Introducing Your Dog & Cat To
The New Baby In Your Life
Ron Hines DVM PhD
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There was a time when kids came first and then you got the pets. But times change, and with people marrying later and latter lots of furry or feathered creatures tend to come along with the new spouse. Many of my clients are quite concerned how to introduce their pets to the new baby when it comes. It is amazing how intuitive dogs and cats are when it comes to accepting a new baby. If you love the child your pet senses this and will also cherish the new arrival. There are a few instances, however, where special care must be taken.
If you want your pet to be under control when it is with the baby you need for it to be under control at all times. This means starting long before the baby comes by teaching your dog to obey commands. Enroll in a dog training camp or school. Teach your dog to sit, roll over, heel and lay down on command. This lets the dog know that you are in charge of decision making. You may want to read my article on dealing with aggression in dogs for more information. One of the most powerful commands is to train your dog not to eat a treat until you give the OK. This is an extremely difficult task for a pet and by the time it masters it I will leave you thoroughly in charge of all important matters in your household. Another strong command is to sit patiently even when activity is occurring in the room. Begin by standing at the dog’s side and eventually get to a point where you can leave the room and the dog will continue to sit. Whenever I train dogs to these commands I use the positive reinforcement of a pat on the head, a kind word and a treat instead of punishment. Practice the stay command in the room you have set aside for the baby. Some authorities suggest you put a doll in the crib and fuss over it as if it were the baby. You can do this, but I think dogs are quite intelligent enough to know the difference. Letting the dog become accustomed to the smell of warm formula is probably a good idea.
It is a good idea to keep your dog at a friend’s house or kennel for a week or two when you bring the baby home. You will have your hands full with your infant and will not have the time to pet and reassure your dog or prevent jealousy. When you do bring your dog home he will be overwhelmed by all the new odors and be more inclined to cooperate. When you bring the dog back home first let it sniff some of the baby’s used diapers. Then praise and reward the pet. Once it has calmed down introduce it to within seeing distance of the baby but on a leash. Then take the pet into the living room and praise and reward it some more. I would do this for several days until it becomes routine. When you actually allow the dog to sniff the baby be sure to have several people present to help restrain the dog if it becomes necessary. Keep the dog on a leash for better control. If you feel the dog tense up discontinue the introduction and try later. If you sense any degree of aggression or predatory emotion in the dog have it wear a muzzle. For a dog to adjust to the presence of a bay it needs repetitive exposure to the by in a happy situation so the dog associates the baby with pleasure. Lavishly praise your pet and give him treats during this training period. It is always better to be overly safe than foolishly sorry. Place a child gate in front of your child’s room to keep the dog away from the baby when you are not present. If the gate is too low, purchase a second gate and place it above the first. You can gradually relax your supervision as you come to trust your pet. The more inattentive to the baby the dog becomes the better. There is no way for me to tell you when this will occur. All I can tell you is that you will sense it when the right time comes.
is a misconception that cats dislike babies. They probably do not
recognize babies as little people and I have noticed that they treat
them more like another object of furniture. This is not necessarily
bad. If you own a shy cat it will probably hide for a day or two
after you bring the baby home. If they are particularly piqued they
may urinate on piles of the baby’s cloth but nothing worse.
If the cat does get stressed out from all the unaccustomed activity
it is likely to over-groom itself and eat less for a while.
We have all heard the folk tale that your cat will smother the baby. There is absolutely no truth in this. Cats may not come to the rescue of the baby but neither will they do anything to intentionally harm it. Cats might be drawn to the baby by the smell of milk formula. If this should happen, shoo the cat away from the baby’s crib. Some might close the baby’s door and install an infant monitor but I set a few mouse traps under a sheet of newspaper to “mine” the area around the crib for a week or two. You can also replace the child’s door with a screen door.
If you have reptiles such as turtles or iguanas keep them away from small children. Reptiles are a reservoir for Salmonella bacteria that can cause severe illness in young children.