HAPPILY EVER AFTER- Pet & baby edition

For many of us, our pets were our first babies and now it’s time to bring the human baby home. There can be a lot of worry, concern, and questions about pet introductions for many of us.



These feelings and worries can cause additional stress on top of what you may already be feeling in preparing for a new baby. For me, one of my biggest concerns was our dogs, and I’ll discuss mostly dogs today.

It is my hope that these steps and recommendations will help give you some guidance and ideas to alleviate your concerns and reduce your stress!


BEFORE BABY ARRIVES

Brush up on training with your dog, even if you are convinced that they know their basic commands! They’re about to go through a fairly life changing event as well, so making sure that these commands and these behaviors are second nature to them, can be extremely helpful for you once baby arrives. These are some common commands we went over (you may have similar variations): -Sit

-Stay

-Off

-back up

-leave it

-Drop it

-Go to (kitchen, door, bedroom, bed…)

-No touch (this can be helpful when you’re wanting them to move away from the baby, or one of the baby’s toys/items

- Leash training (PetSafe Easy Walk -No Pull Dog Harness and other special leashes and harnesses help with this by preventing the dog from taking the slack out of the leash or forcing the dog’s head to turn if he pulls).


Create a schedule or routine for your pet with respect to their mealtimes and walks, in particular. This will create and maintain a sense of normalcy and expectation for them in the midst of what can sometimes be pure chaos with a new infant. When things are ever changing for your dog as they adjust to the new baby who is taking most of the focus away from them, and as they get used to the crying, and humans who now seem to be up all night, these few things that do not change for them will be very important.



Provide your pet with a space that is theirs and theirs alone. For us, we crated our pups in the evening for bed, but it had been years since we needed to close the door. We would say “go to bed” and in they went where they stayed for the night. This was also their alone space where they would go to lay down, or one of our pups would go to pout. Once our babies arrived, it is also where they would go to escape the chaos sometimes. It’s going to be even more important that they have this “safe” space that is theirs when the baby comes home. (If your pup prefers a dark safe space these crate covers are great).


Socialize, socialize, socialize! Not just with other dogs, but if your dog is not around other people or children a lot, its not a bad idea to start taking them to areas where they can be around others outside of the home. Dog parks can be a good starting point for this, there are off leash and leashed options, and you’ll need to select what is best for your particular dog. We had one dog who did great at off leash play areas, and our other was a stay on the leash kind of guy. If you can, have your dog around kids and other people, bring your dog around to see how they react. Maybe ask a friend if you can join them and their toddler on a stroller walk, with your dog on a leash to see how they behave and if there are any issues or concerns you need to work on based on how they react around the little one in the stroller. (Don’t forget to train your dog how to walk with a stroller).



Set up your baby’s items and allow your dog (and other pets) to see these items frequently. Once our babies arrived, we never let our dogs or cats in the room without us present, but prior to arrival it was fair game for them to enter an explore. If you can, get them use to the item being around, before you bring the baby home, that is ideal. You might laugh, but I recommend carrying around the infant car seat, so they aren’t scared of it and run off while you’re hauling a baby around in it (trust me on this one, you don’t want to be tripping over a dog who just got spooked by the car seat, while carrying your baby in said car seat). Put together the baby swing or bouncer and let them do their dog exploring and sniffing thing. We often found our cats in the baby’s crib, swing, car seat, bassinet and even the baby bathtub. We did not allow this to happen once the babies arrived, but it was a way to allow our cats to become comfortable with all these new items.


Teaching, or maybe expanding on personal space with your pet might sound like an odd recommendation. But I wish I had focused on it a bit more with my dogs- I laugh when I think about trying to help on this topic with cats because those felines just do what they want to do most of the time. Having your larger dog try to share your lap with the baby is not ideal, so working on creating a bit more personal space with your dog prior to the baby’s arrival can be helpful. You don’t have to go to all or nothing extreme, but this suggestion about space really ties back into the first recommendation of commands. Teaching them commands like “back up” can be extremely useful to keep them off your lap, or their slobbery cute puppy face off the baby who may be on your lap.


Make a plan for pet sitters and friends/family who can help with the pets if need be. You may not ever need utilize this list, but if you do I promise you you’ll be glad you created it.


INTRODUCING YOUR BABY AND YOUR PET

Create positive associations with your dog by introducing an item that smells like the baby (blanket or outfit from the hospital). Allow your dog to sniff the item, and make sure you praise/reward them for their gentle curiosity. You certainly don’t have to limit this to a blanket though, if you’ve got other items that the baby has been in or use that you can share with your dog, I definitely recommend it. Continue to praise them for their gentle curiosity. When I came home from the hospital, I came in first and alone without the babies so that my dogs could greet me, especially since I had been gone for a while. They were gentle with me, but eager and excited and I’m glad I didn’t have a baby in my arms or a car seat and gave them just a few minutes alone with me first.

Introduce your dog to your baby at a pace that is comfortable for you, there is no rush to force an immediate introduction. Some people may feel more comfortable gating off an area that the dog remains in while the baby is first brought into the house. For others, allowing the dog to come up to the baby immediately feels like the right thing to. After I visited with our dogs for a few minutes, we brought our babies inside in their car seats, and set the seats on the floor. We introduced the dogs one at a time, allowing the dog to approach the car seat at their own pace while we were sitting on the floor next to the car seat. Once they seemed to get their fill of sniffs and setting their heads on the baby’s legs, we took the babies out of the car seats and let the dogs come up to us on the couch. I have friends who’ve introduced the baby while holding him/her and allowing the dog to come over to them, skipping the car seat introduction altogether. It is recommended that you don’t force the meeting though, if you dog is disinclined to come over on their own, give them the space they need and revisit introductions later.


HAPPILY EVER AFTER- PET & BABY EDITION

We did all we could to maintain the routines we had established with our pets prior to the babies’ arrival. So daily walks continued, although sometimes just one of us went while the other rested. Other times it was a family stroller (Jogging stroller because they are meant to be moving faster than normal and hold up to rougher terrain) and leash outing, as getting out of the house for some fresh air and no real agenda was good for all of us. If you regularly play with your dog in the yard, or have established a set feeding schedule, do all you can to stick to that. Keeping routines and time with your pet can help prevent (or at least reduce) any feelings of sibling rivalry that your dog may feel towards this new baby.


Always supervise your pets with your babies. Even the best pet can cause unintentional harm, so don’t leave them alone. Additionally, your dog may not realize their own strength or size in relation to your little one and can cause unintentional harm because of this. With your supervision, you’re going to be able to prevent and mitigate this from being an issue.


We made sure our dogs were included in baby related activities, and you may laugh now but it really seemed to help keep them calm and affectionate towards the babies. Your pets, and your dogs in particular want to feel included and loved, so as often as you can allow them to be a part of it. Our gigantic rottweiler loved to squeeze into our very small bathroom during bath time. For nothing other than to just watch the kids splashing around. It seemed to be something he found interest and satisfaction in, and it didn’t cause anyone or anything harm, so we allowed it. This same dog also stopped sleeping in his crate and would sleep outside of the babies’ closed bedroom door every single night, almost like he was standing guard. He would also whimper if one of the cats was left in the room and we were trying to close the bedroom door, so he helped us a lot with that safety concern. Make sure your dog (and your cat) has their own toys, that are separate from the baby’s toys. If your pet has plenty of their own toys, they are less likely to chew up the baby’s toys (another trust me on this on topic).

My sister, who is my go-to person for all things dogs says this: Dogs needs to feel that they are part of the family and not that they have been replaced by this new baby. Hopefully this gives you some ideas to work with that can help make this a smooth process for all involved!


-Julie P. (Mother of 6)


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