By Mandie Sweetnam
The Dog vs. Stork rivalry is one that’s been around since Lady and The Tramp, and surely longer than that. The family dog or cat starts out as the center of attention and then comes baby, cradle and all, taking the spotlight. Your pet doesn’t understand what just happened - why his owners went from fawning all over him, giving him treats and letting him sleep on the bed, to now acting so strange, protective and distant.
The sad truth is that most new parents/current pet owners don’t even realize this is happening. There is definitely a way to prepare your pets for the arrival of the new baby. It doesn’t have to be a difficult transition for them, and in fact, it should be just as exciting for your pet to get to know the new addition as it is for the rest of the family. The good news is, new parents, you’ve got about 9 months to prepare your dog or cat for the arrival of the new attention stealer. 9 months is plenty of time to prepare you and your pet for the homecoming of the bundle of joy.
How much experience does your dog (or cat) have with babies and small children? If you know your pet is scared of children or has little to no experience with them, you’re going to want to address that as soon as possible. The same goes for any issues your pet may have with guarding, space, toys, food, etc. Seek the assistance of a professional trainer or behaviorist immediately as this is definitely something to take seriously. You will want to identify and address any behavioral issues with your trainer, then work from there. Look for a trainer who has experience with children and pets. Click here for books about kids and dogs.
If you don’t have much experience socializing your pet, make sure there is no safety threat to you, your pet or others by consulting with your veterinarian and trainer. Start out small by taking your pet to a quiet park or for a walk down your street where they might see just a handful of people. See if you notice their behavior change at all around different people or places. Do they slow down when they see other dogs? Do they put their tails down/between their legs when they see children?
Their body language will tell you a lot and it may give you a head start on what to work on. Be sure to share your observations with your trainer. If you get through that with no issues, you can go onto busier places, with more people. Don’t be afraid to coach the pedestrians that want to pet your dog. Avoiding a potentially scary situation is important to your dog’s progress and some people don’t have great etiquette when meeting a new dog. Click here for a great poster that illustrates how to properly greet a dog. And here for great books for kids.
Having your dog around new environments, places and people will be good for them as it will begin to slowly desensitize them to new situations. But remember – if you’re spending extra time with your dog now, don’t forget to keep that going after the baby arrives. Another confusing place for your pet can be the new nursery. Some people have differing opinions about whether their pets will be allowed in the nursery.
Either way you decide, you should let your pet explore this room full of new things well in advance of the baby’s arrival. This will allow them time to get used to the new smells of the furniture, clothes and toys. The combination of new baby smell and the newness of everything else that goes with the baby can be overwhelming to most animals. At least if they’re familiar with the new items in the house, that’s one fewer smell they have to be curious about.
About twice a week, take your pet into the nursery and let them explore while you supervise. Soon, the room will be no more interesting to them than the kitchen or den. While you’re going through preparations to go to the hospital, don’t forget to make arrangements for your pets. This is already a confusing and stressful time for them, don’t add to that by leaving them stranded when the big day comes.
Arrange, in advance, for someone that knows your pet well to come by and feed/walk/play with them or arrange for them to go to their usual kennel during the arrival of the new baby. Whatever you do when you go on vacation, try to keep it as similar to that occasion as you can, bearing in mind that it may be on short notice.
Once the pet and the baby are in the same house together, its important to cut down on the stress for those first few days. If you have to keep your pet sectioned off from the baby with a baby gate, do so. Once the new mommy has settled in, begin introductions to the baby.
Start off slow, and don’t be afraid to do just a little at a time. If necessary, call your trainer in for help. Never, ever leave your baby alone with any pet, no matter how much you may trust them. At the end of the day, anything can happen and it’s better to be safe than sorry. This is as beneficial for the pet as it is for the baby. Another thing to remember – don’t forget about your pet!
Take time to go on walks, pet them, cuddle with them and keep their routines as normal as possible. Naturally, this will be difficult at first, but it will get easier as you go along. Don’t be afraid to ask your pet-loving friends for help! They probably won’t mind helping with walks or attention. And I’m sure they won’t miss a chance to visit with the baby!
Has or will your pet meet a new 2-legged sibling? What were any challenges your household faced? What about successes?