There’s a common belief that dogs will change when you bring a baby in the home, with some dogs exhibiting jealous behavior. Not all dogs get jealous of new babies, but it can certainly happen.
I asked a friend of ours who has first-hand experience of coping with a jealous dog and newborn baby what her tips were. She wrote the following guidance which also includes references to studies on the matter. I hope you find it helpful.
Why do dogs get jealous of babies?Dogs can get jealous of babies and change once a newborn comes into the house. Dogs are highly social animals who thrive on routine the undivided attention of their owners. A New baby can change that for them, and results in signs of jealousy from some dogs, but not all.
You can almost think of dogs like children. Older kids will often get jealous of a new baby in the family… and some dogs are the same.
Do dogs change when you have a baby?
Yes, dogs can change when you have a baby. Some will become jealous; others can even get extremely protective towards the newborn.
Eleven months before my son’s birth, my husband and I adopted two American Rottweiler mix puppies, Kiki and Copper. Without a job I was free to devote my time to establishing a strong relationship with them, preparing them for what was to come.
When my due date drew near, I called both dogs to the dinner table and said, “Okay, guys, we’re about to welcome a new member of the pack. He’ll be very tiny and fragile, so you must be super gentle and make sure no strangers get near him without my consent. Got it?”
Their eyes lit up with doggy enthusiasm and they replied, “Right, Mom! Got it. We will protect the new pack member tooth and claw!”
Okay, not really, but wouldn’t it be nice if it were that simple?
Unfortunately, that won’t always be the case.
Whilst some dogs will change when you have a baby and actually become protective, others can start to get jealous of the new arrival. Here’s what happened to us.
Signs your dog is jealous of the baby
There are some tell-tale signs you can pick up on that your dog is jealous of the baby.
Whilst dogs don’t have the gift of gab, with a little knowledge of canine behavior we can tell what they are thinking and why.
So, how did I know my dog was jealous of my baby?
When I finally brought my son to meet the dogs, Copper and Kiki had polar-opposite reactions. Kiki gave the sleeping little one a curious sniff and promptly looked to me for praise. I’m pretty sure her thoughts were, “Something new? Meh. Smells like Mom and Dad. Pet me now?”
I had to point Copper to my son’s carrier several times before he cautiously stalked up to it, hackles raised with the hair standing up along the spine, and gave it the tiniest sniff from six inches away. “Is it…. alive…?” My son’s foot twitched and Copper immediately growled and backed off to eye this strange creature with great suspicion. “Nope. Too weird. Don’t like it. Make it go away.”
Throughout the rest of the evening, Copper made a point of letting us know of his opinion of the baby, finding excuses to “incidentally” walk by the carrier and growl. He’d actually look at us to make sure we heard him, too. All the response he got from me was, “Oh, knock it off, ya jealous mutt!”
And this isn’t unusual behavior.
Studies show that dogs can get jealous of babies
A recent study revealed that dogs really do get jealous, especially towards something that threatens the pack order – like a baby!
They don’t bother to make distinctions, either – to a dog, an baby is just as much of a threat as a shady stranger. They look to us as their “pack leaders” to reassure them of their place in the new family arrangement.
More often dogs display jealousy towards babies by competing for your attention. Every time my mother went to hold her new grandson, her Jack Russel Terrier would fly into her lap and assault everyone with his tongue. He was so bad about it that we had to keep him closed in the back room whenever baby came to visit.
Of course, Kiki saw this and had to try it, too. Only she knew better than to jump up.
Instead, she’d wait until after I fed the baby and put him next to me on the floor to sleep. Then she’d slink her way between us on her belly and stare at me until I noticed her. As soon as I did, she’d immediately roll over on her back – and also on the baby.
“Kiki, get off that baby! Up, up, up!” I’d say and she’d get up in a way that strategically landed her in my lap. She’d give me an innocent look that said, “Oh, dear. Was I laying on something? I had no idea. My bad.”
My suspicion was she knew exactly what she was doing, and this was all part of her dog brain being jealous of the baby.
Dogs instinctively crave social structure and order. They need to know exactly where they stand among those, they consider their “pack.” When something new comes along to disrupt that structure they get confused and can act out in a negative way.
A little preparation beforehand goes a long way in helping your four-legged family member adjust to life with a new baby.
How do I stop my dog being jealous of my baby?
To stop your dog being jealous of your baby, it’s best to start before the newborn comes home. You can do this by preparing your dog for the new arrival.
We humans have certain rituals we carry out to prepare for a new child. Including your dog in this process will help him feel like he’s contributing to the pack.
When you set up baby’s room, allow your dog to follow you around and watch what you are doing. Let him get a good sniff of the new baby’s toys, crib, blanket, stroller, and other gear, but do not allow him to play with them.
At the same time, set up your dog’s things in a quiet corner where he can retreat when the chaos gets to be too much.
Not in the baby’s room but put him where he can at least see the rest of the family. Reassure your dog that this is his personal territory by placing treats, toys, or his food dish in this space. Never let baby play in your dog’s personal space. Likewise, do not let your dog play in the nursery, either.
I’ve heard from other mums that this was the point they thought they dog might develop issues once the baby came home. Yes, you heard that right… it appeared that the dog was jealous of pregnancy!
Giving your dog a defined space and unique toys will help curb your dog’s instinct to protect their territory. This will go some way to stopping your dog being jealous when the baby arrives.
Choose dog toys that feel and react differently from baby toys. For example, Kiki got rope toys and flat, non-stuffed plush toys with honkers, squeakers or crunchy bottles.
I avoided vinyl, rubber or plush toys – materials that are similarly used for infant toys. I also provided tough chews, so she felt less inclined to eat the baby’s things.
Make your dog part of prenatal exercises and give him a taste of what that exercise will be like after baby comes home. Bring the stroller along on walks. If you’ve never walked a dog and a stroller at the same time, this is good training for the both of you.
Essential pre-baby training
We teach our dogs to understand human, but too often we never bother to learn dog, and this sometimes forces them to behave badly in order to get our attention.
Read up on behavior or watch videos on dog psychology. Contact an experienced dog trainer, ask tons of questions, and ask to put them on speed-dial.
Not all training methods work for every dog, so it’s good to have an expert on hand in case of a behavioral emergency.
Attend basic dog training classes. Even if you and your dog already know the basics, a refresher is a good way to strengthen the bonds of communication.
Teach your dog “leave it” or “drop it” for that inevitable moment when your dog tries to sneak off with something of the baby’s. My Rottweiler mentor also taught all her dogs a unique command – “Baby.” She made sure I knew this command very well, because a single snap in a child’s face is a one-way ticket to the shelter.
She would bring her dog – always on a leash! – to someone with an infant or small child. She’d make the dog sit and be calm. Then she’d bring the baby to the dog and let it sniff.
Every time the dog’s eyes met hers she’d say in a soothing, firm voice, “That’s baby. Baayy-beee,” and point at the infant. She’d do this several times, always rewarding the dog’s calm reaction with a praising smile, a treat, or a good head rub.
If her dog growled at the child, she’d back it off a couple feet with a sharp, “No!” then she’d point and repeat the gentle, “Baaayyy-beee.” If the dog was still uneasy, she’d break off training to try again later. Some dogs just need a bit more time, and that is okay.
Be consistent with your training and let your dog work at their own pace.
Your tone of voice is very important.
I can’t emphasis this enough.
A dog may not understand what the word means, but your tone clues him in on how he should respond. If you use excited, high-pitched tones like “Lookie! It’s a BABY!!!” he’ll be excited and will conclude that this “baby” is some kind of play toy. You don’t want that.
I well understand how hectic it is preparing for a new arrival, but any training you do with your dog pays back ten-fold.
When should I introduce my dog to the baby
When you first come home from the hospital, your dog will probably be very excited to see you. If someone can take them out for a long walk before you come home, that will mean that they have a little less energy when they finally see you again.
Where possible, first say hello to your dog without the baby in your arms. Then, if they do jump up out of excitement, then you don’t need to worry about the baby being scratched.
Once inside, take a seat on the sofa so that both you and the baby are comfortable, and then you can introduce your dog to the new member of the family. Let your dog gently sniff the baby and then offer them some treats and lots of gentle praise. A lot of the time it might take the dog a while to actually understand what the baby is.
Most dogs are curious for a few minutes and then lose interest.
Handy Hint: Dogs will also show jealousy when new puppies come into the home. This can even manifest itself with drooling behavior.
How to help your jealous dog get along with the baby
Despite prior training, your dog will still need time to get used to a new baby and might still get jealous of the new arrival. Particularly all the attention it requires that takes away from the attention you give your dog.
It helps to greet your dog before introducing the baby, that way the dog is assured everything is okay. Let your dog sniff the baby while you hold it and observe his reaction. Some dogs are terrified of babies. I know I was at first!
Let’s face it, babies are loud, smelly and act nothing like full-sized humans. That’s okay. Let him have his space. He will come around in his own time.
If your dog acts out by growling or jumping, calmly send him to his space. Hopefully, you’ve trained him to do this on his own. If you force a dog into his space, he’ll associate it as a punishment.
If your dog responds calmly, shower him with praise. Always reward your dog for good behavior.
Never leave your dog unsupervised with your child. Your dog might be more mild-mannered than Clark Kent, but even the most tolerant dog may be forced to nip if a child leaves them no other choice.
Case in point: When my son was a little over a year old, he backed Kiki into a corner when I wasn’t paying attention. She couldn’t escape. Next thing I heard was a sharp yip and my son started wailing. I turned around to see tears gushing down his face, a tuft of black fur clutched in each little fist, and Kiki with that “I’m in trouble now” look on her face. Thankfully, no one was hurt – she just scared him.
Still, I had to do something, so I made both of them sit together quietly on the floor, not interacting. My son stopped crying at once – he knew he’d done wrong. They both had the look of shame. They never did it again.
This method does not work for all dogs and babies. Always consult a trainer for advice beforehand.
Mom, let’s face it. Caring for a baby in the first year is like running a triathlon you never trained for and have no choice but to finish. It’s too easy to let the poor dog’s needs fall between the cracks, especially in the first few weeks. Your support team can help you with this. Let someone else handle walking and grooming the dog so you can get some much needed rest, or hire a dog walker.
Don’t be afraid to foster your dog with someone you trust for a little while. Just be sure to bring baby to visit often so your dog at least gets used to its sounds and smell before coming home.
In the end, some dogs never accept a baby. This was the case with my male dog, Copper. I tried for months to get him to accept my son, but although he loved older children, he remained terrified and hostile towards infants.
This was the way he was – once he made up his mind that he did not like something, nothing could change it. (He had the same opinion of balloons. To this day he’s still mortally terrified of them.)
Rather than risk an incident, my husband and I came to the difficult decision to let him go. We found him a home with a wonderful retired couple, and he is now living out his days as his new dad’s fishing buddy.
If you have to resort to this, too, know this is not a failing of yours. Rather, you are doing what is best for the dog, and this is what makes you a great dog owner. There are always more dogs to adopt when you and your family are ready for one.
How do I help my dog cope with a new baby in the home?
Well, the earlier you start preparing your dog, the more time you’ll have to help them to cope with some of the adjustments. That means that you should start setting up new things as soon as they arrive in the home.
Items like prams and highchairs and mobiles that move and play tunes might be the types of things that a more apprehensive dog needs time to get used to. Ensure that your dog gets lots of rewards and treats around these new things to help build up a positive association.
Baby noises might cause some dogs to bark in response, which is the last thing that you’ll want when you’re trying to settle down the new arrival for a nap.
Check out online video resources for recordings of babies crying and then play them very quietly while your pup has their food; that again helps make a positive association for these new sounds.
It’s likely that your dog will also have some routine changes to cope with; introducing those slowly will make the transition much more manageable for them. These might initially include:
- Less attention from you, or having fusses at different times of the day
- Shorter walks or learning to walk next to a pram
- Restricted access to some rooms, such as the baby’s bedroom
- More visitors to the house who are probably going to be more interested in meeting baby than your puppy.
With a little preparation, these needn’t be too much of a shock to the system for your dog. So, that might mean having plenty of toys to keep your dog occupied while you’re busy caring for the baby.
It could also be having a range of interactive brain games so that you can at least tire their brains even if they can’t be walked for as long as usual. Then you might have some really tasty long-lasting chews which your dog gets when a visitor arrives.
If your dog’s obedience is a little rusty, then taking a refresher course could be a great idea before the baby arrives home.
Handy Hint: Recent research suggests that dogs understand when humans cry and have been seem to attempt to comfort them.
Whether or not your dog gets jealous of your baby can depend on your relationship with them before the baby arrives home. If your pooch spends all day and night by your side and is used to attention on tap, then suddenly having to wait their turn and share your time might prove to be frustrating for them.
This is one of those situations which is much better to address in advance. Help your dog to become more independent by setting up stair gates and having some time in the day apart from each other. Help your dog to look forward to these times by making sure they have a tasty chew to munch on.
You might need to still be close by in the early stages of training, but having times of the day where there is a barrier between you and your dog will help them adjust to sharing your attention much more quickly.
If I have one last word of advice, it’s this: Be patient with yourself and with yoru dog!
It’s rough on everyone trying to adjust to a new baby, especially you. You’re not going to handle every situation with perfect grace and that is okay. With a set routine, a little information, and a whole lot of help and support, you and your dog will find your happy family groove.
There is so much good advice on helping your dog deal with changes in your home that I can’t possibly list them in a single article, so I encourage you to read and watch everything you can get your paws on.
You might also like…
- Dogs can get favorite people they are more attached to
- Why dog saliva can make babies sick
- Why dogs like it when you talk in a baby voice to them
Image via https://pixabay.com/photos/natural-landscape-at-dusk-animal-3849281/