Introducing your pet to your newborn

by Sofia M. Ehlers, The Birth Education Center of Okinawa
Stripes Korea

Family is everything. So it’s no surprise that when you are expecting a child, you find yourself preparing well in advance for the new member’s anticipated entrance! Whether new parents or experienced, you dig in to the latest literature, begin preparing the home, start a timeline of events/appointments, create the longest “to do” list, talk to your pets about the baby that is about to come … Wait, what?

That’s right! What about the pets? Sometimes as expecting parents, we neglect to recognize that the humans of the house are not the only ones going through a major life event. After all, families can be full of the “furry” and the “furless.” If you are one of these families, it may seem odd that your pet, who is well-adjusted to the lifestyle you have and who is well-behaved, would have any difficulties adjusting as your family trials through the first few years of rearing a child. After all, “My dog is great with kids!” The truth, however, is this: the life event of welcoming a newborn and raising an infant/toddler is just as impactful to your pet(s) as it is to every family member involved, whether this be the first or one of many babies in your family.

Understanding your pet’s involvement in this process, you can begin to explore how to set your pet up for success in adjusting to the sudden changes. At Cornerstone Canine Dog Training Academy (CCDTA), a majority of our clients being assisted with Private Training are parents with children/newborns and have behavioral issues with their pets (most had pets prior to having children). These issues range anywhere from forms of aggression, possession, lack of boundaries/respect to “out of control” energy, miscommunication, lack of obedience, marking and submissive tendencies. In each case, there are particulars to the situations that make each family dynamic and needs different, however, our trainers have compiled a well-governing list to assist you in preparation for your new bundle of joy!

1.) Have realistic expectations. Most pet owners walk their furry friends at the same time every day, but when a newborn comes you may or may not make that walk. Sit down with some already-parents (with children and pets), and begin building a picture of what to expect for the first few years of raising your child. From newborn to toddler, your life is about to get re-prioritized by an eight pound human. Therefore, it is important to know about the 2-hour sleep patterns, feeding routines, and baby fussiness that will interrupt your steady schedules and affect your pet’s habits and routines. This will help you understand what your pet will need from you during this time, as well as what you will need from them. Another great way to gain an understanding of realistic expectations is to have a private consultation with a trainer, allowing them to analyze your home environment, pet’s behavior, and your needs to make recommendations for reasonable standards.

2.) Pretend the baby is already here. Once the baby comes home, it is too late to prepare your pet for them. Once you have realistic expectations, begin pretending the baby has already arrived by implementing the schedule changes and behavioral expectations you have for your pets (ie. no jumping, go to “place,” coming when called, loose leash walking, kenneling periodically, exercise regime, boundaries, and basic obedience commands). This will give you a chance to identify any issues prior to the child arriving, and allow you to make the corrections or adjustments before the big day. If you need assistance, it is best to consult a trainer to understand the issue arising and how to best approach it.

3.) Follow through from day 1. Once you step into your house with your newborn, you must remember to commit to the expectations you had in place (the realistic ones.) As a tired parent, this is the hardest effort to make on top of all the demands of a mini-human. Relieve the stress of this with help from friends, family, pet-sitter, or trainer! For the first few days, or at least for the first few hours, we advise you have only the child at home. When you feel able, and comfortable, bring the pet back home from a sitter or friend for the first introduction. While you hold the child, have a friend or spouse bring your pet on a leash towards you and the baby. Making sure the pet is behaving appropriately, allow them to sniff the baby for just a few seconds. When you do this, ensure you have complete control of the baby, and the other person has control of the leashed pet. Do not allow the pet to lick or excessively sniff the baby, a few seconds of sniffing is all they need. For a few days, ensure this is the only interaction the pet has with the child. You can implement the same scenario daily for the next couple of weeks. Then, when you feel comfortable and in control of your pet off-leash in the house, begin inviting them over to the child while you hold them to “say hi,” and allow them to sniff the baby on their own. From there, you can begin allowing the pet to approach the baby, for sniffing only, while the baby is in their swing or at head-paw level for your pet. If your pet decides to lay next to or near the baby, ensure you frequently go over to the baby to pick them up and interact with them (re-possess the child in the pet’s eyes). This will prevent dominate control of the child for the pet, and prevent possession issues over the child in the future.

4.) Be fluid, be balanced. The key to success in this transition of new life is balance of your needs, your baby’s, and your pet’s. If you have to adjust your expectations, after realizing they were not as realistic as you thought, be sure to use clear signals and gradual implementation when adjusting the expectations with your pet.

You also have to realize that your baby will not be a baby forever, and will learn to crawl and grab things quickly. Be ready to comprehend and adjust continuously to these life stages, as your pet adjusts to them as well. Nothing will ever be perfect in this process.

5.) Ask for help. It is cruel to think that parenting is easy - it’s not! Being a parent and pet owner is no different. Sometimes there are things that we don’t expect to happen, that are unavoidable. So don’t hesitate to ask for help! There are plenty of resources in your community to assist you with anything you might need. At CCDTA, our trainers conduct Private Training and Consultation sessions in the comfort of your home in the case you have any behavioral issues with your pet, or if you just need minor assistance.

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