Ahhh your pets…your FIRST babies. We pamper them, we buy them organic treats, we take them on regular outings, feed them the best of foods, and even schedule them play dates. Truth be told, we talk about them just like they are human children, showing off pictures to anyone we can corner (“Wait…hold on…last year’s picture with Santa was even cuter!”). And then…
Enter two-legged babies and your relationship with your pet will undoubtedly be rocked. Your pup or kitty will be alternately curious, jealous, playful, scared and bewildered. Rather than stressing, the best thing you can do is prepare ahead of time.
Whatever you do, do NOT, I repeat, do NOT wait until the 39th week of your pregnancy to start preparations. Introducing your newborn to your dog or cat can be a slippery slope if not done carefully. I’ve put together a few of my best tips and advice for this process below.
- Begin to condition your pet to the sights and sounds of having a baby in the house. Buy a life-size baby doll and set up some of those fun swings and bassinettes around the house that have been arriving as gifts. Carry the doll through the house and place it in these seats, etc. so the dogs/cats see you carrying this small object. Have some friends with babies? Ask them if you can borrow some worn articles of clothing for this doll to wear. There are hundreds of recorded baby sounds on YouTube and other sites that you can play on your phone while carrying around this doll from room to room. You want your pets to hear these sounds so they aren’t completely startled when they do hear a baby cry for the first time. Remember to give praise and lots of yummy treats to reward them for good behavior while they are seeing/hearing/smelling the doll. You want your pets to associate this new family member as a positive addition to the household.
- For those with energetic dogs—plan well for them. Just because your focus may be slighted, please don’t forget that these pups will still need an outlet for their energy. Consider setting up a regular dog walker to come by or building a relationship with a nearby doggie day care facility where you can have your pup go to get his ya-ya’s out and play to his heart’s content. Remember, this only needs to be temporary but will help you to avoid feeling overwhelmed and also will give your dog some special treatment…hey, maybe it will even help you avoid the guilt of not having as much time for them right away.
- Baby gates-they are your friend! Get lots of these. Your dogs/cats need a safe space to get away from it all. There will be countless visitors and eventually mobile toddlers in your home, so give your pets a quiet, non-kid area to escape to. At our home, this was the laundry room. Their beds are set up in there, they get fed in there and they get treats in there. This will give you peace of mind knowing that a curious toddler will not be able to sneak their way over to your dog’s food bowl while they are eating a meal. Make this a happy place for your pet-it isn’t to be used as a punishment. While introducing this “safe space,” give your pets some sort of long-lasting treat to enjoy while they are in their new room. Kongs filled with peanut butter (and frozen!) or bully sticks are great for this. For heavier chewers, check out elk antlers!
- Vet visits-before your two-legged baby arrives, try to get your pets in for their annual check-ups. Make sure vaccinations are up to date plus thorough physical exams are done. Often times, elderly pets can develop arthritis, which down the road, can lead to them being snippy if they are in pain. Talk to your vet about your pet and the new baby. They know your pet’s personality pretty well and may also have some good tips and pointers to share. Keep in mind, some pets may act out after the baby arrives. Behaviors such as marking and going to the bathroom outside of their litterboxes is not uncommon but can also be misconstrued as underlying health problems. By visiting the vet beforehand, you can rule out some of these medical problems and approach these issues from a different angle.
- Call in a professional! If you feel that you may be overwhelmed with your pet’s behavior and a new baby, never hesitate to call in a professional. Having a trainer come to your home allows them to see your set up and also observe your pet in their environment.
Remember, the key to maintaining a good relationship with your babies and pets is to teach respect from day one. Do not let pets be too overzealous or wound up around babies. Only allow them to be in the same area as the baby once they are calm and focused on what you are asking of them. Likewise, once that baby is mobile, never (NEVER!) allow them to hit, pull or ride your pets. Teach them how to properly interact with your pets so you aren’t setting your pets up for failure. I have two children under three, as well as a rescued pit bull, a rescued German shepherd, and most recently a rescued bull terrier, so I know firsthand how hard it is to constantly be monitoring their behavior around the dogs. This is why we use the baby gates so the dogs can be in their safe space while the kids are not under my microscope. I would never forgive myself if I put either my kids or pets in a dangerous situation. It may seem like a lot of information and things to implement, so start planning early. This will lead to a smooth transition once your two and four legged babies’ world’s collide. Happy parenting!