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Adding A Baby To The Family

Once you know that you are expecting a baby, it is time to have a good think about what life with a baby will be like – less time to yourself, changed routines, and new responsibilities.


All of this change will affect the relationship that you have with your pet greyhound.  You may find it is harder to get time to spend with your retired racer, or you may struggle to find time to take him for walks like you used to.  Your world will now revolve around that special new baby, and it is not uncommon for the family pet to suffer as a consequence.  This can be especially difficult if the dog has spent a large part of his time with you enjoying one-on-one attention, living in the house, and accompanying you everywhere.


You can minimise the effects of the new baby’s arrival by starting to plan ahead.  This will give you plenty of time to change the routine, train new behaviours or even refresh your greyhound’s obedience.  As soon as possible, you should begin transitioning to the new routine so that life does not suddenly change, or worse still, the changes are associated with the arrival of the baby into the household.


Eat, Sleep, Live


First of all you will need to think about where the dog will live, eat and sleep once the baby arrives.  Will he still have access to the house, or will he be outside?  Will he be fed inside or outside?  Will he have access to some areas and not to others?  You will need to have a discussion about your expectations, and formulate a plan that you can all agree to.

If your dog currently sleeps on your bed or in your room, and you plan have him sleep outside in a kennel or garage, this is going to be a very big change for him.  Similarly, if he has had free range to the entire house, and you now have decided not to let him into the nursery or bedrooms, he will have to learn to sit patiently in another area when you go into those areas.


You may need to think about purchasing and fitting safety gates, child barriers, door locks, a crate, or even a kennel or run for outside.  The sooner you make these changes, the sooner you can begin training your greyhound to accept the new routine.  Take things gradually, set your dog up for success and remember to reward good behaviour when it happens.


Teaching your dog what is expected


Dogs can be quite intuitive, but they certainly do not come with a good knowledge of human etiquette and expectations.  For this reason it is up to us to teach our dogs what we expect them to do in any given circumstance.  Dogs are naturally attracted to food and smells, so a new baby may be something they will be very interested in, and will want to approach them to sniff and smell.


By now you should have worked out what your likely routine will be once the baby comes home – feeding, changing, sleeping etc.  If this is your first baby, you may want to have a chat to a child health nurse, or to family and friends who have young children so that you have a good idea of what to expect, especially during the first few months.


You now need to think about what you want the dog to be doing during the various activities – Will he sit on his bed? Be locked in another part of the house? Or maybe it will be a time he will be put outside?  All dogs need to have a certain level of obedience, maybe now is the time to enrol in a refresher course at the local training class.


Your dog will need to respond to ‘Down’, ‘Come’ as well as other useful cues such as: ‘Outside’, ‘On your Mat’ and ‘Settle’.  You may want to take time to teach your dog to sit quietly in a crate so that he can safely be inside the house, or you may want to teach him to politely stand still (or sit) when greeted rather than jump up for a pat.

It is possible to teach your greyhound any behaviour as long as you are patient and break the final result down into smaller, achievable steps.  From our understanding of learning theory we know that a behaviour that is rewarded will be more likely to occur again, so we can use small food treats, attention/pats and cuddles or games with a favourite toy to train the behaviour we want.


With greyhounds, you will need work slowly towards your goal behaviour, rewarding progress through the steps along the way.  Be patient and try to spend a little time everyday training the behaviours you want, greyhounds do not respond well to lots of repetitions so a few short sessions each day will get you there faster than one long session.

You will have to think about what you want your dog to do whilst you are feeding, or changing the baby’s nappy.  It is not enough to say ‘I want the dog to leave us alone and not bounce all over us’ you need to decide what it is the dog should be doing.


For example you may train the dog to lie quietly in his crate whilst you change the nappy, or you might want him to lie quietly on his mat whilst you feed the baby on the couch.


Even simple requests such as ‘Outside’ or ‘Leave it’ need to be coached so the dog understands what you mean.  More complex behaviours such as ‘On your Mat’ or ‘Stay’ take a while to reach a level where they are useful to a new parent.

Once your dog is reliably responding to your requests, you should also practice getting the dog to do them whilst you carry and nurse a doll or similar as this adds to the distraction, and also forces you to consider how you will be able to manage the dog’s behaviour when your hands are full.  Actually practice walking the dog beside a moving pram – easier said than done.  It may be that you need to spend some time reminding your dog about loose lead walking, or purchase a head collar (such as a Halti) to aid you as you walk the dog with the pram.


Another important thing to work on is rewarding calm behaviour at all times.  When you have a new baby or even a toddler in the house, you are not going to want the dog to be silly or excitable, or to race around the house.  Dogs obviously need some outlet for their energy, and you will have to find some time for a game or walk/run, but at other times coach calm behaviours such as Lie Down and Settle.  Take time to reward any calm behaviour with small food treats and a calm pat.


The more calm behaviour you reward, the more likely your dog is to display calm behaviour (something you will be pleased to have when the baby arrives).


You may like to source a recording of baby and children noises to play to your dog.  Babies cry and make a host of unusual noises and it may help to have the dog experience these well in advance.  You can start by playing the noises at a low volume until the dog appears comfortable with them then slowly bring them up to regular volume, taking care not to frighten the dog.


Some dogs are very noise sensitive, and will need some time to adjust to the new noises, so take it slowly and pair a fun activity with the recording.  You can also practice having the sounds come from the baby’s room or cot so the dog gets used to the sound coming from a different place.  There are commercially available recording of the sounds that children, babies and toddlers make, so ask your vet or visit for their ‘Sounds Soothing’ CD.


As the Day approaches…


As the arrival of the baby starts to draw close, you will need to think about other important things such as who will care for the dog whilst you are in hospital, and who will exercise it if you can’t (i.e. if you need a caesarean section).  Often family and friends can be called on to assist during this very busy time.  If you can relax about the dog, it leaves the new mum and dad to concentrate on the baby’s arrival.


Once the baby is born, you can also take home some items with the baby’s scent on them.  Dogs live in a world rich in scent and smells, and this will give the dog time to adjust to the smells of the new child.


The first few weeks of Baby


Bringing your baby home is a very stressful time for a new mother.  Everything seems different and you may not get a lot of sleep.  Your focus will naturally be on your new child and settling him or her into life at home.  At the same time, you are going to have to put into practice all of those things that you have taken time to teach your dog.

On the day you first come home, your dog will be very excited to see you after an absence, and may be a little more animated than usual.  For this reason it is probably a good idea to greet the dog without the baby in your arms.  Maybe dad can hold onto bubs whilst you say hello, or the dog can be safely housed outside until you are settled, then go out and greet him.


Your greyhound is going to be understandably interested in the baby – it makes strange noises, and interesting smells.  If the dog is going to be inside the house, it may be a good idea to refresh your training with the baby present and even safer to have the dog securely on leash to start with.


We want the dog to view the arrival and presence of the baby as one of the best things in its life, rather than seeing the baby as competition for your affection.  For this reason, you should pair the presence of the baby with all of the good things in the dog’s life – food, treats, games and attention.  Whenever you are holding the baby, you can reward the dog with really high value treats that he does not get at other times – maybe reinforcing behaviours such as ‘Drop’ or ‘On Your Mat’.  This not only pairs the baby with the treats, but also helps constantly reinforce the correct behaviour.

Also try to find time to spend with your dog alone – it will be hard when you are so busy, and tired.  This may be a great job for Dad – he can take the dog for walks or to the park.  If your dog is going to spend more time outside, alone, you will need to spend some time on enriching his environment so that he is occupied with activities.  Food releasing devices and chew toys can provide hours of entertainment and challenge.  Try to rotate toys regularly, and only have a few out at a time, so that your dog remains interested in them.  There are some great ideas for preparing treats that take time to eat, and toys such as the ‘Kong’ toy can be stuffed tightly as the dog gains experience.


Be aware that some dogs can be quite possessive of their toys and chews, so make sure you clean them up and put them away before children play in the yard!

In the early weeks, the baby is unable to move about unassisted, although it may kick its legs, wave its arms and wiggle.  Supervision of the dog is essential, and tools such as baby gates can be used to restrict access to various areas where the baby may be.  Your dog should not be able to access your child’s sleeping or resting areas unsupervised, so you will need to have a fool-proof system of shutting doors, or closing barriers.  If this is not possible, the dog will need to be enclosed in a crate, or put outside when you cannot directly supervise – NEVER leave a dog alone with a baby, even for a few seconds!


Watch your dog’s body language constantly for signs of stress or arousal.  Many dogs give subtle signals about how they are feeling, and it is up to us to see them and deal with the situation accordingly.  In most cases, moving the dog to another area, or giving it a time out in his crate will allow him to settle down and return to a relaxed state.  Greyhounds are notorious for giving quite subtle stress signals, and will often appear to be doing ‘nothing’ and yet can be quite uncomfortable in the situation.  You will have an idea of what your greyhound does when he is uneasy, so be watching out for these signs when the baby is around.


Baby on the move……


As your baby grows, it won’t be long before he starts to become mobile.  Exploring the floor becomes his new hobby as his motor skills develop.  At this time, the challenges presented become different, and the movement will increase the dog’s interest in the baby.  For some dogs this movement may stimulate their prey instincts, and you need to be very careful that your dog remains calm and does not become aroused.

Now more than ever, supervision is vital.  It may be safest to have the dog safely confined, or outside during baby’s busy times.  If the dog does not seem aroused, and remains calmly on his mat, it may be safe to have him with you in the room, but watch his body language closely for changes.


Don’t be surprised if your baby crawls straight for the dog.  The dog will become interesting to the baby too.  As the baby approaches, you will need to watch your dog’s body language for changes, and step in if he looks uncomfortable with the baby’s approach.  You can teach your dog to move away on cue, giving him an option to go elsewhere, and don’t forget to continue to use food treats to reward calm behaviour.

You will need to keep your eyes on both the baby and the dog at this age.  They should certainly never be left, even for a minute as the baby will be able to move quite quickly by this stage, and could rush over to the dog before you can react.


The Toddler years……..


Once your baby becomes mobile, the challenges of managing a dog and a toddler increase another notch.  Toddlers are uncoordinated, and can move erratically.  Their balance is developing, and it is not uncommon for them to reach out and grab things if they lose their balance.  They are starting to explore with their hands and mouth, and have limited control of the strength of their grasp, and can be quite rough.  All of this can potentially lead to problems as the dog becomes the target of some not-so-pleasant physical interaction.

Toddlers are not yet able to reason and think about the consequences of their actions.  Over a number of years, repeated coaching and teaching can result in a child who is confident and caring around pets, but this requires a concerted effort on behalf of their parents.


From the dog’s point of view toddlers are right at eye level, and they often give direct eye contact.  When they greet the dog they may want to ‘hug’ it, which can be frightening for your dog.  Add to this they can be persistent, and do not see or read the body language cues that the dog may be giving, and you have a recipe for disaster.  Dog bite statistics tell us that this is the age that children are most likely to be the victims of a serious dog bite, and due to their height, the bites are often to the face area, leaving permanent physical and mental scarring.


At this age, you may find that your dog needs to spend more time outside, or in its crate.  Remember, that a dog that is outside will need lots of things to do, and plenty of physical and mental exercise to compensate for the lower level of interaction with its humans.  Having the dog physically separated from your toddler when you are not able to supervise is the best way to prevent accidents from happening.


When they are together, you will need to supervise every interaction, coaching and teaching your toddler the correct way to interact with your dog, and rewarding the dog for remaining calm and relaxed.  It may be an idea to spend some time desensitising your dog to awkward touching and patting – pairing a favourite food treat with the acceptance of a slightly rough pat.  This will need to be repeated over and over, slowly increasing the roughness of the touch as the dog learn to look at this kind of touch as something that earns it a yummy reward.


Make sure the dog has an area where it can go to relax and escape the toddler.  You will need to teach your child that when the dog goes to his bed or crate, or if he is sleeping, not to bother the dog.  Remember: racing greyhounds sleep undisturbed in their kennels and are not used to having people approach their bed – let alone have a small child climb into it without warning!


They should be taught not to stick their fingers into the dog’s crate, or through the baby gates (sometimes, having two baby gates can better separate dog and child).  Toddlers can be very persistent, and they do not understand when the dog has had enough, so watch for signs that your dog is no longer enjoying the company of your toddler, and move him to a quieter area.

Supervision at this age is critical.  You cannot leave them alone for a minute.  You also have to be very careful that the toddler does not climb over barriers or open doors and follow the dog, and children of this age can be quite determined, and are now physically active.


Try to include the toddler and the dog in quiet, controlled activities such as walks to the park (dog on lead of course), training (the toddler can help train the dog with a parent’s supervision), and games with the dog that do not lead to too much excitement, and that the dog plays politely (maybe ‘fetch’ or hide and seek).


If your toddler is having friends over for a play session, it is probably safer for your greyhound to be locked up safely away from the children.  Other people’s children may not have been trained how to behave around dogs and the play can get excited and out of hand quickly.  It is safer both for the children AND for the greyhound that a quiet, out of reach area is set aside for the dog.  Once again supervision is paramount!