Welcoming a new baby into your home is a joyous occasion, but it can also be a big adjustment for your furry family members. It’s important to approach the introduction of babies and pets with care and consideration.
Of babies and pets – companion animals are more than just that to us, they’re our friends, our buddies, our family, our little shadows.
Firstly, ensure your pets have a safe space to retreat to if they feel overwhelmed. Supervise interactions between your pet and baby and always reward good behavior. Additionally, don’t forget to continue giving your pets the love and attention they need. With patience and consistency, your pets and baby can grow up to be best of friends.
So it’s no surprise that new parents get stressed when the time comes to introduce a newborn to the mix. They love their animals, but their children are the most important thing, and it could be a disaster if the two do not get on.
You need to lookout for!
Well, the good news is that the relationship between your baby and your pet is not just down to chance. There’s quite a bit you can do to ensure that your pet is ready for their new human sibling, and ensure the transition is smooth and full of love.
1. Baby Spaces
One of the first things you’ll want to do with your pet, in the months preceding your child’s arrival, is to set aside ‘baby spaces’ in your home with specific limitations on your pet. These spaces might include the baby’s room, cot, changing table and play area.
Setting up clear boundaries before your child arrives means your pet will know that the spaces are off-limits when the baby is actually there. The last thing you want is your pet interrupting a sleeping baby, or cause chaos at changing time.
2. Time Trials
When your baby arrives, your time will immediately be in demand, particularly in the early days when you’re settling into a new routine. This can be hard for your pet as it means they don’t get as much time with you as they once did. If you haven’t prepared them for this, things can turn nasty, with your pet acting out.
So, get your pet ready for those time-stressed days by spending a bit less time with them than you normally would on a day-to-day basis. This sounds mean, but you need to balance this with special pet outings like walks or just sitting with them for 5-10 minutes and showering them with attention. That way, they won’t be shocked at the difference in time you’re spending with them when the baby arrives, but they’ll be trained to expect some time set aside in the future.
3. Bad Behaviour
Behaviour in dogs that can seem funny and non-threatening around adults, can quickly become dangerous when a baby is involved. Behaviour in any animal that includes jumping, nipping, biting, scratching or similar could easily harm a baby or small child, particularly if things get out of hand.
If your pet is known to do any of these things, the time to train them out of it is long before your child arrives. Using positive reinforcement, stop any bad behaviour that you think might harm your child, and if you can’t do it alone, consider obedience school to stamp those behaviours out.
4. Fake Baby
In the months and weeks before your baby arrives, you might also consider doing a ‘dry run’ of having the baby in the house to prepare your pet for what is to come. Two of the things you’ll want to focus on are the sounds of the baby, particularly loud crying which can be difficult for pets with sensitive hearing to deal with, and the baby itself.
Pets need to understand that a baby crying is not a reason to be agitated, so get some recordings of a baby crying and reward them or comfort them while the sound plays. Another thing you can do is carry around a doll in a bundle of blankets. It sounds silly, but this is a good way to train a pet not to jump or get underfoot while you’re holding your ‘baby’ and also allows you to start a positive behavioural interaction.
5. New Smells
A new baby means lots of new smells, something that can make many pets agitated and even aggravated. However, there is a simple way to prepare them for some of the smells, but only once the baby arrives. While you and your baby rest up in the hospital, have your partner bring home some blankets, clothing and other fabrics that the baby has been using or lying on, which are imbued with their smell. Allow your pet to familiarise themselves with this smell, preferably at the same time as rewarding them to create a positive association.
The first time you introduce your pet to your child is a big deal. There are lots of complicated ‘guides’ on how to do this, but sometimes, simplicity is better. The most important thing is to make sure their first introduction to the child is positive and non-threatening, so choose a time when both pet and child are relaxed.
Have two adults on hand (one for the baby and one for the pet) and make sure the pet is restrained in some way, just in case. Allow the pet to check out the baby, have a smell and so on, then reward them with a treat and some attention. This helps to develop that positive association.
7. Rough Handling
As your child grows and starts to move, they will likely become very interested in your pet. So, it’s important that you prepare the pet for the rough handling they’re likely to receive at the hands of your child.
While you can, and should, train children to treat their pets gently, it’s important that you prepare your animal for rougher handling regardless, particularly in your child’s early years when they aren’t listening to instruction. So spend some time getting your pet used to being touched in places that small hands go, like between paw pads, inside ears and so on. Start gently, and then slowly amp it up to include pulling and tugging (gently). Throughout the process, reward with treats, ensuring that your pet is adjusted to the touching, and will not lash out.
There are a number of additional things to keep in mind in the long-term, beyond babyhood and into the toddler years and childhood. Here are some of the most important ones.
- Never leave your pet and child alone, no matter how high your trust is. A child under 7 should not be left unsupervised with a pet.
- Continuously observe your pet’s behaviour and make note of changes as your child grows, dealing with behavioural issues immediately when they arise.
- As your child grows, help them understand that pets should be treated gently and with respect, to avoid issues with rough handling and unintentional mistreatment.