Preparing for a new addition to your family can be a very exciting and somewhat stressful time. Between all the baby’s Dr. visit, researching and preparing your home it can be easy to overlook how this change will affect your pets. Your pet has probably already picked up on the change in the dynamic around the house, so why not help prepare them for the future changes. I can tell you honestly, as a new mother myself, that once the baby arrives it can be difficult to provide the same attention to your pet(s). I certainly love my dog just as much as before, but when you are running on 4 hours of broken sleep, and haven’t eaten yet that day, taking the dog for a nice long walk wasn’t high on my list of priorities. Shortly after I found out I was pregnant I started researching ways to help my pet adjust to our big change. I currently own one very spoiled hound dog, Trix, who was used to all of mom & dad’s attention. I knew jealousy was likely going to be an issue once our new baby arrived, so I wanted to do my due diligence to prepare Trix for her arrival.
Before the baby come:
1. Ensure your pets vaccines are up to date – in the unfortunate event someone should get bit, you want to make sure their rabies vaccine especially is up to date.
2. Check a fecal (poop sample) or preventatively deworm your pet. You may not know it, but your pet could be harbouring a parasite. There are several parasites that may not show symptoms, but could be passed onto your child. Regular hand washing can help prevent possible transfer, but as you will quickly see, babies stick everything in their mouth. Once mobile, they will be in regular contact with areas your pet is playing/sleeping/eating etc. so deworming can provide you with some piece of mind. NOTE: pets can pick up parasites at any time, so regular fecal checks are always advised.
After the baby arrives:
1. If possible, have your partner bring an article of clothing that the baby has worn (hat, sleeper, blanket etc.) home from the hospital ahead of time and allow your pet to sniff it. Immediately after smelling provide them with a positive reinforcement (treats, petting, praising them). This is something that should be done before you are both headed home with baby (perhaps when dad runs home to shower/change).
2. For the first meeting, if at all possible, bring a third person with you. You will also need to have a very delicious treat on hand for your pet. Once entering the house have the third person hold the baby so that mom & dad can focus their attention on the dog(s). Once initial greetings are done, allow your pet to sniff the baby (always ensure this is done safely – can hold collar if your dog is known for jumping and present baby’s bum). Keep the interaction brief (just a short sniff), then give the treat to your pet. This will provide the initial basis for positive reinforcement for a good interaction.
3. Each pet may behave differently. As long as your pet is not aggressive, continue to do brief sessions daily where you bring baby & dog together and provide positive reinforcement (treats, praise etc.). While your pets & baby may be together all day long this focused session may help them start to associate good things with the baby. Note, no matter how well behaved the pet, a baby & pet should NEVER be left unattended. If your pet is showing signs of aggression it is advised to seek a trainer who can come out to your home to ensure the safety of your child. Baby gates can be used to assign different areas of the house for the baby & dog(s).
4. It is important to try & take some time to focus your attention on your pet. This can be challenging at times, but try to have yourself or your partner take your dog out for some exercise at least once a day. If things seem too overwhelming, consider having a dog walker come in once a day until you have time to establish a routine.
LONG TERM GOALS
Building a good relationship between baby & dogs can take time. It is important to put the time and effort in to do it properly to ensure the safety of everyone. As the baby becomes more mobile you will need to establish some boundries for both your dog and the baby. It is a good idea to use different words to reinforce these behaviours for your dog & baby. For example, if “cookie” is a word your dog knows you can use it if the baby grabs a handful of fur to let the dog know that she will be rewarded with some treats for not reacting badly to that behaviour, while saying “no” or “gentle” to the baby. Having different words to positively and negatively reinforce the baby & dog will help avoid confusion as to who is doing something good and who is doing something bad. As your baby becomes a toddler, they will learn to establish their own set of boundaries. It is not a bad thing for kids to learn that dogs can be scary if provoked. This does not mean that you should let your toddler harass the dog until it reacts. It simply means teaching them appropriate times and places to approach dogs (ie. not when eating/sleeping, don’t approach strange dogs without asking etc.).