It’s hard to predict how your fur babies will react to your newborn. Even the sweetest and most docile of dogs and cats may raise their fur, growl or hiss, while breeds known to be more “single companion oriented” may surprisingly embrace the new family member as their own pup or kitten. You just never know.
Therefore, it’s better to err on the side of caution and start early when it comes to pet training, setting new boundaries and preparing pets for the addition of a baby - and new family member.
Tips for Preparing a Fur Baby for the Soon-to-Arrive Human Baby
Any other babies or toddlers in your world?
Do any family members or close friends have babies or toddlers? Now’s the time to expose your new pet to them. Invite them over to the house for some play time and tea - with the sole intention of “pet awareness.” To reduce stress, only do this with individuals who understand exactly what’s taking place, know things may have to be cut short, and won’t freak out if a hiss or growl takes place. Pet-loving friends are typically the best candidates for this.
Providing small doses of regular exposure to babies allows your dog/cat to get used to other small bodies in the house, toys on the floor (no chewing!), and the strange sounds and smells that will enter their domain.
Never leave a baby or child unattended with a pet. Reward your dog or cat for calm behavior around the baby, and only let them approach the child if they are calm. Do not punish your animal if s/he shows any signs of upset or aggression. That approach doesn’t do much to correct the pet response, rather it reinforces to your pet how terrible babies and children are. If signs of pet upset and aggression don’t diminish or seem to escalate, your guests should leave calmly and you can try again. Several “doses” may be required before you pet can take it in stride.
Start using preferred baby products
No time like the present to decide which baby soaps, lotions, powders, creams, etc., you plan to use on your newborn. Purchase some now and start using them yourself. If you do this regularly, your pet will become familiar with the new smells - and that goes a long way towards everyone’s comfort when the baby becomes a permanent resident in the house.
Enroll in a doggy obedience course
If you err on the side of “overly-lenient pet caretaker,” you’re setting everyone up for failure. Dogs who understand - and immediately comply with - basic commands (“no,” sit, lay down, stay, heel, come) are easier to manage if they have a less-than-enthusiastic response to your newborn.
Some Bay Area dog trainers specialize in kids and dogs-oriented training, such as The Pooch Coach. You may also want to read, Good Dog, Happy Baby, by San Francisco celebrity dog trainer Michael Wombach. His credo: Even if your dog is “good,” your baby is still at risk.
Try to envision what is allowed Now, that won’t be Then
There are all kinds of things that may shift in terms of where your pet is allowed to be now, and where s/he won’t be allowed once baby comes.
Try to envision how your domestic space will shift, and which rules will change - and then start the new protocol months before the baby arrives. That way, the new routine is the “norm” and your pet won’t connect it to the baby’s arrival.
Sleeping arrangements. Odds are you won’t want your pet in the bed when the baby will be there during nursing time or during sleeping time. This is a good time to buy the new pet bed and train him/her to sleep peacefully in the new area.
Pet feeding stations. A baby reaching for pet food on the floor can make a docile pet turn feral. Arrange a new feeding station, or feeding routine, that doesn’t allow your baby/toddler to interfere with the pet’s food at any time.
Couches/chairs. It may be a good idea to re-train pet(s) to stay off couches or favorite chairs unless invited. You may find you’re A-OK with your pet and your baby together on the couch or chair with you - and then you can invite fido/kitty up. But since you can’t predict what you (or your baby) will/won’t want - it’s better to be slightly more restrictive until baby is home and you’ve established a routine.
Make changing/playing station a treat station. Making your special time with the baby a treat time for the pet can help. Have some of your pet’s favorite treats in a bowl near your changing station or favorite nursing station(s). That way, your pet associates your special time with baby as a special time for him/her, too!
Change the environment incrementally. Dogs and cats are particularly sensitive to changes in their environment. Make small nursery changes over time so pets have a chance to adjust. Then, spend time playing with them in the space to make it familiar. It may also be a good idea to alternate access to the nursery - putting the doggy gate up at times, and then taking it down again - replicating what it will be like when the baby is home. Remember, pets should never be allowed unsupervised with the baby to help keep everyone safe.
Blending families - human and furred - isn’t always as easy as you might think. The more you’re prepared - the smoother the transitions will be.
My name is Marcela Limon, and I’m the owner of Lemonshoots. I specialize in maternity and newborn photography, and I would love the opportunity to create artistic and emotional images of your newborn and your loved ones - furred and fur-less - capturing the magic of this precious time. Contact me at (510) 747-9019 to schedule your newborn photography session.