In January this year my husband and I had our first baby. Little Frederic is a delight and a whole lot of work and we look forward to his personality unfolding with great anticipation. Getting ready for his arrival was a flurry of activity: setting up the nursery, gathering the remarkably huge amount of stuff a baby needs and very importantly, preparing our pets for his arrival. These are some of the things we considered and techniques we used to help Frederic’s arrival go as smoothly as possible.
Before you bring the baby home:
Preparation for the new addition to your pack needs to start well before the birth of the child. Consider your dog’s routine and pack rules and how they will have to change with the addition of a baby. Make those changes before the arrival of bub so that your dog will have time to get used to their new role in the family. Things to consider include sleeping arrangements: is it time for the dog or cat to move out of your bedroom? Will your dog or cat have access to the nursery? If not, teach them this is a no go zone now. How will your exercise routine change? If your dog is used to 10km runs, slow them down a bit now and consider a pet walking service. Do they walk on a leash and collar and pull? If so, train them to a head collar or harness now. Get them used to walking next to the pram. Try and prepare them for the changes that are about to take place in all your lives!
Another important area to address before the birth is obedience. If there are issues with sitting, jumping up or your dog just not following commands when asked, address them now. A well behaved dog will be much easier and much safer to have around your new baby. Remember, a dog may not be aggressive at all but if they are bouncy and uncontrolled they can easily seriously injure a small baby. Its your responsibility to be in control of these interactions and babies and dogs should never be left unsupervised at any time.
Once the baby arrives:
How are you going to introduce your new ‘puppy’ to your dog or cat? It’s important not to rush this stage. Initially, baby should be in the background and not in the their face. Take time to settle into a routine and allow everyone to adjust before building the relationship between child and pet.
Your first day home with baby is going to be a big one for all involved. Initially the pets are going to be very excited to see Mum who has probably been away for a few days. So have Dad hold the baby while Mum spends some time greeting the pets and calming them down. Boisterous pets may need to be leashed for better control.
Initial introductions should be calm and controlled. Have someone in charge of the dog and someone holding the baby. A little sniff and look is ok but no licking of the newborn. A leash may be needed for control of the dog. In those first crazy days, if you are not sure you can control your dog with just a quick word, don’t try to have him interact with the baby unless you have back up. Take your time with your pet as a relationship built on only positive experience in controlled situations will set you up for happy days as a mixed species family!
Through all this it’s important to make time for the dog or cat. Often they are our first ‘fur kids’ and they need to feel they are still a valuable part of the pack. This can be as simple as finding 5-10 minute a day to throw a ball, groom the cat, cuddle the dog or take them for a very short walk. Quality will often substitute for quantity and 10 minutes of focused attention will be very rewarding for the pet. This will also be a little touch of normality in your new and very different life so enjoy and treasure that ball throwing in the back yard!!
For pets that are anxious or disturbed by the new arrival, pheromones such as Adaptil® or Feliway will be of great help. The use of a Adaptil pheromone collar will provide one month of stress relief for your dog and this will help them adjust to the big changes they are facing. For cats a Feliway® diffuser or spray will help promote calmness and well being in the house.