Introducing Baby to Existing Pets

To head off any questions - no, we're not expecting. BUT a few of my friends are, and many of my clients are. I recently ran a 1 hour seminar at Durty Harry's in Charlestown, and figured I could help more people by writing about it. Plus, it was fun getting photos from all who submitted!
We're due in August, 2012 :)

Olivia and "Finn" contemplate the rainy day. (Photo taken by Jennifer Brown Castro)

In the old days, Mommy + Daddy = Baby.  Down the road, they would get the kid a puppy for their 10th birthday. Now, more couples are opting for the pets first, and then bringing the baby into the fold. If you are a parent with dogs, cats, or even iguanas, there are some key steps to take to help you integrate everyone safely. 
Before Baby Comes:
First, download the FREE book from the American Humane Association that helps parents figure out the best way to acclimate existing pets with new babies. I love this book so much because it gives great tips in general, like how to read animal body language correctly. Plus, did I mention it's FREE?

My friend "Culley" with baby Nolan. (Photo by Melissa Miles)

Speaking of Free - listen to the podcast "How to Prepare Your Dog for a New Baby" from fellow CPDT-KA, Jolanta Benal. If you aren't on the podcast wagon, she has a transcript of the podcast available for reading. Also, subscribe to her podcast - she has 5-7 minute tips for all aspects of having a dog. I love getting her podcast every week, and usually learn something new, or see things a little differently after listening.

Get your pets acclimated the noises and sounds that they would likely hear. Get a CD or play a Youtube Video of a Crying Baby and play it on low. Give your pet plenty of praise while this occurs. If your animal is freaking out, you have the volume on too high or the animal too close to the sound.

If you have dogs, it's really advantageous to teach them "Out" - meaning "get out of this room". This is really helpful if you're trying to change the babies dirty diaper, and the dog wants to "help" you clean it up. Start working on "Out" 3-4 months before the baby comes. Teaching new commands the day the baby comes home is not going to work in your favor!
Additionally, teaching a dog to Leave It (meaning, don't pick up that rattle, it's for the baby!) and Drop It (the dog ignored leave it and now he has to spit it out) are going to be crucial when all the baby's stuff laying around. Here are some quick videos to teach Leave It and Drop It

BUM! (photo taken by Yana Carlson of Walk-a-Pup in Salem MA)

Baby is Coming! EEK!:
Some of my clients have their dog walker on speed dial, so when the baby decided it was coming out that day, the arrangements were already made: the dog walker came for the dog, and dropped it off a few days after the baby had arrived at home. This gave the new parents a couple days to acclimate to parenthood, while the dog was off partying with some playmates.

If that isn't an option, make sure you have a trusted friend, neighbor or co-worker that can attend to your pets while you're gone. Make sure this is set up in advance, that they have a key to get in, and have been briefed ahead of time on how to take care of the pets (food, medicine, favorite toys, etc).

Send a blanket or article of clothing home from the hospital with the new baby's scent on it the day before the baby comes home. It doesn't just smell like baby - it also smells like hospital. That antiseptic scent that you, your baby, and anyone coming back from the hospital with you, will also be donning this interesting odor. 

BJ blogs about her life with twins in Rural Maine. If you're expecting, I recommend her blog, TwinkieMom.

Baby Is Home! YAY!:
First rule of Pets and Babies Club: NEVER leave pets and babies alone unsupervised. Ever.
Second rule of Pets and Babies Club: NEVER leave pets and babies alone unsupervised. Ever.

Often, a parent will leave the baby unattended for just a few minutes while they hop in the shower or use the rest room. Make sure the pets are not able to get to the baby. It only takes a second, especially when baby is sitting on a valuable space, like a bed, that used to be free for the pet to use before baby came. The best dogs and the most well behaved cats are still animals, and your squeaking, crying baby, when unattended, might look like an easy target. Gate the dogs in another room, leave the baby in a crib, and make sure the cats (or pet Ball Python!) are totally secure in another area of the house without access to the baby, EVEN FOR A MINUTE. 

"Alina" decides she will help baby Aiden with his birthday pancakes. (Photo taken by my friend, Lee Pennington)


In the same vein, you'll be excited to have everyone meet and be friends - but never, ever force your pet to "say hello" to the new baby. Let things happen on their own time, and with supervision.

One last thing to consider: you're not sleeping as much, and neither is your pet. You'll be stressed out, and your pet will be stressed out. Sign your dog up for doggy daycare, or get a dog walker for the middle of the day- you'll be busy with the baby, and your dog will be missing out on a lot of attention he was used to getting before. Puzzle Toys to eat breakfast and dinner can also help dogs, and some cats, stay busy. Have a little one-on-one time with the pet each day to walk, fetch, brush, or just hang out. It will make a world of difference to your animal who is going through an adjustment period, too. 

Dog trainer Melissa McCue-McGrath works out of Somerville MA and surrounding towns. If you have an idea or suggestion for the website, feel free to leave it in the comment section!