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Baby on the way? Don't forget about your dog

July 05, 2012|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • The Humane Society of the United States recommends that when adding a baby to your pet-owning family, encourage friends with infants to visit your home to accustom your pet to babies. Supervise all pet and infant interactions.
Photo illustration by Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

They've been your babies — the objects of your affection. They've been pampered, indulged and spoiled.

You take them with you in the car, play with them in the park and shower them with pricey toys.

Your dogs are the center of your universe.

But soon, another baby will be moving in — the soft, pink, human variety.

And as your attention shifts, so can your animals' behavior.

While some pets can become protective of a child, others take a more resentful route.

There might be feelings of jealousy or increased stress that makes them irritable, fearful or nervous.

Before long, a bit of "sibling" rivalry occurs.

But just as a parent would help children understand that a new brother or sister will be joining the family, there are ways you can help your dogs realize they are not being forgotten or replaced.

It just takes planning and patience, said Katie Ervin, dog trainer and owner of 4-Legged Friends Pet Services in Hagerstown.

The preparation, however, shouldn't begin on the day of the baby's homecoming. It should be addressed months ahead of time.

"Having a newborn will be a big transition for everyone," Ervin noted, "including your pet. There will be changes in daily routines, places in the house where the dog will not be allowed to go and different noises and smells. Also, the parents will be focusing a lot more attention on the baby than on the animal. All of these things can be stress builders for your pet."

Ervin said dogs are just like people — "they all have different personalities."

So, sometimes, it's impossible to know how Fido will react to a new addition to the family.

"He could be thrilled. He could be not so thrilled. That's why it's best to make any adjustments beforehand," she said.

Start small when it comes to your pet.

"For instance, if you know there will be changes in the dog's routine — such as the time of day they go for walks — then start implementing those changes weeks or months prior to the baby's arrival," she recommended. "That way, the dog won't associate negative changes with the baby."

If your dog roams the house and the baby's room will be off-limits, install a removable gate. The barrier still will allow the pet to see what's happening in the room and will help him feel less isolated from the family.

Ervin suggested desensitizing your dog to baby-related noises months before the baby is expected. For example, play recordings of a baby crying or turn on the mechanical infant swing. And reward him when he doesn't bark.

"You might also carry a baby doll, which can help the dog get used to the real thing," she said. "Also, put baby powder or baby oil on the doll's clothing and your own skin so the pet will become familiar with the new smells associated with the infant."

If you are particularly concerned about how your dog will react to a baby, Ervin said parents should consider a training class — "especially if your pet doesn't have good manners, such as not waiting at the door or jumping up on people. Training can reduce potential problems and enhance the bond between you, the baby and the dog."

While most households become more hectic with the arrival of a newborn, Ervin said, "even with the lack of time, it's important to exercise your dog — which can keep stress levels down."

"It's also important not to punish your dog for their anxieties. This creates a negative association with the baby."

And be sure to keep interactive toys on hand for your pet, such as a Kong, that he can play with while Mom's in the nursery taking care of the baby, Ervin suggested. Also, give your dog a place to retreat, such as a mat or bed.

Most importantly, try to spend quality time with your pet.

"Don't stick them out in the back yard. Don't make them feel like they've been abandoned," she emphasized. "It's not fair to them."

Ervin said many people will get rid of their dogs because they haven't taken the time to help the animals adjust to new circumstances.

"They simply get tossed aside," she said. "But helping the animal make the transition is doable. You just have to be willing to put in the time."

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