I remember the day I adopted my best friend River from the local animal shelter.
He was a small, shaky puppy with a quirky look and an even quirkier personality. Over our twelve years together I have taken him on countless adventures, given him two feline siblings to keep him company, nurtured him through injuries and most recently a Cushing’s disease diagnosis, and woken in the middle of the night to relieve his senior bladder.
When I met my now husband, I became a dog Mom once again, this time to a goofy Rottweiler with a penchant for small dogs and table scraps. To say I love my fur babies is an understatement. They have seen me through some of the best and worst of times, through law school, hip surgery, career changes and heartbreak. When my husband proposed there was no doubt the dogs would take a front and center role in our wedding. They are as much a part of my family as any of the human members.
Flash forward to 2017
Two little pink lines would eventually change my title from proud “dog Mom” to proud “boy Mom”. Once we announced our pregnancy I received tons of questions and comments regarding my beloved pets. Some memorable comments and questions include “the dogs will be jealous,” “will you be getting rid of the pets now? “and “Trust me, they won’t matter as much when the baby arrives.” All of these comments, though likely well-meaning, gave me a sinking feeling in my stomach.
Would my furry family members suddenly be relegated to nothing more than afterthoughts? Will my dogs resent the baby? Will my little family unit have to be broken apart? Can I keep the promise I made to my pets years ago when I signed on the dotted line to care for them until their last days on earth?
Happily, I can say, with some time, preparation, and patience, baby, and his furry family members are on the fast track to a lifelong friendship and my love for my furry children is as strong as ever.
While I am not an expert in pet behavior (nor do I play one on TV) I would like to share tips and tricks that worked for our family.
- Start prepping your pets for baby’s arrival early. Play recordings of babies crying throughout the day, turn on the baby toys so they can get used to the bright noises and lights before baby arrives.
- Make sure your dog knows basic obedience. Manners are important here! Can he come, sit, stay? Will he patiently wait for a treat or rush at your hand the moment he gets a whiff? Now is a great time for your pet to learn some new manners.
- When the baby arrives, have someone bring a blanket or hat with the baby’s scent on it from the hospital so your fur children can get used to the smell of their new pack member.
- Give your furry kids lots of love and treats while holding your baby, not when the baby is down for a nap. This can be difficult but helps associate the new baby with positive experiences.
- Keep as close to a normal schedule as possible. Routine is good for babies, both human and furry alike.
- If your pets are acting out or having trouble adjusting, get help. Hire a trainer if needed, and have a friend or family member watch the baby so you can take your pet for some exercise.
- Ensure your pet has a quiet place to retreat to if they become overstimulated. Options include an exercise pen, the baby gated area of your home, or even their own room. Make sure this area is easily accessible by your pet and treated as a sanctuary.
- For everyone’s safety, never leave baby unattended with their furry siblings.
- Learn pet body language. Often a dog or cat will provide subtle warning signs of their discomfort before lashing out. Babies can be scary for pets! Learn what these signs are and remove your baby and pet from the situation to avoid harm. Thank your pet once they are safely away from baby for letting you know they were uncomfortable.
- Play “pokey little puppy” and “catch that cat.” During pregnancy, I began to play these games with my pets. I would gently poke my pups and then provide a treat. When my cats walked by I would gently grab their tails and fidget with their ears, followed by a treat. As baby grows he will want grab hold of his furry friends. Teaching your pets early on to tolerate the behavior will go a long way to reducing the potential fear of their new tiny human.
- Never force your pet to interact with your baby. Yes, those pictures of newborns lounging on top of their dogs are really cute on Instagram, but if your dog seems scared, it is not worth the risk for a few likes.
- Lastly, remember that your bond with your furry family, just like any relationship, requires effort. Bringing a baby home is a huge lifestyle change for everyone involved, and patience is key. Love and empathy can go a long way to fostering an environment of mutual respect and love.
Have you recently welcomed a new child into your home with pets? What tips and tricks have worked for your family? Please share, I would love to hear from you!