I am often asked in my prenatal and infant care classes how to handle bringing a baby home to a house with a dog or a cat. With some pre-planning and a little work when baby arrives, your new baby and your fur baby can co-habitat nicely with one another.
DOGS AND BABIES
Ultimately you know your dog best. This is the first baby you had and they hold a special place in your heart. You may hear well meaning relatives tell you that its time to get rid of the dog or that the dog is being aggressive so for baby's safety you should re-home it. But remember this is your family and you are the best judge of your dogs behaviours. Also remember that for your dog, this new baby is a new member of the pack and will need to understand there has been a shift in the pack order. Some dogs understand very well their shift downward but some may not. So make sure you are always paying attention to the behaviour and correct it when needed.
Family Paws and Parent Education gives us a list of Do's and Don'ts when it comes to the interaction between your baby and your fur baby.
What To Do:
1. Allow the dog to sniff baby while you are holding baby. It may help if you have brought something that smells like baby home while the birthing parent and baby are still in hospital. That way the smell of baby won't be unfamiliar to the dog. Watch the dogs reaction when you do this too.
2. Do include your dog in with the rest of the family activities. Keeping baby and dog strictly separated may not be the best plan unless you are seeing signs of aggression. Offering a treat or toy for puppy to play with while you are resting or feeding baby can be helpful instilling positive behaviour when you need some time with baby, especially if you have a high needs active dog.
3. Keep the door to the nursery closed. This reinforces that the room where baby may be sleeping is off limits to your pet. This is particularly important for cats. We don't want cats to make the crib or bassinet a sleeping place.
4. Encourage good behaviours with your dog. Don't let their obedience training lapse when baby arrives.
5. Never leave your newborn and the dog alone in the same room. Make sure when they are together there is an awake adult supervising their interaction.
6. Ensure your dog is getting regular exercise and attention. Even if that means hiring a dog walker for the first few weeks to a month while you recover from your birth. This will ensure your fur baby doesn't feel neglected and can use up some of that energy if you have a very energetic dog.
Also as a note, there are so many cute Instagram videos and pictures of dogs and babies sleeping together and snuggling together. As cute as those are, it is dangerous to encourage that, as even the best behaved dogs can become unpredictable when a new baby arrives.
What Not To Do:
1. Do not force interaction between the baby and your dog. Judge how your dog is reacting to the interaction and if they are not comfortable, stop. Your dog may need more time to adjust to this new family member.
2. When your dog is being curious about baby and what you are doing with baby, try not scold them or get angry at them. Dogs are curious by nature and we don't want to attach a negative experience to the dog sniffing or investigating the baby.
If you find that your dog is not adapting well to the new baby, instead of making a permanent decision to get rid of your dog, definitely seek out advice or classes from a trainer such as Gemini K9 Obedience Inc.
CATS AND BABIES
Cats are different creatures to dogs. Cats are more aloof and don't necessarily hold the same "pack" mentality that dogs do. Cats also like to snuggle up to things to keep warm. And your baby is a nice warm body they can be attracted to and that can be dangerous.
When setting up baby's room and other items before baby comes, vigorously encourage your cat to not sleep in baby's crib, bassinet, playpen, car seat or bouncy chair. You can do this by lining them with tin foil, or squirting the cat with water if you see it happening. Cats are smart and do not want to be disturbed when they are napping so they will eventually avoid these places if they are repeatedly disturbed.
As with dogs, ensure the door to the nursery is closed so the cat won't find places to hide or leave fur everywhere.
And also as with dogs try to use awake supervision when cat and baby are together.
Your fur babies are a part of your family and may have been so for awhile. Help make their transition to life with a baby easier by following these simple tips and being understanding that their life is as much in chaos as your own.