Most of us consider our pets to be family. They are assets to our lives, important members of our household. They give us unconditional love and comforting companionship. It's no wonder they often feel betrayed, left out, and confused when there's suddenly a new focus in our lives, like a loud and squirmy newborn.
Preparing your pet for the arrival of your new bundle of joy will make the transition easier for all of you. According to Vetstreet.com's Mikkel Becker, a professional dog trainer, dogs (and cats) can safely and happily cohabitate with newborn babies, and training should begin months before the baby's arrival.
Before Baby Arrives
1. Train Your Pet
Hopefully, you know your dog or cat well enough that you are aware of anything that might put them on the defensive. Does he growl if you go near his food, snap at people who touch his paws, or swat at you when you pet him at an inconvenient time? These are all important personality traits to understand in order to protect your child.
No matter how aggressive or docile your pet is, you never know how he will react to a baby or toddler if he has never been around one before. If your dog is a jumper, he'll need to finally learn to stay down. Does he pull when you walk him? Practice walking him while pushing a stroller. Becker believes it is important to get a professional pet trainer or take your pet to a baby readiness training class in order to truly prepare him and get his behavior in order.
2. Introduce Baby Noises
Your new baby will be making tons of noises that your dog or cat is not going to be accustomed to. A newborn's cries are alarming to those of us who know what to expect, so they are sure to terrify your pet if you don't prepare him. To do so, invite over friends or family members who have babies. You can also play recordings of baby noises. Becker recommends the CD Preparing Fido.
3. Foster Independence
If your pet is use to being lavished with love and attention whenever he wants it, you might want to start cutting down on the hugs before the baby arrives. Becker advises that rather than giving extra attention before the baby arrives, teach your pet to become more independent by giving him more alone time and stocking up on food, puzzles, and toys. You can also opt to have another family member take over pet cuddling duties if you are going to be the primary baby caregiver.
4. Pet Proof Baby Areas
Your pet is going to be curious about the baby and all of the new furniture in your home. Before you baby proof, pet proof. If your dog or cat likes to sleep on your bed, create a new area for him to sleep in before the baby arrives, especially if the baby is going to be sleeping next to you in a bassinet or you plan on co-sleeping. You can put a gate in the doorway to keep out the dog, but your cat may need to be placed in a separate area of the house at night. You can pet proof your baby's room by either keeping the door closed, or installing a gate in the doorway.
If you have cats, you should consider putting a screen door in. If these aren't options, and your cat loves to get into the crib, you can try placing a large piece of cardboard covered with double-sided tape on top of the crib mattress to deter your cat. Cats will also avoid aluminum foil, so roll some of that on there and soon your cat will decide that this new bed you got for him isn't so cool after all.
5. Create a Safe Haven
Amidst all of the noise and excitement when your baby comes home, your pet may need a place to chill. Create a safe area for your pet to retreat to in a quiet, low-traffic area of the home. Make it cozy with a nice bed, some toys and some food.
After the Birth
6. Stop and Smell the Blankie
After the baby is born, consider sending a blanket or piece of clothing that the baby has used home to your pet. He can check it out and soak in your baby's scent before even laying eyes on the little one. When he sniffs it, let him have a treat so he begins to see your baby's scent and presence as a good thing.
7. Get Outside
Exercise is important for both you and your pet. When you are first settling in and recovering, make sure someone else is available to walk your pet. Becker suggests starting an exercise routine once you are ready. It will be important for the physical and mental health of you and your dog.
8. Reward Good Behavior
According to the Humane Society, once your baby is home, reward your pet for proper behavior and keep disciplining him for any wrong behavior. Giving him a treat when the baby comes in the room or when he exhibits good behavior around the baby will teach him that the infant is a nice addition to his life.
Our pets are cherished members of our family. It's important to make sure their needs are being met in order to create a safe home for both your pet and your baby. Proper preparations can make all the difference and you should, of course, always supervise your child and pet. You can find more tips on getting your pet ready for baby from the Humane Society and VetStreet.