As most of you know, my husband Brendan and I just recently had our second child, Charlotte. Now, along with her four year old brother, Cooper, we’re a family of four. Both of our dogs, Oscar and Hope, are great overall with kids but when we brought Cooper home we weren’t sure how happy they would feel about such a huge change in their day to day routines. They are creatures of habit, and will let me know PROMPTLY at 5:30pm that it is dinner time (daylights savings time always throws them for a bit of a loop)! It was very important to us that our dogs felt comfortable with this new presence in the house. When I found out I was pregnant both times I tried to change their routine early. Give them a little less attention (that was hard!!), change feeding times throughout the week so they would understand that they would in fact still be fed if it was an hour later, and work on some training.
Oscar is 65 pounds of block head love, and if you are on the floor he wants to snuggle right up next to you! I worked with him by putting the baby floor gym out and keeping him away from it so that he understood that this was not his space. The last thing I wanted was for him to try to snuggle with an 8 pound baby! I knew that one day this little bundle of joy would be a toddler with minimal boundaries and I wanted Oscar specifically to learn how to be calm and gentle with people who are on the floor. He learned “bed” which is the same as “place” where he will go to his bed to sit. I tell him this command if the baby is on the floor. I also worked on getting him to learn how to drop toys if someone grabbed it. In the same vein, we worked on another command called “gentle,” which meant he only got the treat or toy if he took it softly and not lunging towards the toy. He has exceled at this command; we can give him a soft treat and he will take it so gently that some of the treat will still be left between our fingers. Hope, our 15 year old Bichon is another story and is a bit of a land shark, but at least she’s smaller!
You can also play sounds of babies crying, spend time in the nursery, and begin using some of the lotions and such that you will use for your baby so the smell becomes familiar to your pets. All of these things were helpful to start well before bringing home a baby. Make sure to work with your pets on what to expect well in advance, giving them the best chance at acclimating to their new lifestyle. When baby arrives, have someone bring home a receiving blanket or hat that the baby wore and allow your pets to smell it. When we brought Cooper home for the first time, we waited to bring him inside. I walked in first to allow the dogs to greet me and get their excitement of seeing me out of the way. We introduced Oscar to Cooper while he was sleeping in his crib so Oscar could smell him and be in the room with us but not directly in contact with him. Within a few minutes Oscar was asleep happily on his floor.
As Cooper has gotten older we also teach him the appropriate way to interact with animals. So many accidents can be prevented by teaching our kids not to climb on our dogs, or run up to a dog on a leash. There are things you can do to prepare your pets for bringing home a baby and the website below goes through many more ideas. Not every suggestion works for each pet, they’re all individuals, so choose one that will give your pet the best chance at a great first meeting and future! It is important to remember not to force a relationship with pets and kids as it could put our pets in a situation that makes them uncomfortable.
Written by: Jennifer Bila, RVT & Practice Manager