I enjoy writing — mostly because my written words sound more intelligent and grammatically correct than my spoken ones. So when the occasion arose to write this column, I was very frustrated at the fact that I had “writer’s block.” Not even the excitement of waiting until the deadline sparked a lightbulb in my brain. At 39 weeks pregnant, the watermelon-sized bundle of joy in my abdomen was stealing my creative energy. Suddenly, I knew what I needed to do — try to ease the minds of some other stressed parents-to-be out there with some tips for bringing home baby. After all, we will be doing the very same thing this week with our second child, Evelyn.
While we were expecting our firstborn, Owen, we had to give careful consideration to how all the changes would affect our pets. They had been around kids before, but not newborns. Furthermore, all the updates we needed to make to the house were going to turn their world upside down. My husband, Brian, and I decided to begin making preparations months in advance, in order to slowly acclimate our dogs and cats to their new environment.
We knew that we would need to limit the pets’ access to certain areas of the house at times, for the baby’s safety and hygiene, and for sleep purposes. All sorts of gates are available online and at the stores, and we found some that could be opened and closed (a gate within a gate) without stepping over the tops. These particular baby gates were tall enough to prevent our dogs and cats from jumping or climbing over. Once we strategically placed these in the stairway and the living room entrances, we were able to slowly teach the pets their new boundaries. Since we had cut the dogs off from the comfort of the couch, window seat and rugs, we got them each baby mattresses to use as beds.
Baby items were piling up by the minute — clothes, bottles, diapers, furniture, and more. At times, the house looked like a war zone, but we made sure the pets had plenty of time to pore over the items until they were no longer threatening, or even interesting. The pets were allowed to see all the changes that were occurring in the baby’s room on a daily basis.
How would our pets react to baby sounds? This is a common worry of many parents-to-be. Find a recording of a crying baby online and begin playing it softly for your pets. If you have a pet that seems to be distressed by the noise, you may need to desensitize him by playing the sounds very quietly at first, and rewarding with treats, then increasing the volume once he seems more comfortable. Repeat the process until he associates the sound with the positive reward (the treat). Fortunately, even my storm-phobic Australian Shepherd, Lea, did not have a problem with the sound.
If you have a pet with a known problem behavior, especially a history of any aggression toward people, uncontrolled jumping, or possession of food or toys, make sure you consult with your veterinarian or a pet behavior professional well in advance of your new arrival. With positive reinforcement and practice, many problem behaviors can be corrected or minimized. That said, no child under school age should ever be left unsupervised with a pet, not even for one second! Don’t be a parent that allows an accident to occur because you thought “your dog would never hurt a fly.” Practice your new routine with a baby doll, if needed. Your dog should be able to sit, lay down and stay on your command.
When it’s time for the baby to be introduced into the house, it may be best for Mom to enter the house first with a baby item for the pets to sniff. Don’t make a fuss about the baby when he or she comes in, and always make sure two adults supervise the first interactions between pet and baby.
Owen loves the dogs — sometimes a bit too much, so when I see him sitting on Ruger the Mastiff, or pulling on Sierra the Lab’s tail, I remove him from that situation and reward him for petting the dogs nicely. Never put your pets in a position where they have to set limits on your child’s behavior. Spend plenty of time interacting with your pets, even after the baby arrives, to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible. After all, pets are family, too!
Dr. Sara will be on maternity leave with baby Evelyn and big brother Owen before returning to her position as associate veterinarian at Delphos Animal Hospital, where she has enjoyed caring for pets since 2009.