Proper training and a good disposition make for a dog that reacts well to the inevitable surprises a baby can bring. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

In one of our recent childbirth classes, a mom-to-be asked me for some advice on the best ways to bring her new baby into the home, since they have two dogs.

Now, my family doesn’t have inside animals at home, so I don’t have any personal experience.

But this struck me as a great question, and it led me to ask around and search online for some helpful tips. I found plenty of great information.

To start, you should assess your dogs—or even your cat, if that’s the case—to get a handle on their experiences and disposition around small children.

Has your pet ever been around small children before? How did the pet do?

One site I looked at recommended preparing your dog at least four months in advance for the arrival of the baby. You can do this by showing the pet the baby areas for play and sleep, the baby’s clothes, and so on.

When you’re one to two months from the delivery date, adjust the dog’s normal routine. You’ll have to do this anyway if you plan to have the dog sleep somewhere else, or if the dog’s access to certain areas will be limited because there’s a new baby in the house. It’s best to ready the dog in advance.

If you have time—and if your dog doesn’t already know these—teach the dog some basic commands like come, go, sit, stay and drop it. (That last one comes in handy with baby items.) It’s very important to teach the dog not to jump.

Prep your pup

One great way to prepare you dog for the arrival of a new baby in the home is to mimic—appropriately and respectfully—the potential behaviors of your baby. This can be done before your baby comes home, but also after.

Babies don’t know what they’re doing. If they see a dog, it’s inevitable they will pull its ears, fur, paws and nose.

The recommendation is to gently interact in a similar way with your dog—gently pull on the fur, for example—and give the dog a treat for behaving properly. Then, say something to your dog that you would have said if baby had been pulling on the dog’s fur.

For example: Give the dog’s paw a gentle tug, and then in a kind voice say, “What was that? Just baby!”

Continue this, appropriately, so your dog learns not to react. Your dog can learn how to properly respond to baby’s poking and prodding. Also, remember you’ll be teaching your baby what is OK and not OK with your pet.

Also, teach your dog that the nursery is off limits. (Remember, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends your baby sleep in a crib or bassinet in your room for the first year if possible, or the first six months at a minimum.)

At the end of the day, your baby’s safety is more important than all else. If you suspect your pet can’t behave or can’t be properly trained to accommodate a new baby, you should find the pet a new great home.

Some other tips I found in online research:

  • When you’re still at the hospital with your new baby, give a family member something that has your new baby’s scent on it, such as a burp cloth or a blanket. Have the family member take that item back to the house so that your dog can smell it. This can acclimate the dog to the new baby’s scent.
  • Once you’ve left the hospital and you arrive home with your baby, try to enter the home first. You or a family member can hold the baby at a safe distance, possibly in another room or a quieter part of the house. Let your dog get used to your return and work through its excitement. Just keep your baby a safe distance from the dog until the animal settles down.
  • Have someone distract the dog with treats until everything settles down.
  • When you eventually do allow the dog to come over and see the baby, be relaxed. Allow the dog to smell baby’s feet first. Praise your dog for being gentle and have treats available.
  • Never leave your baby alone on the floor with your dog.