In Australia, many families consist of a pair of humans and a fur baby or two. Over time they build up a unique dynamic, but what happens when a new baby (of the human kind) is added and that dynamic is challenged? If you are preparing to hear the pitter-patter of little feet, you will need to start making some plans for their arrival. So your new baby is kept safe and your fur baby is not too put out by moving down the rankings.
While the arrival of a new baby will be very exciting for you and your partner it can prove to be a very confusing, anxious and frightening time for your pet. Upon meeting this new little human, your pet may be thinking;
– It looks like a human.
– Doesn’t smell, sound or move like any humans I’ve seen before.
– It’s so loud!
– It’s taking up all of my owners’ time and attention.
These feeling can be met with a range of reactions including jealousy, aggression and general misbehaviour.
Forward planning can make this transition much easier for your pet and will help you to forge a bond between your pet and new baby.
Before the baby comes home there are a few thing you can do to get your pet baby-ready.
When a new baby first comes home, they are generally being held in someone’s arms or on their lap, so it is important that your pet knows that jumping up at people is not okay.
Your dog should be able to follow basic obedience regimes, to ensure that they don’t jump up at people, bark unnecessarily and that they understand commands to sit, lay down, stay and come when called. If your dog is struggling with these concepts, a basic obedience class may be of benefit.
Some cats are notorious for jumping up onto their owners lap for a snuggle, so it is important to teach them a jump up command before the baby is born. If your cat jumps up onto your lap uninvited, stand up and put him on the ground. You could use treats to tempt your cat to follow the jump up rule and to help him learn that an invitation is required if he is to sit on your lap.
Change your routine
Once the baby arrives, your pet may need to start sleeping in a new location, spend more time outside and doggie walk time may happen at a different time of the day. Try to gradually change your daily routine before baby arrives, so that your pet does not associate the changes with the baby.
It may feel strange, but it can actually be beneficial for your dog to run through the baby routines before baby arrives. This may include your pet watching you walking around rocking a bundled up baby doll and doing the changing, feeding and sleeping routine. Going for walks with the empty pram can also help your dog to learn to walk calmly next to the pram. The last thing you want is for your dog to be afraid of the pram or pull hard on the leash once baby is on board.
Reduce the attention
It might be hard, but for two to three weeks before baby arrives, try to reduce the amount of play time and attention that you give your pet. Babies take up an incredible amount of time, and the sudden loss of time with you can be a rude shock to your fur baby.
Avoid your pet relating the baby to inattention, confinement or punishment by teaching them that good things happen when baby is around by rewarding, relaxed, obedient behaviour. Time for your pet may become scarce once the baby arrives but try your best to get some one on one time with your pet so that they know they are still a loved and valued member of the family.
Acclimatise your dog to all things baby
With a new baby, comes a host of new sounds and smells to get used to. Some paw parents like to play recordings of baby sounds such as crying. Providing praise and treats while the recordings are being played will help your pet to realise that the sound is nothing to be worried about.
The smell of a baby is another thing for your pet to learn about. Introduce your dog to the scent of baby by exposing them to the fragrances of the lotion, powder, shampoo etc. that you intend to use for baby. Once the baby is born you can bring home a piece of babies clothing or a blanket so that your dog can get used to the baby’s personal scent.
Arriving home with baby
If you have had your baby in hospital, there is no doubt that your pet will be eagerly awaiting your return. When you first come home with baby, get your partner to look after baby so that you can greet your pet without baby. This will prevent your dog from getting over excited and jumping up at you and the baby. It’s not uncommon for cats to go and hide for a few days when baby first arrives. Be sure to give your cat a quiet space that they can escape to while they adjust to the new changes.
After you have been home for a few days and your pet is getting used to the sight, sound and smell of the baby you can introduce them in close proximity. It’s advisable that you do this with two adults present, one to supervise baby and one to supervise the pet. If this goes well, you can wait a few more days and while controlled on a leash you can allow your dog to sniff baby. Pat and praise you dog as a he sniffs to support him though this new experience. Allow your dog to approach you and the baby and not the other way around as this gives your dog the choice to interact with the baby.
Once you feel comfortable that your dog is getting used to baby’s smell, you can allow your dog to sniff the baby off leash. During times of interaction, keep baby elevated and ensure there is an adult between dog and baby. Sudden noises and movements from the baby can be seen by the dog as an invitation to play or as a warning sign, so monitor them closely.
Remind your pet that they are still important to you by giving them plenty of attention when baby is around. This will help them to understand that good things can happen even when baby is around.
There will be times when you are unable to supervise your dog around the baby, so having separate zones will help. Some owners like to give their dog a safe zone, such as a crate, a bed, a gated laundry room or a playpen. This area will allow your dog to get away if family life becomes too much for the moment. Having it gated will also keep children out of the dogs’ safe zone.
Many families also choose to put a gate on baby’s room to keep pets out and give baby a pet free zone. A gate will stop overly curious creatures causing any trouble when baby is sleeping in the cot or being changed or fed. Some cats though are likely to find a way past a gate, so deterrent devices or a screen door on baby’s room are other options.
Babies are continually changing
Navigating through introducing your pet to a new baby is one thing but there is a whole lot of other consideration to be made for once baby becomes mobile. A mobile baby’s movements may be unpredictable which can make pets both excited or feel threatened. Babies find tails intriguing and may be prone to pulling, resulting in a potentially adverse response from your pet.
To keep babies and children safe in the long term;
– Never leave children under the age of 7, unsupervised with a pet, no matter how trustworthy the pet may seem.
– Monitor your pet’s behaviour as baby grows and implement the necessary changes to keep everyone safe and happy.
When things don’t go to plan
Even with plenty of planning and preparations for baby’s arrival, some pets just don’t adjust well to the new addition to the family. If a dog shows aggression it should always be on a leash and muzzled when around children. Cats that show aggression should be kept away from children at all times. You can get further advice on strategies to deal with behaviour issues from your veterinarian.
A new addition to the family brings many exciting times ahead. With some careful planning pets and babies can co-exist happily.