When expectant mothers and fathers think about preparing themselves and their families for childbirth and a new baby, one family member often gets left out: the family pet!
‘BB’ - or ‘Before Baby’, your pet probably enjoyed your attention, developed a routine and established its rank in the pack - your family. A new baby upsets all of this. Life is definitely going to change for everyone! Whether this is your first baby or second, a little preparation can help the introduction go more smoothly.
Before you start your pet preparation, decide if you will be changing the rules when baby comes home. Will your pet still be able to sleep in your room? Will it be allowed on the couch? Will your play time be altered? Start to make these changes well before the baby comes home. Consider obedience classes for dogs to help you make some of these behavior changes in a positive way. A dog who understands and responds to the basic commands such as "off", "stay" and "come" makes baby/pet interactions more controllable.
A few simple activities can be done in the weeks before baby is born:
• Set up the baby’s nursery. Let your pet explore the new items and the new smells.
• Wash a baby blanket and let your pet become sensitized to the smell of the baby laundry, and the blanket in your arms.
• Later, add a doll inside the blanket.
• Keep baby toys and pet toys separate and distinct.
• Expose your pet to the sounds of a baby crying.
• Use a recording of a crying baby or invite friends with small babies to your home.
• You can even practice responding to the crying - go to the crib, pick up the doll, rock it. Your pet will become used to this routine and not become startled or upset when the baby cries.
• When you put the doll into the crib, say, "Shhh. Baby’s sleeping." A smart dog can learn this as a signal to be quiet.
• When you bring the new baby home, have the father carry in the baby. Let the mother greet the pet (and your toddlers) with open arms. Control your pet, with 'sit/stay' commands. Then, place baby into the crib or introduce baby in your arms.
Never leave pets and babies alone together.
If your pet has behavior problems, talk to your vet or the Calgary Humane Society (403-723-6057; www.calgaryhumane.ca) before your baby is born. Most behavior can be modified with persistence and consistency. Aggressive or challenging pets, both dogs and cats, can present serious problems. Some pets do not do well with babies and children and a frank discussion with an expert may be needed to help you explore your options.
Previously published in Calgary's Child Magazine.
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