baseline of basic commands keeps everyone safe in case life at home gets a little crazy.

Crate training your pup is a great way to help Fido feel safe around this strange creature that is suddenly taking up all of your time. Giving your dog a space of their own to retreat to when they feel overwhelmed can help keep the peace between the new siblings.

Another important step is to create a new routine so your pup doesn’t get frazzled when your daily habits shift to focus on your baby instead of your dog. Try to think ahead about the changes you’ll need to make with a newborn. When will you feed your pooch? When will you walk them? Will they receive less attention? Do they have somewhere new to sleep? A few weeks before baby joins you, make these changes at home so your dog gets into a new rhythm. Avoid making any major changes after bringing baby home so your dog doesn’t negatively respond to the new routine and cause unnecessary stress.

Prepare Your Home

As you start to prepare a nursery for your child, introduce your dog to all the new baby-related items you collect. Cribs, car seats, diapers, toys, bottles, baby lotion, changing tables, playpens—whatever you can think of, let your pup inspect it first.

Place the objects on the ground so your dog can get used to their size and smell. If an item is going to take up an area that used to be a designated canine sleeping or play zone, make sure to place that object in the space before giving birth, that way the pooch doesn’t associate baby with an unfamiliar home layout.

It’s also important to introduce the sounds of a newborn to your home. Because dogs are much more sensitive to noise than humans, a crying baby can trigger a stress response in many canines. For a few weeks before the little one arrives, play noises of a crying baby for longer and longer periods of time. You can also include lullabies for babies, kids’ cartoons, and the unwrapping of diapers as other noises for your dog to grow accustomed to. Remember, preparing your dog for a baby takes time and you shouldn’t expect them to be comfortable around all these new sights and sounds right away. Just like you, your furry friend needs time to prepare for this major life change.

If you plan to keep your dog out of baby’s room, put up a barrier or baby gate to get them used to this off-limits zone. After a few weeks, take away the gate and reward them with treats when they don’t follow you into the room. Designating dog-free space before baby arrives will reduce the stress for everyone in the family.

The First Meet-and-Greet

When nine months are over and you finally get to hold your newborn in your arms, the first day at home can be a bit of a blur. To keep stress levels at a minimum, make a game plan for introducing the baby to the dog. It’s likely that you’ve been away at the hospital for a day or two, so have one parent greet Fido first so they can get all their excitement out at seeing their owner come home. Keep the baby outside with the other parent and then switch so your pup gets to say hello to both adults. Bring a blanket or item of clothing that already smells like your little one so the dog can get used to the scent before actually meeting your bundle of joy.

When it’s time for the first meet-and-greet, start off slow. Always hold your baby above your dog, that way you can easily move out of harm’s way if Fido gets overly excited or aggressive. Work from the bottom up—let your dog sniff baby’s feet, then slowly work your way up to the top of the head. It’s never a bad idea to sprinkle in some treats during the initial introduction so your pup feels happy and relaxed even with the addition of a strange new creature into their space.

Even though baby won’t be mobile for a while, it’s not a bad idea to start preparing your dog for the prodding and poking that can come from a curious tot. Once your child is old enough to crawl, they might want to climb on top of or poke your pooch. Acclimate your dog to this behavior by gently tugging their tail or pulling their ear—any sort of pestering gesture you think a child might try. Offer treats as rewards for putting up with this behavior, but always watch for the warning signs that your dog has been pushed too far. Flattened ears, curled lips, and soft growls can indicate your canine companion is not pleased. Remember, your dog’s behavior with a new baby may change over time; it’s just a matter of getting the new siblings to become acquainted with each other’s presence.

Nurturing the Bond Between Dog and Baby

Naturally, every parent wants their dog and their baby to become best friends. You see adorable photos online of newborns cuddling with golden retriever puppies, and your heart instantly melts. This picture-perfect friendship might take some time to cultivate, and there’s always the chance this may never be the case—some dogs never truly grow accustomed to their human siblings. But with the proper preparation and positive reinforcement during the first few months, it’s likely your dog will love your baby almost as much as you do.

Luckily, human babies grow slowly so your pooch has time to get used to each new developmental phase. From newborn to toddler to teenager, significant changes in your child’s mobility take a while to happen. Make sure to pay attention to your dog while you’re caring for your child during each new phase. This way, your pup will associate positive play time with the baby instead of only receiving attention when the baby is asleep. Let your tot get on the same level as Fido and setup an outdoor playpen so they can interact with each other through the mesh walls. While it’s a good idea to hold baby for the first few meetings with Fido, allowing them to see each other face-to-face will encourage that sibling bond you hope to ignite.

Some parents find that their dogs get incredibly territorial of their human playmate, and can even be aggressive toward other people who try to interact with baby. To prevent this from happening, have other people over to your house on a regular basis, especially if you have friends with kids. Introducing your pooch to other tiny humans will make it less likely that they develop overprotective habits with your own child. However, try not to overload your dog with too many people right after bringing home your newborn. Have friends and family come for the first visit on separate days instead of all at once. It might sound like a lot to manage, but you’ll soon get into the swing of making sure your entire family is comfortable and happy together—it just takes a little time.

Introducing your dog to your new baby is an exciting moment that marks the growth of your family. It can be easy to only focus on the birth of your little boy or girl, but try not to forget about your furry friend. No matter what species you may be, change can always be stressful. But if you take the necessary time to truly integrate the old family members with the new, you can create a lifetime of happy memories together.