Introducing Your New Baby to Your “Old Baby”
by Sarah Rivera
Have you recently introduced a new baby to your dog? Share your experiences and insights here.
Cesar Millan, titular star of the National Geographic Channel’s The Dog Whisperer, has made a career of turning hard case dogs into obedient, faithful companions. The celebrated dog behavior specialist’s approach is holistic — owner and dog each has a role and each needs to know their role in order to establish a natural, structured, and happy relationship. Cesar’s way is to rehabilitate dogs and train people.
Cesar calls this hierarchical approach the “Power of the Pack,” a dog psychology theory which he has developed from years of experience working with dogs. He encourages dog owners to re-create a pack unit at home with themselves firmly in the position of leader. While his theory and training tactics have sparked controversy among the ranks of professional dog trainers and animal behaviorists, Cesar has repeatedly demonstrated that through a consistent application of exercise regimen, discipline, and then affection, he is successfully able to set boundaries and reposition owners in the role of “leader” of their pack.
Bringing home a new baby is an exciting and overwhelming prospect, and most dog owners worry excessively about how their beloved dog will react. How do you maintain a structured and balanced relationship with your four-legged family member once a baby enters the picture? How do you ensure the safety of your baby?
We thought, who better than Cesar Millan to ease prospective parents’ anxieties about introducing dog and baby? wikiFido reached out to Mr. Millan, who very generously answered our questions via email.
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wikiFido: What does a couple need to do in advance of bringing home a baby to prepare the dog?
CM: Of course, when something as monumental as a pregnancy occurs, your dog is automatically going to know that “something is up.” We humans tend to forget that our animals know what is going on with us internally and emotionally, every single minute. However, the dog is not going to understand the details of the upcoming event – she cannot rationalize. What she can do is pick up your emotions – anxiety, excitement, worry, etc. Your dog will be a mirror for your emotions, so the first thing to do is to get your own relationship with your dog under control.
Those first nine months are the time you have to smooth out any little kinks in your leadership issues with your dog, breaking her of habits that might not bother you, but will be another story altogether with a little one in the house. Your bond and leadership position with your dog is the basic, crucial issue, and if you take your calm-assertive leadership seriously, nine months should be plenty of time for anything but a seriously unstable dog to get clear on the rules, boundaries, and limitations. It is also a good time to work with a professional.
wikiFido: Is it a good idea to bring home a burp cloth or something bearing the baby’s scent from the hospital so that the dog can smell the baby before the introduction?
CM: The exercise with the burp cloth, blanket, or diaper before the baby’s arrival is a more specific one. I encourage people to do this exercise, but in a very controlled way, where you as the pack leader set clear boundaries. Bring the item in, but challenge the dog to sniff from a distance, while you are holding the item. You make the item YOURS, and then give the dog permission to sniff. What you are saying to the dog is, “This new item belongs to me, and you will need to follow my rules when around it.” It starts the process of creating respect for the item.
wikiFido: Do you let the dog in the nursery to sniff around, or should that room be and remain off limits?
CM: By all means, start with the nursery off limits. First, condition your dog that there is now an invisible line that she must not cross into the nursery – without your permission. Before the baby arrives, give the dog short periods where, under your supervision, you invite her in to sniff certain things. Then you send her out. Do this a few times and she will get the message that this room is not hers to own – it belongs to a pack leader and she must always be respectful around the room or inside it.
wikiFido: When bringing the baby home for the first time, how do you introduce the baby and the dog?
CM: First, take the dog for a long, high-energy walk. The baby should be inside the house. Before entering the house, wait at the doorstep and make certain your dog is calm-submissive before you invite her in. Baby can be with mother, in another room, or across the room. Your dog will instantly know there is a new scent in the house – if you have already introduced the scent, it will be somewhat familiar. The mother or father who holds the baby must be in a total calm-assertive state – indicating to the dog that the baby-in-arms is a part of that calm-assertive energy – a part of the pack leader. You then allow the dog to sniff baby, but at a respectful distance. Do not bring the dog close on the first meeting. Gradually, on subsequent occasions, allow the dog to get closer, and so on, and so on. You are teaching the dog respect, and saying to the dog, “This is also your pack leader.”
wikiFido: Do you treat the dog like you might an older sibling? For example, give the dog special toys and attention to let it know it is still important?
CM: A dog is a dog and a baby is a baby. The baby is a pack leader, and the dog must realize this from the beginning. Just as important as teaching the dog to respect the baby is teaching the baby to respect the dog. You must always supervise once the child gets to the exploratory stage, teaching him that the dog is not to be harassed, or have her tail pulled, etc. These lessons on mutual respect cannot begin early enough…too many children have inadvertently provoked an otherwise peaceful dog, simply because they were unsupervised or their parents had not given them the right rules and information.
As far as toys or special attention, toys do not matter to your dog as much as your calm-assertive leadership. Your dog needs to know that the routine is still in place – meaning you still get up to walk her, then feed her; that playtime happens on time, that nothing in her life changes dramatically. If she feels secure about her place in the pack, she will happily relax and submit to the new member of the family.
wikiFido: With all training, so much depends on the dog’s personality. Are there different kinds of personalities that need to be dealt with in other ways? Are there specific dog breeds that are great around babies? (And conversely, NOT so great, i.e. pit bulls?)
CM: I think of a dog’s personality as her “energy,” and I believe it is not so much a matter of breed as energy that counts when choosing a dog that can be around babies. Babies have been bitten by rottweilers and pit bulls, but they’ve also been mauled by Labradors and Chows and mixed-breed dogs. One baby in Rhode Island was recently killed by a cute little Pomeranian. The key, again, is making sure your dog is calm-submissive to you on a predictable basis before you bring the baby home. You must be honest with yourself – can you control your dog at all times, in all situations? Even if you have a teacup Chihuahua and that Chihuahua is a fear-biter, if you haven’t managed that issue, you should not bring your baby around the dog.
In other words, you as the parent really can’t blame the dog or her breed on her behavior around the baby. It all starts with the bond between you the pack leader and your dog. It’s easy to let certain “annoying” behaviors go when it’s just you and your spouse, but when a helpless baby comes along, you must be honest with yourself. If after working with a professional or practicing on your own you are still not able to be 100% pack leader with your dog, then you must seriously think about using those nine months for finding your dog another home. Your child’s safety comes first, and if something bad happens, it will not be the dog’s “fault.” Dogs do not reason or premeditate.
Thank you for the advice, Cesar!
Have you recently introduced a new baby to your old baby? Share your experiences and insights here.
More About Cesar Millan
- The Dog Whisperer
- Learn more about Cesar Millan’s dog rehabilitation practices at his Dog Psychology Center website.
- Check out video highlights and more information at the National Geographic official site for The Dog Whisperer.
Fans of the show will want to know that the new season of The Dog Whisperer begins Monday, October 23 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel.