Expecting a new baby is an exciting time filled with anticipation, excitement, and sometimes even stress. As a pet owner, you're likely to feel a little extra anxiety as you worry about how your pets will react to your new arrival. Mothers have been bringing new babies home to pets for centuries now, so rest assured there are ways to make the introduction go smoothly and successfully. With a fair amount of preparation and a little bit of patience you can facilitate a bond that will produce lifelong memories. So take a deep breath, find your happy place, and remember not to push.
Start Preparations Before the Baby Arrives
Luckily, babies take a while to get here, so you have plenty of time to prepare. Cesar Millan, television personality and renowned dog trainer, recommends setting up the baby's room as early as possible, and training your pet that the room is off limits. "Condition your dog to understand that there is an invisible barrier that she may not cross without your permission," advises Millan. Although this training may be a little more difficult for cats, the principle is still the same.
The Importance of the First Days
Dogs and cats have exceptional senses of smell and relate to a person's scent more strongly than their visual appearance or the sound of their voice. Take advantage of those keen senses and use them to introduce your new baby before he even comes home from the hospital. Millan suggests having someone bring home a burp cloth, plush toy, or anything with the new baby's scent on it. Let your pet sniff it from a distance without allowing her to get too close or touch. After your pet has identified with the scent, place the item in the nursery so that your pet can make the connection between the scent and the "off limits" area. Animals are smart, and it shouldn't take long before they understand the baby - identified by his scent - is off limits as well.
Good Things Are Worth the Wait
Once the introductions are made and your pets understand that the baby is yours, you can begin to allow them to come closer under strict supervision. As long as you don't see signs of fear or aggression, you can gradually allow them to get closer and closer. In the event your pet does react or behave in a challenging or suspicious way, do not hesitate to put her in a time out and let her know that particular behavior is not acceptable.
Better Safe than Sorry
Dogs and cats can be curious, protective, and territorial. That may be great when a stranger comes to your door, but is not so admirable when you have a new baby in the house.
- Never assume everything will be OK. All interactions should be strictly supervised.
- Keep in mind that cats can get just about anywhere. Leaving the door to the nursery open while the baby is napping may not be advisable.
- Keep the baby's items out of reach of your pets, as both dogs and cats are territorial and may urinate on them to show their dominance.
- Even though you may appreciate kisses from your pets, they should not be allowed to "kiss" the baby. The immune systems of infants are not yet fully developed, making germs a formidable adversary.
Once you have conditioned your pet to behave appropriately with your baby you should begin teaching your baby how to respect your pet. Tail pulling, rough handling, or tight squeezing are just a few of the toddler behaviors you'll need to address. It may be a long road, but once you reach your destination I'm sure you'll agree it was all worth the wait.
Cesar Millan, "Introduce Your Dog to Your Baby," CesarsWay.com
Robin Tierney, "Dog Tip: Preparing Dogs and Other Pets for Life with Baby," Paw-rescue.org
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