The time before your baby arrives is an excellent opportunity to introduce your pet to the changes that will occur in your home and family after your little one is here. By preparing for dog or cat now, the transition will be easier for them later on and they will be less likely to show fear or stress around the baby. Follow the quick and easy steps to help your pet and your baby live harmoniously.
BEFORE THE BABY COMES
- If your pet has shown aggression to people in any form, or has an anxiety disorder seek help from your veterinarian immediately—well before you have your baby.
- If your baby will be co-sleeping with you or will have a bassinet in your bedroom, use a baby gate to confine your dog out of that room at night.
- If your baby will have their own room, put a baby gate up in the doorway now. Even though you want your pets to be a part of your baby’s life, there will likely be times when you need to have them out of the baby’s space. Better to help your pet to adjust now than at 3 in the morning!
- If you anticipate gating your pet out of other areas of the house so that you can tend to and play with the baby without having to supervise your pet, start putting those gates up now.
- Exercise pens (X-pens) can sometimes be helpful for confining a pet away from a baby while keeping the pet in the same room with you. If you plan to use one, set it up well before the baby comes so that your pet will be used to it. Get your pet used to it by feeding them in that space, tossing in treats randomly and leaving the door open for exploration for at least a week before confining them there.
- If you will want to walk your dog and push the baby in a stroller at the same time, now is the time to work with him, so that by the time the baby comes he will be good at walking without pulling. You may need the help of a good positive reinforcement trainer to help you do this.
- If your dog is aggressive (e.g., barking, lunging, pulling) to people or animals on walks, do not walk with the baby and dog at the same time.
- Any baby furniture, including swings, cribs, bassinets, etc. that you will be using should be introduced well before the baby arrives.
- If you plan to use a baby sling to carry the baby, wear it frequently now. You can put a doll in it to help acquaint the pet with your new look.
- Practice obedience exercises with food rewards, feed your pet or play with your pet while wearing your new baby gear to get the dog accustomed to it.
- Play baby sounds (found online) at a very low volume at first (a volume at which he is unlikely to react) while your pet is relaxing with a toy or eating dinner. Slowly increase the volume over many training sessions until your pet is relaxed when the sounds are played.
- It is not possible to determine before a baby arrives what her schedule will be, however, you might choose a time when there would generally be more than one adult at home and begin spending 15-30 minutes with your pet now at that time of day. Even if you can’t always give your pet attention at this time, it will be helpful to accustom him to the idea that a certain part of the day will usually be spent playing or otherwise interacting with you.
AFTER THE BABY COMES
- While you are still at the hospital, send home an item of the baby’s clothes for your pet to smell.
- When you bring the baby home, one other adult should be there to help. This can be an overwhelming time for everyone, including pets. The best strategy is usually for the mother to come in and greet the pet while someone else carries the baby.
- If you and your partner will be at the hospital most of the time with the baby, consider boarding your pets at the veterinary hospital, having a pet sitter at your house, sending them to a trusted boarding facility, or to a familiar relative’s home until you come home and are settled.
- Once mom is home and the pet has had a chance to greet, let another adult tend to the pet while mom settles in and attends to the baby. If the pet has become accustomed to staying in a sanctuary space, behind a gate or in an X-pen, he could be put in that place now.
- Remember that even the most tolerant pets should never be left unsupervised with babies or young children. It’s very tempting to leave the room to answer the phone or turn down the oven, but the baby or the pet should go with you. No dog, no matter how obedient should ever be left alone with a child of any age.
- Babies can inadvertently hurt pets, by pulling on them, stumbling and falling over them, and stepping on them. This can cause a pet to react aggressively out of surprise and pain. It’s important to supervise babies who can move about when the pet is around, or confine the pet safely away from them.
- Babies and toddlers cannot understand danger, and even if snapped at or scratched by a pet they are unlikely to stay away. Even a child who has had a negative experience with a pet will approach him again. Supervision is essential. Pets and children should never be left together unattended.
- It is better and easier to work on teaching your child to respect and be gentle with animals than to attempt to teach a pet not to react to rough handling. Even a pet conditioned not to react to such activities can bite without warning if he becomes painful or ill for some reason. Children who are tired or frustrated may escalate their roughness to the point where even a very tolerant pet may react.