Introducing your dog to a new baby!
This is a post that I have been meaning to write for a long time because I think it will be useful to a few people. Especially myself! I am due to have my first baby on the 20th of June. (Yes, less than a week away!) My pets are a very important part of my life so I wanted to make sure they would be as prepared as possible for the arrival of the baby and hopefully we might even have some tactics in place that allow them to enjoy it.
Everyone has been telling me that once I have this baby my fur-kids will go down a rung in my priorities. I do understand why they think this and I am aware I will be time poor so I will have less opportunities to spend time with the dogs and cats like I currently do. But I am determined that they will still be as loved and doted on, even if the way we go about it is slightly different.
How can you prepare your pet before the baby arrives?
I have done some research and now I can share some processes and tactics that you can put into place so your pets are ready before the baby arrives. I have also included some information on specifically what preparations we have done.
Make sure your dog obeys basic commands
It is important to ensure your dog understands and obeys some basic verbal commands before the arrival of your baby. This will make life easier for you as they will understand what you are asking of them. Start some basic training early in the pregnancy or brush up on previous obedience training especially on commands such as “sit”, “down”, “stay”, “off” and the recall (coming when you call their name). Having these in place will make interactions when you are carrying the baby or pushing the stroller far easier.
Our dogs went to obedience training a while ago and are good at the basic commands but we definitely need to improve their greetings as they love to jump up, which in the past might have been fun but is something we are trying to curb now.
Create a space(s) that is off-limits
This is usually the baby’s room but it also might be your bedroom or other areas of the house including the lounge. To do this you can use baby gates, fly-screen doors (sometimes needed for cats who can jump) and — in the case of furniture — some consistent training. In our home the spare room has now become the baby’s room. When it was the spare room our cats often slept on the bed as it was a place the dogs rarely visited. So several months ago when we started to clear the room we put up a baby gate. This has stopped all the animals accessing the room but they can still see and hear what goes on in there and they only enter the room on our terms. In conjunction with this we also bought the cats some new beds which we have put in our home office, and this is where they are now encouraged to sleep. This strategy has worked fairly well to date.
As far as the lounge goes, the pets have been able to sit on it for so long (13 years for the cats!) that it would be hard to make it off-limits to them now. Instead, we are going to buy a new chair that will be off-limits for all the pets and we will use this when we are feeding the baby.
Get the pets used to new sounds and smells
Lots of websites and books I have read recommend you get your pets prepared by introducing new sounds and smells before the baby comes home. It is useful to get your hands on some recordings of baby cries and noises so you can play them in the house to prepare your pets. As we all know a dog’s hearing is much more sensitive than ours and so high pitch sounds like a baby crying can be quite distressing to them. We were able to rent the Sounds Soothing CD from our local vet for a couple of weeks and have played this regularly to all the animals. This CD comes with a booklet explaining how to use it properly and some additional training tips that will prepare your dog for a baby’s arrival.
In terms of smells I have heard people recommend that expecting parents apply baby oils, creams and ointment to their own skin so your pets can get use to it. We also plan to take several singlets to the hospital for when the baby is born, so she/he can wear them and my husband can bring them home while I’m still in hospital. This way the dogs and cats can become familiar with the smell of the baby before it arrives.
Think about changes to routine and quality time
Many resources recommend you start to reduce the amount of attention you give your dog during your pregnancy. This is because it will be difficult for your dog to accept the baby if he/she associates it with not getting as much attention. Plus, many dogs become demanding when they have less attention and might paw and bark for your attention, potentially frightening or waking the baby.
I have decided to do this by looking for activities that I do not have to be as involved in and incorporating these into my dogs’ daily routine. For us these have included:
- Getting other people to take our dogs for their morning walk, like close friends and relatives
- Sharing a joint quiet time for all the pets while we prepare dinner. We do this by playing the ‘Music for Calm Dogs CD’ (see our recent blog post).
- Incorporating puzzle toys that mentally stimulate the dogs quickly and can be played inside. The Nina Ottosson range of toys are great for this as she created these toys specifically after the birth or her two kids, when she was finding it hard to spend time with her dogs the way they were used to.
I am sure there are many less time intensive ways you can spend time with your dogs, but still make sure they are stimulated and happy.
Changes in car seating
When a baby arrives so does a huge amount of equipment, including a baby capsule or car seat. If this impacts where your dog used to sit in the car then you will need to look for new solutions.
Our dogs often ride in the car when we take them to the park, to doggy events or to see friends and relatives. In the past they have always sat in the back seat with their dog seat-belts on. However, now we have a baby capsule taking up half the back seat and we don’t want the dogs to have unfettered baby-face-licking access while we are driving. Because our car has an open boot area behind the back seat we have been able to install a car barrier between the two. In the back of the car we have now placed a new dog bed and some of their toys. Plus every time they get in this new space they are given a treat! It is a change for them that they are getting accustomed to, but we did it before the baby arrived so they won’t associate the experience directly with the baby.
Exposing your dog to other kids and babies
Expose your dog — in a controlled way — to as many babies as possible. Babies look, smell, sound and move in different ways to adult humans so it is great to try and get your dog familiar with babies during your pregnancy. This can be done in a positive manner by remaining calm and providing positive reinforcement such as treats. Fortunately for me I have many friends with toddlers and babies and the dogs have been exposed to their kids for brief periods and have handled it well.
Bringing home your baby
So the baby has arrived and it is time for introductions! In our parenting classes they highly recommended that you get a neutral person to carry your newborn into your home. The reason for this is it gives you a chance to greet your dog as you usually would, especially if you have been in the hospital for a few days. You can give them the attention they deserve without worrying about them jumping on the baby.
Once settled you can start to introduce the baby to your dog in a controlled way, which might involved having them on the leash. This interaction should be positive for them and good behaviour needs to be rewarded with special treats. You can start by putting the baby on your lap and letting the dog sniff it and possibly lick its foot. Don’t let your dog muzzle, nudge or paw at the baby. Hopefully, with treats your dog will learn that the presence of the baby is a good thing.
If the dog does something inappropriate or starts to bark it is best to distract them by using commands which you can reward and then try for another interaction later. Obviously, dangerous behaviour needs to be pulled up immediately and the baby should be removed from the situation.
Planning only goes so far
No one can completely prepare for the arrival of a new baby because there are so many variables that depend on events, your baby and you. So the main thing to keep in mind is to have some processes in place for dealing with your pets and the baby, then making sure you are aware of how you interact with your pets going forward. The last thing you want to do is to react negatively to attention seeking behaviour from your dog (eg. barking or jumping) as this will leave them feeling isolated, stressed and rejected. If this becomes the only interaction you have with your pets then your relationship will quickly become damaged.
I know going forward that caring for a baby will make our lives much more hectic, but we are going to maintain our regular routines for our pets as much as possible and make a concerted effort to spend one-on-one time with them each day. We are looking forward to adding a new member to our family and want to make sure our dogs and cats enjoy it too!
If you have any tips please comment below and we will keep you posted on how we went introducing our new baby to our pets – lots of fun ahead!