While most people consider their pet as one of their children, bringing your first two-legged baby home can be confusing to your pet. In an ideal situation, a puppy or kitten can be introduced to children’s items when young and allowed to play with children in a calm and supervised manner in order to acclimate to the presence of children. However, this scenario may not always be the case, so here are a few pointers to help your dog with transitioning to bringing home that little bundle of joy.
Before Baby Comes Home
• Start training early. It is best to begin your dog’s training well before bringing baby home. Behaviors such as barking, excitement with visitors, and jumping up on people can be quite problematic when your new baby arrives and friends and family will be visiting. Go over commands such as ‘sit,’ ‘down,’ and ‘stay.’ These commands will provide a calm and controlled environment when baby arrives.
• “Go to your place.” The dog or cat should be trained to accept confinement in a safe, secure location where toys, water bowl, food, and a litter box (for the kitties) are readily available. This will be very beneficial when the baby arrives so that your pet can remain relaxed and calm away from the family if needed.
• Prepare Early. Set up the nursery in advance and decide whether your pet will be allowed in the room. If not, the pet should calmly and consistently be denied access and praised/rewarded prior to baby’s arrival. If the pet will be allowed in the nursery, spend some gentle time in the room with your pet so that it may adapt to new odors and furniture. Reward your dog with praise, food, and petting for calm behavior.
• Introducing children’s behaviors. A child will often pull on the ears, hair and tail of a dog, so it would be beneficial for you and your dog if he is used to these types of sensations. Start by gently pulling on the animal’s hair and rewarding good behavior. Gradually increase the intensity until you mimic how a toddler might pull. This will keep the dog from being surprised when your child decides to pull on an ear.
After Baby Comes Home
• Introduce your baby. Have a family member bring home some clothing your baby has worn in the hospital for the pet to smell. When the baby first arrives home, introductions should not begin until everything has calmed down. If there is more than one pet in the household, introduce each pet one at a time. Make sure that your pet remains controlled during the entire introduction- leashes or head harnesses are helpful for dogs. One person should be holding the baby sitting comfortably in a chair while another person is carefully monitoring the pet’s behavior.
• Handle aggression early. The pet should be gently corrected upon any sign of unwanted behavior whether it is aggressive or nonaggressive (i.e. crawling on top of the baby). Aggressive behavior should result in immediate isolation and possibly referral to a board-certified behaviorist. Do not assume the issue will resolve without proper intervention. Unacceptable, nonaggressive behavior should result in redirection of the pet to a desirable behavior.
• Don’t forget your pet’s needs. With the major changes in the household that come with having a newborn, it is easy to forget or ignore your pet. Often a pet may receive playtime, exercise, affection, or food when the baby is asleep. This may teach your pet that the baby is something negative (baby = no attention). Therefore, you should make a point to pay attention to your pet when the baby is active and present. This can be done with verbal engagement, or if two adults are in the household, one can be attending baby’s needs while the other can pay some attention to your pet. Taking your baby and your pet for a walk is a great way to spend time with both!
Bringing your newborn baby home is a very joyous occasion, so make it a pleasant experience for your pet too. For the first few weeks, your pet should be restrained or confined when in the presence of your baby. You can use leashes, crates, or baby gates for a little help. Good sense requires that pets are never left alone with a baby or child; however, with advance planning, training, and attention, most pets adjust well to their expanding family.