By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
For Pets Best Insurance
By taking the right steps in the beginning, the relationship between pets and children can become a lifelong bond. Pets can be an important part of childhood, but introducing a new baby into a household that already has pets can require a little planning and foresight. Planning prior to your new arrival can ensure the smoothest possible transition to a larger family.
It is best to start preparing your dog before the new baby comes home. Make sure your dog is comfortable being independent, as you will have your hands full. If you have a dog that is used to following you from room to room, you might start placing baby gates to confine the dog to the areas of the house that will be separate from the baby.
You should also ensure your dog is used to sleeping on its own, either in a crate or a separate bedroom, and not in your bed or your children’s bed. You’ll also want to ensure you have a way to separate your pet from the baby in the car, either by purchasing a barrier, considering a harness and seatbelt, or confining a smaller dog to a crate. Start using these prior to having a baby in the car seat.
You might see how your dog reacts to a stroller. Some dogs might be scared of the wheels, or try to jump on it. Getting used to walks with a stroller before there is a baby in it will be easier. You might try walking with another adult, someone to push the stroller and another adult to manage the dog. Be sure to make this fun, and reward with treats for well mannered leash walks with a stroller!
Some dogs are very sensitive to or scared of loud sounds. It sounds silly, but playing a recording of crying might help you to see how your dog will react. If s/he is scared or anxious of the sounds, you can start the recording low at first, and then slowly increase to volume over time, all while playing, grooming or petting him/her to desensitize from the sound. Reward for good behavior. Shorter noise sessions frequently will be more successful.
For the baby’s actual homecoming, make sure you have at least two adults available, one that can tend to the dog and another that can tend to the baby. Put your dog on a leash, even if the leash is just dragging on the ground, this will make it easier control, especially a larger dog, if needed. Don’t force the introduction; just allow the pet to be around the new baby. Allow your pet to politely sniff the baby, but if s/he becomes overly interested, or wants to lick, distract with a squeaky toy and divert their attention. If the pet becomes fearful, tucks its tail, or snarls, have the extra adult calmly pick up the leash without scolding and walk the dog away from the baby. It is extremely important that pets that exhibit untrustworthy signs be kept separately from young children.
Having animals in the family while kids are young can be very rewarding, and help teach many life lessons, in addition to providing friendship. Contact your veterinarian with additional or specific questions.