I ‘ve recently seen a lot of clients anticipating the arrival of a new baby. Here are some tips on how to prepare your dog or cat for the newest member of the family.
Preparing for the baby should focus on trying to desensitize your pet to the new sights and sounds he will encounter after the baby’s arrival:
1 As soon as possible, set up the baby’s nursery. Let the pet explore the area under supervision prior to the baby’s arrival.
2 Let your dog and cat also get used to seeing any large baby gear items, such as strollers. This is especially true if you have a dog who might be fearful of large moving vehicles, skateboards, etc. It might be awkward, but I’d even suggest taking the dog out for walks while pushing the stroller sans baby.
3 The most obvious sound that might cause the most distress to your pet’s life is the baby crying. If you can find recordings of a baby’s cry, play these recordings at low volumes, and observe your pet’s reaction. Once your dog or cat appears non-reactive to these noises, keep gradually increasing the volume of the recording in small increments at a time. Once the baby is born but prior to coming home from the hospital, bring home and use actual recordings of your own baby’s cry.
4 Open up any new toys that might play music or make noise. Again, expose your pet to the sight and sound of these toys prior to the baby’s arrival. Be careful not to allow your pet to play with these toys himself – otherwise, he may think these toys are his own and may react negatively if now all of a sudden he sees the baby playing with them. Simply place the toys out but do not allow him to engage with them.
5 In addition to bringing home audio recordings of your own baby’s cry from the hospital, also bring home any blankets the baby was using in the hospital. Allow your pet to smell them prior to the baby’s arrival home.
6 Reinforce basic commands such as sit, stay, down, etc. Having your pet be able to focus on command sequences will be a very important skill to discipline your pet once the baby is home. It may also be useful to create commands for rest or to retreat. You can use actual “rest” cues if you want your pet to go in the crate or his bed, and use a “shoo” cue for when you would like your pet to retreat.
This might be a nerve-racking introduction, but remain nonchalant and do not allow your dog to pick up on your fears. Remain calm and praise your pet gently. Allow your pet to sniff the baby a few seconds at a time, then reward your pet with gentle praise and a few treats. Your pet’s curiosity in the baby is normal and expected. As long as he remains curious but calm, you can reward this behavior. Circling, whining, jumping, or any other anxious behavior should not be rewarded. If you sense any aggression, your pet should be removed from the situation immediately. Keep your dog on a leash during this introduction. Keep the leash slack but having your dog on leash will allow you to intervene and mediate the introduction.
Predictability and positive reinforcement are the keys to creating a positive relationship between baby and pet. As much as possible, try to keep to a strict feeding and walking schedule. Pets thrive on routine, especially if they have anxious tendencies. Having one-on-one time with your pet will be much appreciated by your furry companion, but it is also very important to create new positive interactions when the baby is around. If you only reserve positive interactions for when the baby is asleep and then mostly ignore your pet when the baby is awake, he might start resenting the baby being around. If you are holding and cuddling the baby on the couch for instance, you can have your pet sitting with you at your feet – meanwhile rewarding your pet with lots of rubs, treats, or new toys so long as he remains calm in the baby’s presence. When you feed the baby, feed the dog or cat too. When you walk the baby, take the dog with you.
Having a baby is a hectic but happy time. Preparing your pet and learning new ways to interact with him is key to a smooth transition. If you are AT ALL worried about aggressive tendencies that your pet may or has shown around babies and children, it is strongly advised to seek help from a board certified veterinary behaviorist as early as possible.