Moms and Babies

May 2, 2012

ImageIt seems like it is always Mom’s job to try to keep everyone happy. This can be hard when you are introducing a new baby to your household pets and especially when it is your first baby. Relationships within the household change dramatically when a new baby comes home. On Mother’s day, let’s celebrate this special mother -baby relationship, and lets face the facts about the difficulty of your changing relationship with your pet when a new baby comes home.

If you are like me, you have coddled your dog or cat. He or she was there for you through school, relationships, breakups and together you chose your partner in life. There is reason to fear the moment that your dog suddenly has to share his or her environment with a new baby.

There are three different ways that a dog will respond to a new baby, and it is difficult to predict which response you will get from your longtime companion.  He or she may respond with indifference, which is great.  Others will be curious while respecting the baby as another pet, which is OK. The rare pet will display predatory instinct, which is very scary.  Fortunately, there are some things you can do to make your transition as smooth, joyful and safe as possible.

Long before the baby arrives begin taking your dog into the nursery with you while you are preparing the room. The nursery should not be a scary, forbidden place where a pet gets scolded every time he/she nears it, however, you should have a way to keep pets out of the nursery when you want to. I like having dutch doors or screen doors installed in nurseries so that you don’t have to worry about a pet entering the nursery unsupervised. Do this long before the baby comes home so your pet is used to it.

It is a good idea to play audio and videos of babies crying. This will help your dog or cat get used to these sounds and movements without any associated anxiety that will surely be palpable when a new baby is actually in he house.  Also make changes to your dog’s schedule now, before the baby arrives.  For instance, if currently, the first thing you do when you get up is to feed your pet, you should practice making a detour into the nursery and rocking in your new nursing chair for a few minutes before you tend to your pet. Start carrying around a doll wrapped in a blanket.  Make it clear that this is not a toy for the dog, but it is also not a forbidden object.  If your baby is in the hospital for a few days before you bring him or her home, have your spouse bring home clothing that the baby has worn.  Allow your dog to sniff these items, but make sure he will sit and calmly stay while you carry these items around.  

Even before you get pregnant is a good time to take an obedience class with your pet or refresh/teach the basic commands including “sit” and “stay”. Increase the length of “stay”, first starting with one step back and returning to the pet to reward him and build up to walking around the room, rattling food dishes etc. before returning for praise.  You will find simple “sit” and “stay” commands invaluable when there are children in and out of the house.

If your dog has shown aggression or anxiety in the presence of children in the past, it is a good idea to teach him or her to wear a basket muzzle or to train with a halter and lead now. You also must get a professional trainer to come to your home and help you with training and techniques that will keep a new baby safe. It is so important to do this before the baby arrives, as nerves will be fried if you are trying to deal with a problem dog and a fussy baby.

When the baby finally comes home, have someone else hold the baby while Mom goes inside to greet her dog.  She might have been away for a few days, and Mom and dog should have time to reunite before Mom is busy with the baby. This only takes a few minutes, but it means the world to your dog. Being ignored by Mom is one of the first things that causes anxiety in pets. After this greeting you should bring in your new pride-and-joy while the dog is on a leash. Reward the dog if he is calm. After the initial sniffing, act as nonchalant as possible.  This is really difficult. Everyone wants to fuss over the introduction, but you don’t want to reward excited behavior. Calm is the key to a successful transition.

Remember to give your special dog daily individual attention. Sometimes when the baby is present, and sometimes while he or she is napping. You may crate or put a dog outside during nursing, but you should have practiced this before your baby is born.  It is also a good idea to associate the presence of the awake baby with food, grooming and attention so that the dog looks forward to the baby’s presence. Along the same line of thought, don’t overdo playtime, petting, feeding and grooming when the baby is absent so that you don’t reinforce the feeling that the presence of the baby means, “I get ignored.”

Keep in mind that a pet should never have access to an unsupervised child, but with proper care and preparation your pet will enjoy this new addition to your lives.  And just as you built so many memories and bonds with your pet, your child can too. Together you will celebrate many more Mother’s Days together.

If you are expecting, be sure to attend one of the Pets and New Baby seminars by Michelle Mayers, VMD.  They are presented by Roper St. Francis Women’s Services on May 23rd, July 25th and October 24th at 6:30pm in the Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital, Mall Classroom 2 and 3.  To register call HealthLine at 843 402-CARE.

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