The birth of a new child can be an exciting time, but requires some preparation.
Expecting parents are often as busy as they are excited while they’re preparing to welcome a new baby to their family. In this happily hectic time, those who also own pets should consider how their pets and their new baby can safely interact when they eventually meet.
Dr. Lori Teller, an associate professor in the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says expecting parents can begin preparing their pets for a new arrival as soon as they know they are expecting a new baby.
“This is a great time for an obedience refresher for your dog. Make sure your dog knows and obeys commands such as sit, down, stay, come, wait, off, and go to bed,” Teller said. “If your dog likes to jump on people, this is a great reason to teach them to stop this behavior. The relationship between your pet and your child will be so much the better if your dog has good manners.”
The arrival of a new baby will interrupt a pet’s schedule almost as much as it alters the parents’ schedule. Teller advises pet owners to adjust their pet to their new schedule and new rules, such as not allowing pets to enter rooms reserved for the baby, before the baby’s arrival.
“Bring new baby products and furniture into the house before your baby comes home. These may include diapers, lotion, baby wash, formula and linens,” Teller said. “Let your pets get accustomed to these smells, so that by the time the baby arrives, those smells will be a normal part of the environment. Don’t allow your pet to sleep in the baby’s crib or any other location where the baby may rest.”
Teller also recommends that pet owners acclimate their furry friend to the sound of a baby crying prior to their arrival. This can be done by playing a recording of crying at a low volume and practicing obedience commands. Owners can reward their dog for obeying and remaining calm, then slowly increase the volume, continuing to reward their pet’s positive behaviors.
“If you will be walking your dog while pushing the stroller, start training your dog to walk next to it,” she said. “Initially your dog may find it scary to walk next to the stroller, so it’s better to get your dog comfortable with it now before all of you end up in a tangled mess.”
Owners can also help their animals adjust to their diverted attention by holding a doll in the chair where they will feed or rock the baby and by carrying the doll around. Owners should reward their pet for resting calmly while they are occupied with the doll.
While practicing these techniques can be helpful in ensuring a smooth transition, pet owners may also wish to consult with their veterinarian about any behavioral concerns.
“If your pet is anxious by nature, it would be good to discuss this with your veterinarian before the baby’s arrival,” Teller said. “Your pet may benefit from an anti-anxiety supplement or the use of a calming pheromone. Some pets may need medication and a behavioral modification plan to address anxiety issues.”
Preparing a pet prior to the arrival of a new baby is instrumental in ensuring that your new, expanded family gets off on the right foot. Not only can these preparations support a safer environment for the new baby, but they can also help reduce stress for new parents in their first joyful weeks of parenthood.