Maybe because it’s Valentines day as I write this, I’m prompted to discuss a few points about introducing your pets to a new baby.
Many people are fond of the idea of a pet becoming the noble guardian and mate of a young child as he or she grows through early childhood. I hate to put a damper on this idea, but the reality is that pets and young kiddies don’t always see eye to eye, and assuming that a pet may see a new baby as anything other than a threat can have tragic consequences. Most victims of household pet bites are children, so young children should ever be left alone with any pet. Close supervision is mandatory when an infant and a pet are together, since even the best behaved pet can seriously hurt a baby or toddler.
That said, there’s steps you can take to minimize the chance of unpleasantness between new babies and pets;
• Anticipate household routine changes that may occur once the baby arrives and try to implement them in advance eg. Pet segregation from certain areas, keeping pets off the furniture especially beds, spending less time with a pet.
• Prior to the baby arriving, get a recording of a baby crying and play on a low volume for 10 minutes several times a day. Reward the pet for being calm and obedient during these times. Gradually increase the volume. You can also carry around a doll to mimic a new baby during these sessions. Baby sounds can be obtained at www.soundsscary.com. (These techniques may also work on clueless blokes).
• Get the pet used to new baby products, odours and furniture.
• Train pets to get used to gentle ear and hair-pulling.
• Anxious dogs and cats may benefit from “feliway” or “D.A.P.” calming pheromone sprays or collars for 2 weeks prior to the babies arrival.
• After the baby is born, bring home some of the babies clothing for the pet to smell.
• When you bring the baby home, have another person hold the baby so you can greet the pets.
• Once things have calmed down, introduce your pets one at a time to the baby. The pet must be under control at all times. Any signs of aggression or unacceptable behaviour (eg. crawling on top of the baby) should result in the pet being immediately isolated. Aggression needs a chat with your vet!
• If only one parent is present, then the pet should be restricted or confined in the presence of the infant.
• Try to pay attention to the pet when the baby is active, either verbally or by one adult playing with the pet when the other is attending to the infant. When the baby is sleeping, you should pay less attention to the pets.
Don’t leave it until you see problem behavior already established as potential aggression towards children is a zero-tolerance affair. By making the whole “new baby” event a gradual, less threatening and positive reinforcement-based process for your pet, you should be able to maximize the chance of a happy household for pets and people.