Raising my own children with a beautiful Labrador, I know the value a pet in the home can have when it comes to enhancing child development, improving family harmony and increasing general health. I also know the value of everyone getting along, and how you introduce your much-loved pet to your beautiful new baby is very important for ongoing family harmony, not to mention the safety of your child.
The animal kingdom involves ‘pack psychology’ and if you have a dog in particular, he sees the family he belongs to as his pack. In order for him to feel (and behave) settled and happy, he needs to know where he fits in the order of the pack, which means he needs you to prepare him for the new arrangement. His assumed territory and personal space is also about to be invaded and his routines disrupted. For many pets, this big lifestyle change can be very disturbing and challenging. So here’s how to smooth the transition…
The sweet smell of success
Some pets have never come into contact with babies or heard them cry, so before you give birth it’s a good idea to familiarise your pet with how human little ones sound and behave. If you don’t have access to any noisy bubs, try using recorded sound. Capture the noise of bubs crying from the local shopping centre on your phone and play it at home, for example, or look up some videos on YouTube. To get your pet used to how your bubba may behave around him, start playfully tugging on his earls, paws and tail, and reward him for good behaviour.
Before you bring your new baby home from the hospital, you’ll also need to introduce your pet to the way the new family member smells. Ask your partner to take a home a baby blanket, a piece of clothing, or some other item with bub’s smell on it. This can be placed on your pet’s bed for him to sniff and lay on. This will help your furry friend come to recognise the new baby and also understand that the baby is a higher order in the pack.
When you’re arriving home from the hospital, first walk through the door without bub in your arms if you can (have your partner stand outside with your baby). Make a big fuss as you greet your pet – greeting him in this way lets him know that he is still important to you and that you hadn’t left him for good. Next, carry bub inside while still in her car seat and place this on your pet’s bed. This further demonstrates to your pet that the new baby is higher than he is in the pack order. Watching the two closely, never leaving your baby, let your pet sniff about for a while before taking bub out of the car seat. While holding bub in your arms approach your pet from the side and give him a gentle tummy rub. If your pet or bub is anxious, though, leave the introductions until they are both calm.
Consistency is key
Even with a newborn in the home, your pet needs and expects affection, attention and routine. The idea is to try to keep his life similar to the way it was pre-bub. If he’s used to being indoors with you, don’t start keeping him outdoors all day. Serve his food at the usual spot and time of day. Allow him to sleep where he usually sleeps. Make him feel he is still important and loved by giving him several pats as you walk by and some undivided attention throughout the day. If daily walks have been part of your pet’s routine, organise a close friend, neighbour or family member to take him for walks until you are feeling up to it. If you had an uncomplicated birth you may enjoy a gentle walk within a few days of being home. If you had a caesarean birth, you may need to arrange help for a few weeks.
As your pet encounters the new noises and interruptions that come with a new baby, help him acclimatise to them with food rewards and pat-praises for good behaviour.
Safe and sound
Even though you may trust your pet, it’s very important to supervise whenever he’s near your bub and to model and support correct behaviour. No matter what his breed or temperament, your pet may lash out and bite when unintentionally provoked, with littlies younger than four being the most common victims of dog attacks. These attacks often occur when little ones approach a dog who is eating, gnawing a bone or sleeping, so be particularly aware of these situations.
It’s also important to watch out for your bub being affectionately smothered by your pet. For this reason keep your baby’s sleep space off limits to your pet by attaching gates or screen doors where your newborn is sleeping.
At the end of the day it’s essential that you have an appropriate animal and breed for a family environment, and also that your furry friend is treated and trained well for the transition. Preparing him properly can prevent you needing to hand him over to a friend or the pet shelter, and will ensure a happy home where your new bub has a built-in best pal.