Pets and Newborns
Training Tips for New Parents
For parents, bringing home your new baby is a wonderful and priceless moment. While you will most likely be overflowing with joy, it is important to remember that your dog or cat might have a very different perspective.
Any way you slice it, you are likely to spend less time with your pet after you bring a new baby into your household. While this is totally understandable to us humans, the average dog or cat won’t like this, which is why it’s important to teach a few basic behaviors and condition your four-legged friend to positively associate the coming changes.
Analyze Your Pet’s Behavior
To get started, assess your dog or cat’s current behavior and physical tendencies:
- Is your pet aggressive around objects or food?
- Does he growl or snap at you for any reason?
- Is your pet aggressive with other dogs or cats?
- Does she act in a predatory fashion?
- Is your dog overly rambunctious?
- Does she jump, nip or paw at people?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it is best to work with someone that specializes in these types of aggressive issues. Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a pet behavior specialist who can tackle the growling, snapping and possessive demeanor.
A dog trainer can teach you how to properly curb the physically aggressive behavior such as jumping, nipping and pawing.
Familiarize Pets with Your Baby’s Name
If you have already chosen a name for your baby, start familiarizing your pet with the sound of the name. Say the baby’s name around your dog or cat and make sure you’re speaking in a positive tone. Tell your pet how excited you are and how much they will all love each other. As silly as this may sound, it establishes a positive association in your pet’s mind when she hears your baby’s name.
Use the same concept of positive association for other “baby things.” For example: get your pet accustomed to the scent of baby-safe lotion. This can be facilitated by rubbing it on your skin and letting the dog smell you while you feed them supper and special treats. Do this a few times a day.
Digital recordings of baby sounds — such as crying — can helpful in preparing your pet not to be alarmed by baby noises.
Prepare Pets with Baby Sounds
Dogs and cats may be startled by the sound of a crying baby. Nip this in the bud before bringing baby home: Digital recordings of baby sounds — such as crying — can be found on YouTube; CDs are available in numerous places online.
Make it a point to play the CD a few times a day, such as during your pet’s dinnertime and while you’re playing with your dog or cat. You’ll find that after a few weeks, your dog will be wagging her tail when she hears a baby crying, and your cat may not be as spooked and run for cover.
In addition, make sure your pet gets used to hearing and seeing various toys and baby-related equipment, such as a baby swing. Turn on the swing while your pet is in the room to help her grow accustomed to seeing and hearing the device in action; reward her for being calm with praise and/or a training treat.
Bringing Baby Home to Pets
Before returning home with your newborn in tow, have a friend or family member bring a blanket from the hospital to your pet with your baby’s scent on it.
Praise the pet as she is allowed to smell it. This will teach your pet to associate positive behavior to the actual scent of your new child.
When you do come home from the hospital with your newborn, take a few minutes to greet your pet and give her some attention, whether it be you or your spouse. As soon as you are physically able, make an effort to spend some quality time with your pet in order to dispel any anxiety on your pet’s part.
Treat the first interactions between your pet and your baby the same as you did in the training sessions. Make it a point to feed your pet when the baby is crying, praise your dog when you walk around with the baby, or give your kitty a treat when she approaches both of you in a calm and friendly fashion.
No matter how great you think your pet is doing with your baby or child, never leave your pet and baby unattended together. Pet behavior is simply not 100% predictable and babies, especially newborns, are fragile.
Regular training will continue to reinforce your pet’s positive behavior. With patience and practice, your newborn and pet can learn to live as one happy family.
Steve Appelbaum trained professionally for 30 years and is the president of Animal Behavior College, where animal lovers nationwide learn how to become professional dog trainers, veterinary assistants and groomers.