New Baby, Old Dog, Ask Victoria Stilwell


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"I am the very proud parent of a 5 month old daughter and 2 Basset Hounds (Ace (5 years old) and Stella (2 years old)). My youngest Bassett has started urinating in the house and chewing again. Prior to this she hadn't had an accident or chewed in almost a year. I am afraid she is acting out because of the new baby in the house. We have tried to step up the walks and attention, but unfortunately it doesn't seem to be helping. Any tips?!" — Kennedy_Mom

Being a new parent can be quite an anxious time.  It's exhausting.  The cry of a baby makes the mom anxious and it's going to have the same effect on a dog. 

Sometimes it is hard for the dog to accept a new being in the household and he might mark his territory.  If your dog is particularly sound-sensitive, a crying baby will stress him out.  The accidents in the house are a manifestation of anxiety about the newborn.  You will know any new negative behavior is linked to the new baby if the dog was fine before the baby was born.  Most of the time it is anxiety and the worst thing you can do is punish the dog.  

Before Bringing Home Baby

When I counsel new mothers, I prepare her before the baby is born by having her roleplay various tasks she will do with the new baby. Get up in the middle of the night periodically, play sounds of a baby crying, purchase a toy baby doll and carry it around the house, change its diaper, mimic feeding the baby. While you are doing these things, give your dog his favorite toy or play a favorite game.

Welcome Home, Baby!

Once the baby has arrived, it's important to show that good things happen for your dog when the baby is around.  Bring out your dog's favorite toy or treat when the baby is in the room or crying so that the dog learns that the baby is not a bad thing. 

It is also important for your dog to have a space of its own — a den-like space that he can crawl into and feel comfortable and safe there.  You can also remove your dog if he is particularly stressed and send him to this safe place until things have calmed down. Make sure the dog gets quality attention by itself as well. You don't want to isolate the dog but having a safe place is important. 

If you think your dog is really, really suffering and these things don't work, you either keep working on it knowing the baby will grow and this new time will pass or find another home where the dog will be successful and less anxious.  I am typically against re-homing a dog but sometimes there are desperate circumstances.

My number one rule for parents with children ages 7 and under is you never, ever, ever leave that baby or child unattended with the dog at anytime. Even if your dog hasn't shown any aggression to your baby, you should still not leave them alone together.  If the dog is showing aggression, you cannot take too many chances with babies. If you feel that the child might get bitten, children will come first.  Find your dog an appropriate home.  There are great dog adoption sites like Petfinder.com where you can find a good home for your pet. Sometimes people think this is an easy option, but actually it's not at all.  It isn't easy for the family or the dog, but sometimes it's better for everyone.

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