getting to know you
How to prepare your pets before the new baby comes home
By Jamey Bradbury
Changing routines, changing emotions, changing diapers – new babies are all about change. And while it can be hard for the humans in your household to adjust to all the new changes, it’s doubly difficult on the four-legged members of your family.
The attention lavished on your furry babies gets refocused when a newborn comes home, leaving dogs and cats to feel abandoned or anxious. Some families worry they’ll have to give up beloved pets if baby and Spot don’t get along.
But with a little patience and planning, you can help your pet adapt to the changes a baby brings.
Before Baby Arrives
Dogs in particular are sensitive to new sounds, sights and smells. You can ease the impact of a changing household by slowly introducing your pet to what life after the baby will look – and sound – like.
Brooke Taylor of Anchorage Animal Care and Control suggests getting your dog used to new routines by spending time each day in the new baby’s room, letting your pet tag along. “Bring a doll into the house and carry it around so they get used to seeing that,” she says.
“Some pets don’t do well with crying,” adds Fairbanks-based professional dog trainer Susan Sampson. She suggests playing a recording of crying at low levels to acclimate pets to the sound.
Once your baby is born, have someone bring home a blanket or clothing from the hospital; both cats and dogs will appreciate the chance to get familiar with the new scent.
“Knowing your pet will listen to and obey a command, that’s extremely beneficial when you’re juggling a baby in your arms,” explains Taylor.
Training isn’t just about making sure your pet minds, though, adds Sampson. It’s also about making sure your dog has a safe place to go when he’s feeling nervous.
“Teach your dog that it’s okay to leave the room,” she says. “Redirect them to a spot where they can have quiet time. If you reward them for that, they start to do it on their own.” This way, when confronted with a curious toddler, your dog will likely retreat, rather than growl or try to bite.
Train both cats and dogs to stay off furniture so they’re never at eye level with the baby, and work on ways of keeping your pet focused and happy.
Grisha Stewart, author and owner of Empowered Animals, suggests teaching your dog “targeting”: “Have the dog touch something, like a Post-It Note, with its nose, then call them back for a treat,” she says. “So they’re doing the running back and forth while you can be sitting on the couch, nursing the baby.”
All this preparation leads up to a special moment: The day you bring your baby home to meet your pet.
For a smooth introduction, advises Stewart, “Do as normal a routine as you can. Beforehand, have someone exercise the dog with a long walk, but avoid fetch or anything that makes the dog excited.” Occupy your dog with a toy puzzle, like a Kong, to keep him calm, and consider keeping your dog on a leash if he’s prone to jumping.
Then, says Sampson, “Let the dog come investigate. Talk happy talk, let the dog sniff the baby, then throw a treat to the ground so he learns to come in and move away.”
Above all, be there to supervise, not just on the day of introduction but anytime your pet is near your little one. “Cats will come up and sniff, then flee when the baby makes a noise,” explains Sampson. “Dogs sometimes need to be told, ‘Okay, that’s enough.’ Either way, you want to be there to make sure every interaction is a positive one.”
A Pawsitive Future
It’s often not until your baby starts walking or crawling that pets feel stressed, says Sampson. “It’s the quick moves of babies and toddlers. Dogs, especially, are well-versed in reading body language, but this is a new kind of body language they have to learn.”
As kids grow, teach them how to recognize when your dog is nervous; quivering, lip-licking, a tail between the legs or a wagging tail can all be signs. Help your kids understand how to give dogs and cats space, and show them ways to safely play with their furry friends.
All this work will be worth it as your kids reap the benefits of living with pets. Studies have shown that children who grow up with pets tend to have fewer allergies. “Having a dog is a great confidence builder,” says Sampson, adding that while kids learn how to care for and respect another living creature, perhaps the greatest lesson they’ll learn is one that will last a lifetime: “Dog and cats are great teachers of taking life moment by moment. That’s a valuable lesson from day one.”