Thursday, September 28, 2006

Introducing Pets to the New Baby

Bringing a new baby into your home requires a huge adjustment for every member of the household. Both Mom and Dad, as well as the other children in the house, will have to go through a lot of preparation time in order to be ready to welcome this new little life into their homes and routines. But in all of this adjustment and preparation, it's easy to forget that the family pets are also going through some huge changes, and may need some extra attention and training in order to deal with this lifestyle change.

Most of us consider our pets to be well-established members of our families, and it's incredibly important to make sure that cats and dogs are ready to handle the new little baby well in advance of his or her actual arrival. Preparing your cat or dog, teaching them how to behave, and being ready to deal with the situation when it actually occurs is the key to making this process a little smoother for everyone involved.

Pets and babies can get along!
A very good friend of mine recently had her first baby. She and her husband have been the proud owners of two beagles for the past several years, and they spent a great deal of time while they were still expecting in training the dogs and getting them used to the idea of the baby. One day, she called me on the phone sounding very upset, and told me that her mother-in-law had called to ask when she and her husband would be getting rid of their dogs in anticipation of the baby's arrival. The idea that when baby comes in, the pets must go out is a surprisingly common misapprehension among many people. The fact is that as long as your pet is well trained and the baby does not have any allergies to it, there's absolutely no reason why you can't have both in your household.

Pre-adjustment time is key
The number one thing you'll need to do in order to prepare your pets for the baby is to make sure that your cat or dog gets used to the idea of the baby well before he or she arrives. This will keep them from feeling as though their home has been threatened or invaded by the new little stranger, and thus will prevent any possible aggressive behavior that may result if they feel as though they are being usurped. Before the baby arrives, allow your pet to explore the nursery and the feeding and changing areas, so that they can become accustomed to the smell of the baby's clothing and blankets as well as to any changes you've made to the room. Make sure not to let the pets climb on any of the nursery furniture if they will not be allowed to do so once the baby arrives.

If your pet acts aggressively in the baby's room or carries away blankets or toys, train them that these behaviors and items are off-limits with a firm "No." Once they've accepted the baby's territory as something that is off-limits, it will be much easier to establish boundaries with them once the baby arrives.

During the weeks while you're preparing for the baby to come, try to establish a schedule with your pet that you'll be able to stick to once the child comes home. If any changes need to be made in the animal's feeding or walking schedule, now is the time to do it, so that they do not associate the arrival of the baby with any major shifts in their own day. Such things can cause resentment and worry in your pet. Keeping them on a schedule for a few weeks, and then continuing that schedule seamlessly once the baby comes home, will help ease the transition time considerably for everyone involved.

When the baby arrives
Upon your arrival home, someone else should hold the baby while you greet your pet for the first time. Your pet has not seen you in several days and will not appreciate your arms and attention being taken up by the new infant. Greet your pet properly and then introduce them to the infant while the other person is still holding it. You should control and monitor the pet while it smells the baby for the first time.

Once your baby comes home to stay, you'll need to make sure that the first few visits between the child and your pet are closely monitored. Do not leave the animal alone with the baby until you are entirely sure of their relationship, which could take several months depending on the temperament of your pet.

Continue to monitor your pet at all times with the new baby, keeping them leashed until you are entirely sure of their behavior. A pet may act aggressively when you are not expecting it, so it's best that at least two people be in the room at all times during those early months. Remember that the pet should not sleep in bed with the baby, as they may inadvertently hurt or smother them with their body weight.

As your child gets older, teach him or her to treat the pet gently and to consider the pet a friend. With a little time and training, your pet will regard your child the same way, and the bond that will develop between them will be well worth the effort you put in.
-by bjp

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