When your Fur Child Meets Human Child
For many pet parents, our pets are our first babies! However, they are often not our last! The arrival of a new, human baby can be very exciting. It can also be a time of immense change, with a new routine and lifestyle for the whole family, including our furry friends. However, with a little forward planning and early changes to your pet’s routine, bringing home a new baby can be a pleasant experience for both you and your pet.
Changing your routine can take some time, so it is important to start to consider the general rules you would like to have in place in your home when your baby arrives so you can start implementing them in advance. For example, you may want to consider:
- Behaviors you would like to change or discourage, such as jumping, nipping or barking
- Areas you would like to be off-limits to your pet (like the baby’s room, cot or changing table)
- How your pet’s day to day routine may change (for example, will your dog or cat need to be outside more? Will your dog be walked at different times?)
- How much time will you be spending with your pet? Will it decrease when the baby comes?
Add Structure and Rules
Once you have established a clear picture of what you would like your home and routine to look like once your new baby arrives, start implementing the new structure and rules. Make the changes before the baby comes so your pet has time to adjust without the added stress of a new family member.
Infants are often being held by adults, and therefore, it is important to ensure that your pet will not be jumping into the laps of those who are holding your newborn. For this reason, obedience training is key to providing a safe home for your pet and your baby alike. Basic commands like “sit”, “stay” and “down” will come in handy here, so make sure your furry companions are up to speed on these before the new arrival.
- Off-Limits Areas
Before your baby arrives home, allow your pet to explore the baby's sleeping and change areas. New spaces are exciting and interesting to pets, and they will want to explore them. Let them do this before your new family member comes home, and then block them off. This is especially important with cats. Teach your pet that these areas are off limits before the baby arrives by keeping the door shut, or adding a screen or gate so that they cannot be accessed.
- Preparation and Stimuli
The smells and sounds of a newborn baby can be off-putting to even the chillest pet. In order to prevent stress, introduce these prior to the arrival of your baby by playing the sounds of crying infants and babbling to your dog or cat. Similarly, you can walk around your house holding a doll, when your pet reacts calmly, reward him or her. For dogs, walking next to a stroller can also be challenging. This is another thing to practice in advance.
The Big Introduction
Once you have brought home your new baby, it is time for the introduction. It is important to remember that you should never leave your baby alone with your pet, even if you trust him or her. Ideally, two adults should be present at all times, one watching the pet, the other watching the baby. Put a blanket with your new arrivals scent on it in your dog or cat’s bed so that he or she can get accustomed to the smell of his or her new family member. Have an adult hold your baby, and while the dog is leashed, allow him or her to sniff and get close to your baby. Reward him or her heavily when he or she shows gentle and calm behavior towards your child. Try not to scold or reprimand your furry friend, as many pets learn to relate the presence of a baby as a time for inattention, confinement, or even punishment. The goal is to teach your pet that ‘good things' happen in the presence of your child. This is why rewarding your pet for obedient, relaxed behaviour in the presence of the child helps develop a positive association with the baby.
Pro-Tip: Sometimes, even with the most rigorous preparation, a pet may show aggression towards your child. When this occurs, it is vital to seek professional help from your BetterVet team. Keep in mind that most problems with pets occur when babies start crawling and walking, so even if you have started to trust your pet with your child, it is important to remain vigilant as sudden movements and erratic behavior displayed by toddlers can be seen as threatening and set of a pet if not being monitored closely.