Bringing A New Baby into a Home with Dogs

August 12, 2021

An Interview with QK Obedience Trainer Sheena McNeil by Jennifer Broome, QK Owner

All kids should have a fluffy, loving and loyal dog to grow up with!  Remember the days where there were dogs loose in the neighborhood that would happily stroll about, visit families and play exuberantly with people and other dogs?  I sure do!  In fact, my neighborhood Golden Retriever was aptly named “Jennifer the Dog”.  Ironically when my mom was pregnant with me, she met the neighbor when the golden puppy ran into our yard.  My mom told our neighbor that was going to be MY name!

These days, dogs really do not roam loose anymore.  Between leash laws, dog licenses and just the hustle and bustle of suburban or city life, this would be dangerous for our dogs.  Most are not really car savvy, and they are also not always well-behaved or social enough to enjoy wandering freely.

In addition, dogs today seem to be, well just different from those farm type or neighborhood dogs of days past.  Families are getting designer breeds, pure-bred working dogs, or rescue dogs and these dogs are very much part of the family.  These dogs are extremely smart, athletic and work oriented yet they often lack early socialization, manners training and even basic foundation training for obedience.  Unfortunately, it is common to lose perspective that dogs are animals, and they view things very differently from humans.  Just this week I had two calls about young, well-bred dogs that bit children.  Sadly, it was the human’s faults in both cases.  The dogs were simply being pack animals and they were asserting their dominance in their natural behavior.  One of these cases, the dog was aroused by children playing ball games with her and the dog nipped out of excitement and dog style rough play.  The other case, a juvenile intact male working breed dog was sleeping at his owner’s feet and a grandchild just happened to walk by, startle the dog and the dog lashed out with a bite.  In hindsight, with the family all packed into the Grandparent’s home post COVID for months, there was just too many young children in this dog’s domain, and he should have been crated.  This dog was doing the job he had assumed, he was protecting his master.

I reached out to our QK Trainer Sheena for her perspective and advice on dogs in a household with children.  Sheena has a 2-year-old toddler, and in my opinion, Sheena is doing everything right to protect her child as well as being fair and appropriate with her FOUR dogs. In all fairness, Sheena was a Dog Mom before a Human Mom, so the dogs were there first!

I have a tremendous respect for our QK Trainer Sheena McNeil who originally came to me many years ago as a client.  She later spent several months in intense schooling at the Michael Ellis Dog Training School in California, and she made such an impact with her instructor Michael that he gave Sheena his high energy, working Labrador Retriever.  Sheena and this dog bonded, and Sheena worked hard with this dog for scent detection and field work.  Sheena owns four very driven, working dogs to include 2 American Labrador Retrievers, 1 Springer Spaniel and 1 Brittany Spaniel.

Here is the feedback that Sheena offered to me:

“I wanted to send you a couple of notes about how I introduced my dogs to a baby coming into my home.  

  • Baseline level of obedience on all dogs in the home.  They must go lie down, sit, recall and have manners.
  • Adults in the home have strong leadership, structure, and boundaries with all dogs in the home, First and Foremost!
  • Dogs should be good at adapting with changes to schedule. Dogs that have been on the same schedule for most of their life are going to have a harder time when this huge change happens. Most times with new parents, their dog is their child and when the baby comes, generally, this changes and having clear boundaries and structure in the home is crucial to a dog accepting this change. 
  • Dogs are comfortable using management tools in the home. (ex. Crates, placebeds, x-pens, baby gates, etc.) Placebeds, Wire crates and x-pens can be helpful with allowing the dog to feel like part of the family while still being contained. 
  • Make sure the dogs have somewhere to go to be alone/undisturbed when the family has people constantly coming in and out of the house to see the baby.
  • Change the dog’s setup and schedule, as soon as possible after finding out you are expecting, to what it will be when the baby arrives.  This way there will not be a change to schedule or routine when the baby comes.  Also, dogs will get stressed when parents start changing around the house so getting that done early so that they dogs have time to adjust to the changes can help.
  • I had someone take the dogs for the first week I was home so that I had a chance to settle in with baby before dealing with the dogs.  This is a wonderful but stressful time for parents and adding stressors one at a time instead of all at once can be helpful.
  • Not sure why it is common practice for parents to bring home a blanket for their dog to smell before the baby comes home.  In my opinion your dog can smell that baby even before you know you are pregnant.  Not sure why smelling a blanket is supposed to be helpful.  Strong leadership in the home is more important. 
  • I also did not allow my dogs to come near the baby.  When I carried my baby around, they were to give me space PERIOD. I did not put my child on the same level with the dogs. When I did eventually do this, it was from behind a gate. From the first day the dogs were to respect the baby’s space.  They do not need to be near the baby to smell her. 
  • (optional) for the first few months I did close the dogs off (baby gates) from the rooms that I spent the most time in with the baby.  
  • I worked on having the dogs be able to walk on leash while I pushed and an empty stroller to make sure that there were no concerns there.
  • For dogs that are sensitive to sounds it might be helpful to desensitize them to baby crying. I would use a recording if needed. 

These were things that I did when I found out that I was expecting, and my pack of dogs transitioned very well to this GIANT life change.  I will say that I have only done this once, but I feel it was pretty successful.”

Wow Sheena, this is really great advice.  Thank you for taking the time to share your success story.  I know how important your four dogs are to you, but I also know that they are high powered field dogs, and they too need jobs.  Obedience and following our Leadership is a job, and one that enables them to accept their place in our family pack dynamics.  A child should never be put into jeopardy around a dog.  Our job is to protect our human family and keep order with the furry ones.  Just remember, they don’t cry, throw food or throw tantrums to show their resistance, they growl, snarl and bite!  They are dogs.