Many of the preparations you can make are similar to how you would prepare siblings for a new baby, according to Dr. Patrick Melese, DVM DACVB. Melese is a board-certified veterinary behaviorist with a private practice in Kearny Mesa. “Your pet has been established; this is their way of being,” he says. “You’re shaking up their world.”
One of the best things you can do is start early, according to John Rubin, owner of John’s Natural Dog Training Company. Dogs thrive on a routine, so changing your pet’s schedule as soon as possible will make the transition easier for everyone. In addition, your pet will not associate any abrupt changes with the new baby and have extra incentive to act negatively toward the baby.
Before the Baby Arrives
SWITCH IT UP NOW. If you know that you won’t have as much time to walk your pet or take it to the park, or if playtime will come later in the week or infrequently, start to make these changes as soon as you can anticipate them. “Drastic scheduling changes are stressful for dogs, and they can act out because of it,” says Rubin. The Humane Society says that cats can be especially sensitive to abrupt routine changes.
PLAY HOUSE. One of the preparation techniques that Rubin uses with his clients are props. “We take the dog on a walk with an empty stroller before the baby arrives,” he says. That way the dog becomes comfortable walking with a stroller. Rubin also suggests setting up your baby furniture and gear, even running the baby swing with a sack of flour or doll in it, to desensitize pets to the new equipment and help them learn how to behave around it.
Pets are very sensitive to scents, so applying baby lotion or powder to your skin can also help prepare your pet. Melese recommends introducing the new baby’s actual scent, if possible. Take a used receiving blanket home and place it in the pet’s bed or under its feeding bowls. This furthers the probability for affirmative response and allows the pet to become familiar with the actual biological smell of the baby.
There are even CDs you can buy with the sounds of a baby crying, cooing and laughing. Playing baby noises in association with cuddle time or treats for your pet will help the introduction to be a positive one. “You’re selling the pet on the new sound,” Melese says.
TRAINING REFRESHER. If your pet doesn’t always respond to “sit,” “stay,” “leave it” and “off” commands, you may want to look at hiring a certified dog behaviorist to help your pet brush up on its training. These commands will be extra important when you’re navigating your home with the new baby or have the baby in your lap and need your pet to stay put.
A trip to the vet. Make sure your pet is up-to-date on all its vaccinations, to prevent dealing with health issues when the baby arrives. You may also want to get your pet groomed and its nails trimmed regularly to help with cleanliness and accidental scratching.
Off limits. If certain areas of the house will be off limits to your pet after the baby arrives, restrict those areas as soon as possible. This can be done with gates or screen doors on rooms, which help to keep the room “open” to the rest of the house while still keeping the pet out. The Humane Society recommends that cats be kept out of nurseries and that no matter how well behaved your pet is, you do not allow the pet in the crib with the baby.
Also make sure your pet knows which toys belong to it and which ones are off limits as baby toys. Make sure to remove any dolls or stuffed animals in your pet’s current toy collection that might resemble a baby. You don’t want to take any chances that your pet might think the baby is a toy.
PLACE OF REFUGE. Lastly, make sure that your pet has a space all its own where it can retreat when it needs to get away. Rubin says this is very important for pets to help increase their feeling of safety and security. If you have a lap animal, your lap will no longer be their space exclusively; it will have to be shared with the baby. Creating a bed for the pet, possibly elevated or near where you will be sitting, is a comfort for them. “Sometimes dogs can have space issue,” says Rubin, “so giving them a space where they are safe, comfortable and happy and making it their own before the baby arrives can be very helpful.”
After the Baby Arrives
HELLO AGAIN. When you bring the baby home from the hospital, the Humane Society recommends taking time to greet your pet calmly and lovingly while your baby is still outside with the other parent. Your pet will be excited to see you after your stay in the hospital and will appreciate feeling as if it is still a special part of your life.
MAKE TIME. Try to stick to your new walk and play schedule, and attempt to continue to make time for your pet. This can often be done while the baby is sleeping and will be a stress reliever for both you and your pet.
FAMILY TIME. Try to plan activities that include both your pet and your baby. This will increase your pet’s ability to bond with the newest member of the family. The Humane Society cautions that while you may want your pet and the newest member of the family to form an attachment, never force your pet to be near the baby, especially if your pet is anxious.
KEEP A WATCHFUL EYE. No matter how well behaved your pet is or how well the pet and your baby seem to get along, never leave them unattended. Melese suggests investing in a drag line for your dog—a long, lightweight nylon leash that will allow you to redirect behaviors and get control of the situation quickly.
If your pet has difficulty transitioning to the new addition to your home or displays aggressive behaviors that you are worried about, Melese suggests getting professional help and getting it early. “There are very effective strategies to keep pets within the family and to also keep everyone safe,” he says.