It’s a common occurrence that dogs and cats end up being surrendered to shelters when a new baby arrives home. Often the reason is that the family pet has reacted inappropriately or even aggressively to the new human member of the family. Put yourself in your pet’s place. Life is going along peacefully. You get lots of love, cuddles, attention, walks, playtime and regular meals. All of a sudden this noisy being, who smells so different, arrives into your space and into the affections of your loved ones and your world turns upside down. Wouldn’t you be a bit rattled?
But don’t worry. There are lots of things you can do to prepare your dog or cat for the arrival of your new bundle of joy. One of the most important things to do is to start preparing early!
Here are a few tips for introducing pets to a new baby:
1. Prepare your pet for the change in attention
Begin by gradually decreasing the amount of attention your pet is given over the course of the day. It’s better to have two or three longer sessions of attention than a bunch of short sessions of attention throughout the day. It’s inevitable that the new baby will be taking the majority of your attention, so it’s best to acclimatize your pet to that before the big day arrives.
2. Change up your schedule
Pets like being on a schedule. It makes them feel more secure. So when their schedule is disrupted by the new addition, they are naturally going to feel less secure. Start changing things up several months before the new baby is due. Gradually move meal times, walk times and play times around. By the time baby arrives, your pet will be more used to being ‘flexible’.
3. Create a strong foundation in obedience
For dogs, having a good base of obedience behaviours is key. It’s good to have training whether or not there is a baby in the house, but if you have put it off, now is the time to teach important things like sit, stay, down, off or ‘Go to your bed’. These need to be taught with positive reinforcement so that the dog associates the behaviours with the baby in a positive way. This will not only improve the bond you have with your dog, but you will be able to guide your pup’s behaviours around the new baby with reliable responses to your commands.
4. Make sure your pet understands boundaries within the home
Teach your pet early on what rooms or furniture items are out of bounds when it comes to the baby. You may not want your cat curling up in baby’s crib or on the change table. To discourage cats from using items of furniture, place a piece of cardboard with double-sided tape on the forbidden furniture. Cats don’t generally care for the stickiness and will find another place to settle. Be diligent and do this early on. And importantly, if the room which is to be used for the baby’s nursery has been housing the litter box, be sure to move them out of there early on in the pregnancy to avoid unpleasant surprises when kitty can’t go in his usual place. Baby gates are a good deterrent for dogs who are not welcome in the nursery.
5. Get your pet used to new sounds and scents
Try to acclimatize your pet to the sounds of a new baby in the house. Believe it or not, there are lots of downloads available with everything from crying babies, to laughing and snoring. Playing these in the house before the arrival of the new baby will help pets who are sensitive to sound. Start the volume out low and increase with each session.
With their sensitive noses, using things like baby lotion and powder on yourself will help your pet sort out some of the different smells which will be hitting his nostrils in short order. If you can bring home an item of clothing or a blanket which the baby has worn in the hospital, so much the better if your pet can get a whiff of the new member of the family before they arrive home.
6. Finally, the first introduction…
When the big day arrives and baby comes home, let your pet greet everyone in the household before bringing the baby inside. Dogs should be in a calm state before being introduced to a new family member, and should be kept on leash for at least the first introduction. It’s best to have a helper when introductions occur so that one person can handle the dog and the other the baby.
If your pet shows any signs of being uncomfortable, confused or anything other than happy and inquisitive, remove your pet from the situation immediately and place him in an area of the house where he or she is comfortable. You can try introductions again later when things are calmer.
Above all, if despite all your preparations it appears as though your pet will have difficulty adapting to the presence of your new baby, please do not give up!! Consult with a professional trainer or behaviourist who can help you to devise a plan to meld your family together, both two and four-legged members. Often all it takes is a little time and patience before life is back to normal again, or as normal as it will ever be with a new baby!
For further reading, the ASPCA has two excellent and detailed articles on introducing pets to a new baby:
“As a breeder I highly recommend GO! DAILY DEFENCE™…I also suggest to people who have dogs with coat conditions (i.e. those dogs with tendencies to get dry skin or other ailments that affect their coats) that they switch to feeding GO! I would like to add that dogs LOVE GO!“