Before you have babies, your pets are your babies, furbabies, that is. But when you find out you’re expecting, your whole world is about to change. And so is your pet’s. Bringing in a new pack member/leader into the home can be difficult for your pet to handle. This is why it’s important to start thinking about how you will handle the first introduction.
Introducing Pets to a New Baby
1. Set Boundaries
First things first: I recommend that you start with setting the nursery off-limits. Condition your dog or cat to understand there’s an invisible barrier (or maybe a physical barrier – if you get baby gates) that she may not cross without your permission. Eventually, you can allow your pet to explore and sniff certain things in the room with your supervision. Then you decide when she needs to leave. Repeat this activity a few times before the baby arrives. This will let your pet know that this room belongs to its pack leader and must always be respected.
Also, to prevent bad habits, don’t let your pet: play with your baby’s toys, lay in the baby’s crib, lay in the stroller or bassinet, etc. This continues to set those boundaries. Pets can become possessive, and this behavior could be dangerous and hard to correct later on when your baby is at home. Setting these boundaries can help avoid difficulties in the future.
2. Introduce Your Baby’s Scent
Once your baby is born, give an item containing your baby’s scent to someone who will take care of your pets while you’re away. Maybe your husband/partner will stop in and check on your pets. Give him a used burp cloth, the hospital blanket you swaddled your baby in, or a onesie your baby was wearing. During this exercise, Cesar Millan, “The Dog Whisperer,” says you need to have “the dog sniff from a distance while holding the item. By doing so, you are communicating to your dog that the item is yours and then giving permission for the dog to sniff. ‘This new item belongs to me, and you will need to follow my rules when around it.’ This helps start the process of creating respect for the baby.”
3. For Dogs, Wear Them Out Before You Get Home
If you’ve had your baby in the hospital, you’ve been gone for a few days, so your pets will be so excited to see you when you get home! I recommend having a neighbor, family member, or friend take your dog(s) to the local dog park or on a run to wear them out before you get home with baby. They still will be thrilled to see you, but at least some of their energy will be drained, so they will be quicker to calm down.
4. Greet Your Pets First
When you finally arrive home from the hospital, the cat or dog should be allowed to greet you (mom) without the baby present. Have someone else (your partner) hold your baby while you spend time greeting your pets. Only after the pet has calmed down should your partner present the baby. Keeping the dog and baby separate for a few hours may be a good idea. This way, the dog can get used to the baby being in the house without getting too close.
If you have a cat, an introduction should also not be rushed. Hold the cat near the baby (again, just close enough so he can smell the little one), keep calm energy, and talk soothingly to your cat.
5. Keep Calm
Just as you wait for your pets to calm down when you arrive home, you or your partner holding the baby must be in a calm state. The cat or dog should be allowed to sniff the baby at a distance. Eventually, let your cat or dog get closer and closer to the baby. Doing this teaches your pet to respect the baby as another pack member/leader.
Also, never yell at your dog or cat if she gets too close for comfort. You can be firm, but don’t raise your voice with your pets when dealing with your baby. It will only frighten your pet and creates a negative association with the baby. This is why remaining calm is so important. Make sure that you only reward calm and positive behavior.
6. Praise Your Pet
If your dog or cat behaves nicely around the new baby, be sure to point this good behavior out. Offer plenty of praise through words and treats. Positive reinforcement will encourage good behavior.
7. Don’t Forget Your Pet
You want your dog or cat to know that she’s still a beloved family member. Allow your pet to sit by you as you nurse or play with her while you cuddle with your baby. And try to spend at least five minutes of solo time daily with your affection-hungry pet. A happy cat or dog is usually a well-behaved one. When a pet starts acting up, it’s because she’s not getting the same attention she was used to getting.
Also, stick with your pet’s regular routines as much as possible. They need that structure, especially when your home has changed so much.
8. Forget the Size and Breed
Don’t assume your pet will (or will not) pose a problem because they are small or judge your pet by their breed. Many babies have been bitten, scratched, and, unfortunately, even killed by many different breeds. A cute little pomeranian killed a baby in California (read the tragic story here). I HAVE a Pomeranian and would never think Lola would do such a thing. But you never know, so always remain cautious and be in control of your pets.
9. Safety First
If, after working with a professional and on your own, you are still not 100% confident about the safety of your baby with your pet, finding your pet another home to protect the well-being of your child and pet is a step you may have to take. It’s a painful step, but your child’s safety should always come first.
10. Always Supervise
Never leave your baby unattended within your pet’s reach, no matter what breed your pet is or how long they have been in the family. Infant behavior (squealing, a jerky movement) could unexpectedly irritate your cat or dog and cause them to have a quick, negative reaction. Even if your pet is adjusting well and shows no signs of aggression, supervision will ensure no accidents occur until your baby has gotten older.
Pets are so important in every family, so I hope these tips help you when you bring home your baby! Are there any other things you did that made your baby’s introduction to your pets better? We want to know!