In classes that The Natal Family run we often get asked questions by expectant parents and one of the regular ones is how best to introduce their dog or cat to their new baby. There is every chance that your dog or cat will know that you are pregnant long before your baby arrives; they have a highly developed sense of smell that can sometimes detect subtle hormone changes in a Mum to be. You may have noticed that your pet has already started behaving differently around Mum; whether it’s keeping their distance or wanting to have extra cuddles, or just being more attentive.
There are lots of things that you can do to facilitate a positive introduction and hopefully establish a bond that will last a lifetime.
- Think about the space within your home and whether you want to create boundaries using gates or playpens to allow you keep pets away from your baby when you need to.
- If you have a pet that regularly sleeps in the room that baby will be sleeping in, consider shutting them out of the room well in advance of baby using it so that they don’t associate losing their sleeping place with baby arriving. If you allow your pet to sleep on the sofa but don’t want this to happen after baby has arrived start making those changes to your pets routine and behaviour in advance of baby arriving.
- Consider buying a baby sized doll and practicing carrying the doll around, sitting on the sofa with it, and teaching your pet to respect the space that baby is in, not jumping on your lap whilst you are holding ‘baby’, praising and rewarding them for good behaviour.
- If you have a dog and will be needing to walk the dog alongside a pram in the future it can be a good idea to practice this in advance of baby arriving, allow the dog to sniff the pram, get used to the movement, and practice walking with your dog and the pram. If your dog pulls on the lead then think about going to some training classes before baby arrives, or investigating different collars or harnesses that can help with pulling.
- There are a huge range of slings and carriers available that can be really helpful if you will be walking your dog and don’t want to use a pram. Many towns have a sling library and qualified babywearing consultants that can help you find and fit the right one for you and your baby.
- You can by special CD’s that include a range of sounds to de-sensitise pets, one of the sounds being a crying baby. Pets can find the sound distressing, so by introducing them to it early on, played at a low volume that is gradually be increased can help to desensitise them to the sound before they hear it for real.
Once Baby arrives
- Allow your pet to sniff a blanket that has been in close contact with baby before they meet them perhaps giving them a treat at the same time, creating positive associations with the scent which will be all new to them.
- When they first meet, allow the pet to see and sniff baby if they wish to, under close supervision of course, and perhaps give your pet a new toy, or some treats, creating a positive association with the new arrival. From the pets’ perspective, if they are suddenly shut out of the room when baby arrives they can feel left out, so it can help to try and make them feel included.
- Allow the pet the time and space to adjust, lots of pets are totally un-phased by the arrival of a baby, some will take more time to get used to baby being around, so don’t rush them but just allow them to get to know baby at their own pace.
- The arrival of a new baby is a time of disruption for the whole family as you settle and establish the new family routine, and spend time getting to know your new baby. Try to keep your pets’ normal routine if you can so that they don’t become unsettled. Stick to regular feeding and walk times for dogs, as new parents you will be very occupied with baby, so walking the dog is one of those essential tasks that friends and family can assist with, or some parents employ the services of a dog walker for a period of time to help out.
- Try to spend a little bit of quality time with your pet every day so that they don’t feel left out, baby will naturally be getting lots of cuddles and attention, so giving your pet some individual attention every day will help them feel included.
Mobility and beyond
- Your pet may be very accepting of your baby, but once babies become mobile things can change as the baby starts crawling and then walking and is able to approach the animals personal space, climb into the animals bed, pull hair, ears and tails and get to food and water bowls.
- Supervise this phase carefully and ensure that the pet has a safe space of their own that they can escape to for some peace and quiet. Whilst some will be happy to have a toddler handling them, others may be uncomfortable and you may need to use gates or playpens to allow them space until the child is a little older and can learn to respect the animals’ space a little more.
As you can see there are lots of things that you can do to help make the introduction of a baby to your pet as smooth as possible. Making positive associations and rewarding positive behaviour throughout, as well as making your pet feel included can all help.
Of course any family pet no matter how calm and placid they usually are can retaliate if provoked or made to feel uncomfortable or threatened by a child who just wants to play. It goes without saying that a baby or young child should never be left unsupervised with a pet, and if you are finding that your pet is having issues accepting the arrival of your new baby or is showing signs of being uncomfortable or aggressive around them, speak to your vet to rule out any medical issues, they can then refer you to a qualified pet behaviourist for expert advice and assistance.
Pets and children can make the best of friends, and the wonderful photographs which accompany this blog are those of some of the Natal little ones and their pets – many thanks to our Natal teachers for sharing them!