Getting the pets ready for the arrival of a new baby is an important part of preparing for life with a newborn - there will naturally be an adjustment period for a furbaby who is used to being THE baby! Here are a few tips and resources to consider:
Desensitize your pet to the kind of touching that little fingers are apt to do.
First of all, don’t worry about this if your baby is already here – you’ve still got time before they really start getting grabby. Those first two months or so baby and fur-baby kind of ignore each other. That said, if you are expecting and reading this, the earlier you begin getting your dog used to unexpected pokes and jabs, the more relaxed about it he’ll be. When our dog, Henry, was a little puppy, I used to *gently* tug his ears and poke his eyes and pull his tail a little bit. Then, when my kids climbed all over him, it didn’t bother him too much. Sometimes, though, he did get tired of it and seek higher ground.
Establish a baby free zone that your pet can go to get away.
Toddlers have boundless energy, and even the most patient dog is sometimes just tired. When Henry got sick of playing, he knew he could just go to his crate and Cole was not allowed to bother him while he was in there. It’s his own special space. (He also escaped onto the couches when Cole was too little to get onto them, but the days of them being a respite were limited – he turne into a little monkey and figured out how to climb up on them fairly quickly). Henry was crate-trained and loved his spot, so this was no problem in our house, but you might want to find a separate space in your house – a crate, a dog bed, a blanket, whatever – where your dog can go to escape.
Familiarize the unfamiliar.
Many pets are curious by nature – new sights and smells are intriguing and they like to check things out. Consider setting up all of the nursery furniture ahead of time so they have a chance to get used to it. Put together and turn on some of the toys ; Henry was interested in the music and lights of the swing for a little while, but he got bored with it and learned that he would get a little treat when he left it alone. You may also want to use some of the baby products on yourself (wash, lotion, etc) so your pets get used to the smells. Some expecting families use a CD of baby sounds, but the cooing child on the CD may sound nothing like the your baby. I don’t think it could hurt to throw the CD on (or you can download baby sounds), but it is not necessarily a major part of preparation.
Go through basic training.
When you bring home your brand new baby, it is in EVERYONE’s interest that the dog be calm and well-adjusted. This is *not* the time to start a brand-new training regimen. If your dog doesn’t cooperate with a sit/stay command, you might want to work on that. Also, we worked *really* hard with Henry to teach him not to jump (as much) – we didn’t want to be knocked over while holding the baby! I would *especially* recommend training if your dog is AT ALL food aggressive or possessive of his toys. My kids literally dumped out food bowls over WHILE Henry was trying to eat, and they treated the water dish like their own personal splash pool. In our house, we established early on that, for the most part, dog toys = baby toys and vice versa so we share everything – it’s just easier that way, but if you don’t think you’ll be cool with that, you might want to be sure you have a REALLY strong “leave it” command.
Be prepared for the first meet and greet.
The one last recommendation I was given was to send a receiving blanket home from the hospital so Henry could check out the baby’s scent. My husband dutifully gave him the blanket – and he shook it vigorously from side to side like he did with his toys. (Adam didn’t mention that to me for about a month.) It may give your pet a little bit of advance warning of what was coming, but a blanket is NOT the same thing as a baby. When you first get home, give your pet the chance to greet you without the baby first; they may be excited to see you – you've been missing for a few days – so it is really nice to be able to say hello one on one. Then, bring your dog over to see the baby with his leash on. Give lots of treats, which will likely be more interesting than the baby, quite frankly.
The dog is not the only one who needs training.
Toddlers may climb all over pets sometimes, and that have a bit of curiosity towards food, but be quick to scoop them away when they overstep boundaries or start bothering your pet. Just like when puppy exuberance gets overly bouncy and the dog starts knocking baby over, remind baby to be gentle when his pats turn into smacks. Baby and dog will *both* learn to be nice to each other. Never leave your dog and child unattended together - pets and babies may both behave in unpredictable ways and you wan everyone to be safe.
Here are a few additional resources: