Sadly, a lot of people with pet dogs end up turning them in to a shelter when they have a baby. It’s understandable, as caring for a dog can start to seem like extra unnecessary work on top of all the nonstop new effort, responsibilities, distractions, worry, and lack of sleep that come with parenting a young child. But for those of us partnered with an assistance dog, forgoing the dog to focus on the baby isn’t just unthinkable, it’s just not an option.
The situation is a bit easier with a guide, hearing, or service dog than with a pet, luckily. Assistance dogs have been well socialized and thoroughly trained to handle all sorts of environments, circumstances, and unfamiliar people. This generally minimizes the stress that comes with the introduction of a new person into the home.
However, assistance dogs are still animals with basic instincts and a natural susceptibility to certain stressors, including a strange person who’s around all the time, lots of new noise, sleep-deprived grumpy humans, and major changes to routine and the environment. Also, while your assistance dog is in your presence more often than a pet, supervision of the dog and baby still become critical during your partner’s off time.
It’s important to go about things in an informed, responsible way when bringing a baby into a home with an assistance dog. Obviously, the baby’s safety is the main priority. But you also need to make sure your canine partner is able to remain entirely focused on her tasks. So, here’s some practical advice for introducing the newest and littlest member of your family into your home, and for keeping things harmonious and safe as your newborn becomes mobile and grows into a toddler.
Tips for Having a Baby and an Assistance Dog
- Get a doll and treat it like your baby for about a month ahead of your due date. Let your assistance dog see you carry the doll around, lay it in the crib, place it in the bassinet, and even talk baby talk to it.
- Regularly expose your assistance dog to scents associated with your baby in the few weeks or so leading up to bringing the new baby home. Let her smell things like baby powder, baby lotion, clothing, and diapers.
- Get your assistance dog accustomed to the sound of a baby crying in advance, too. Play recordings of babies crying for a few weeks before your new baby arrives. Start with just once per day and gradually build up to several times daily.
- Never force interaction between your child and your assistance dog. Simply invite the dog to investigate and let her come if and when she wants to; don’t push the baby on her.
- Don’t leave your baby or toddler and assistance dog together unsupervised. Small children can inadvertently hurt the dog and prompt her to defend herself. Also, don’t allow your baby to approach your dog once she starts crawling; you don’t ever want your dog to feel cornered by the baby.
- While it may be cute to watch your assistance dog give your baby kisses, remember that young children don’t have the strongest immune systems, so germs are a serious concern. Similarly, don’t let your dog chew on your babies toys.
- And don’t let your baby have your assistance dog’s toys, bedding, food, or other stuff. It’s not just about the germs—especially once your child stars putting everything in her mouth; it’s also about ownership and territory. Your dog may not appreciate her things falling into the hands of a kid, and this can cause her to feel threatened. Keep in mind too that kibble and dog treats can be a choking hazard to a small child.
- Refrain from yelling at or punishing your assistance dog if she growls or barks at your child (in spite of her training). These are important warnings that precede a bite, so it’s important that your dog offer them if she gets upset. Also, avoid scolding or punishing your dog for anything associated with your baby, as this can create a rift between them.
- Remember that your hearing, guide, or service dog still needs affection and playtime. It’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed with a baby, and everything else in your life tends to suffer some neglect. But it’s important that this doesn’t happen with your canine partner, or it will quickly start to affect her happiness and her ability to perform her tasks.