Babies and puppies in the home are similar in one respect. They are both learning as they go and can be taught preferred behavior at an early age. But when the puppy enters the household in advance of the baby, it can be a daunting experience, particularly when the pooch feels neglected or it has lost some influence with its masters. No longer being the center of attention can be traumatic. On top of that, a pup now has to also adjust to a variety of new sounds, sights and smells — all of which — can be stressful in a dog’s or cat's early life.
This doesn’t mean Fido [or Fifi the cat] and the infant won’t come to a meeting of the minds and become fast friends over time, it’s just that during this initial introductory period, the pup may be need to adjust to new rules. As a CafeMom’s contributor put it, “it just means [Mom and Dad] will just have to put a little effort into getting the ‘fur baby’ ready for regular baby’s big debut.”
Dana Ebbecke, an American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® [ASPCA] behavior counselor indicates what's important for parents-to-be to prepare their pets for the impending expansion of their family.
To this end, Ebbecke lists 7 tactics that have worked for others:
1. Invite other babies over . . .
In an ideal world, one’s pet would already be comfortable around babies — but if that's not the case, "It's important to have the pet have positive experiences in the presence of children and babies," Ebbecke says.
She suggests pairing kids with something most pets like, namely toys. So, for example, introduce a new squeaky ball when your neighbor's toddler comes to visit.
"Start at a distance so that the dog doesn't become overwhelmed if it's the first time they are in the presence of babies," she notes. And if at any point your pet seems to be getting agitated, pick the child up and back away to give the dog some space and time to adjust.
2. Play recorded baby noises . . .
Because pets often need some time to get use to the sounds of a new baby, it’s suggested to try playing recordings of realistic baby noises on a regular basis, particularly while your pet is doing something enjoyable like eating or playing. (Play some YouTube videos of babies engaging in pleasurable things that make them laugh!) During this time period, masters should engage with their pets before turning the recordings off, allowing the pet to resume to other activities. The idea is to condition the pet to look forward to hearing these sounds and noises.
3. Modify changes in the home over time . . .
Pets are very sensitive to changes in their environment, and that includes the addition of items like cribs and changing tables. "Changes to the home are very stressful for a dog," says Ebbecke (and this is also the case with cats).
So, add baby gear and furniture into your home in stages, allowing one's pets to investigate these changes -- but always redirect their attention to back to their playthings. And if you have a cat, teach her that baby-specific surfaces are off-limits by covering them with pieces of cardboard affixed with double-sided tape. Since cats abhor sticky things, this prohibits them getting too close. After a month or so, when the cat has learned to stay away, the tape can be removed.
4. Introduce baby smells . . .
Unfamiliar smells can also be unsettling to pets, so Moms should start using the lotions and washes she plans to use on the infant on herself in the months leading up to your due date. Newborn-scented blankets from family members’ children can be part of this process as well.
5. Set rules in place before the arrival . . .
Pups need to learn that the rules set between them and their master will not apply to infants. This is particularly important for dogs and cats that are use to jumping up on their pet owners.
"Parents should prepare ways to supervise and manage the pet and the baby as well," says Ebbecke.
Start your behavior modification efforts well in advance so pets don't associate these changes with the new baby. And because there will likely be times when masters will need pets out of the way: "Teaching a 'go to your bed' or 'go to your crate' cue is also very useful," says Ebbecke.
6. Adjust the amount of attention given to the pet . . .
"Once the baby comes home, not only is there a new element in the environment, but the dog is perhaps getting less attention than she's used to now that Mom and Dad have a little person to care for," says Ebbecke.
Start scheduling shorter play and snuggle sessions with your pets at random times throughout the day so they get used to the fact that they won't be able to be by your side 24/7 anymore.
7. Watch for red flags . . .
Despite putting your best foot forward, your pet still might have a difficult time coping with the new addition to the family.
Even small dogs and seemingly gentle cats can do serious physical harm to a baby, unwittingly. So after bringing the infant home, be on the lookout for signs of trouble. If Fido or Fifi growl or hiss at the baby, for example, separate them immediately and try to figure out what made the animal uncomfortable. For instance, was the baby crying or making a fuss? Was the baby hitting the pet? There are many reasons for altercations to arise. It's just important to analyze them as they happen, to prevent a recurrence .
At the end of the day . . .
"Supervision is absolutely key, and it should not be distracted supervision," says Ebbecke. "Parents should be actively watching the baby and be within an arm's length."
On the flip-side, the ASPCA notes that as your child develops, teach him to respect your dog’s body, safe zones and belongings. It's important to supervise interactions, where parents guide their children along, as they learn to communicate and play with pets appropriately. Playing an active role in the development of the relationship between a baby and the house pet will benefit everyone.
With attention to these tactics, you have initiated a proactive type of care that hopefully will thwart problems before they occur — giving you, your baby and your pet an opportunity to grow together and become the BFFs they were meant to be.