Children and pets - Family safety - Bringing home a baby

The arrival of a new baby can be very exciting. It can also be a time of immense change, with a new routine and lifestyle for the whole family – including your pets. With a little forward planning and early changes to your pet’s routine, bringing home a new baby can be a pleasant experience for both you and your pet.

Before your baby arrives

Making changes to your pet’s routine can take some time, so it’s important to think about the general house rules you would like to have in place when your baby arrives and start implementing them well in advance. You may want to consider:

  • Behaviours you would like to change, such as jumping up or barking
  • Areas you would like to be off-limits to your pet (like the baby’s room, cot or changing table)
  • How your pet’s routine may change. For example, will your cat need to be outside more? Will your dog be walked at different times?
  • How much time will you be spending with your pet? Will it decrease when the baby comes?

Implementing a new routine

Once you have a clear picture of how you would like your pet to behave with a baby in the house, start implementing the new house rules. Make the changes before the baby arrives so your pet has time to adjust.

Obedience training

As the baby will often be held in someone’s arms or on someone’s lap, it’s important your dog learns not to jump up on people.  This can be done through teaching him/her basic commands such as “sit” or “down” and rewarding good behaviour with treats, petting, play etc.

If you have a cat who likes to jump into your lap, it’s similarly important to teach a jump-up command before the baby is born.  Each time your cat hops onto your lap uninvited, stand up and put him/her on the ground. Then teach your cat a jump-up command, possibly using a treat as a lure, so he/she learns an invitation is required.

Sleeping and change areas

Before your child arrives home allow your pet to explore the baby's sleeping and change areas. This is especially important with cats. Teach your pet that these areas are off limits before the baby arrives. For cats this may require installing deterrents in the area such as a Ssscat device or installing a screen door in the baby's room, which allows you to hear the baby, while keeping your cat outside the room.

Mimic the environment of a newborn

Many pets will find the sounds, smells and routine changes of a newborn difficult to adjust to. You can prepare your pet for these changes by introducing all the stimuli that might occur when the baby comes home.

The baby bundle

Pretend you have a baby by carrying around a doll. It’s important your pet feels a positive association with the baby, so try to reward your pet for positive behaviour when in the presence of the doll (and later the baby).

The crying baby

A crying baby can startle even the most placid pet. To prepare your pet, start playing a sound recording of a baby crying while simultaneously rewarding him/her. It’s also a good idea to expose your pet to small children before your baby arrives.

Walking with a Pram

Your dog may take some time to get used to walking with a pram. Practise by walking your leashed dog next to the pram and build it into your daily routine.

Decreasing time with your pet

Most people find that having a new baby means less time for their pet, so it’s a good idea to gradually decrease the amount of time you spend with them. Do this before the baby arrives so your pet is used to the change when baby comes home.

When baby arrives

Getting the scent

If you are having your baby in hospital, it’s a good idea to bring some baby blankets and clothes home for your pet after the baby is born. These will carry the baby's scent and allow your pet to familiarise him/herself with the baby’s smell.

First introductions

It’s important that your pet’s first introduction to the baby is positive and non-threatening. When you first introduce your new baby, ensure your dog is on a leash and that there are at least two adults present – one to supervise the baby and one to supervise the pet. Have one member of the family greet the pet first and then introduce the baby when your pet is calm and relaxed. Allow your pet to investigate the new baby and reward him/her for good behaviour so they develop a positive association with the baby. Don't be surprised if your cat goes into hiding when the baby arrives – this is common.It’s a good idea to have a quiet room to which your cat can escape.

Creating a positive environment

Many pets learn to relate the presence of a baby as a time for inattention, confinement, or even punishment. The goal is to teach your pet that ‘good things' happen in the presence of your child.Reward your pet for obedient, relaxed behaviour in the presence of the child so they develop a positive association with the baby.

Spending time with your pet

As much as possible try to maintain your pet's routine. Your pet still needs quality time with you even if it's only five minutes of sitting alone together, talking quietly or grooming. Continuing quality time will ensure your pet remains a valued family member.

Taking Action when things don’t go to plan

Sometimes, even with the most rigorous preparation, a pet may show aggression towards your child. Less commonly, a dog may be aroused and focused on the baby. Both are serious situations that need to be addressed quickly and effectively. It’s important to seek advice from your Veterinarian or Veterinary Behaviourist as they will be able to determine the nature of the aggression and the best means of treatment. Dogs with a history of aggression should be kept on a leash and muzzled when around children. An aggressive cat should be kept away from children at all times.

Keeping children safe in the long term

In preparing for a new baby, it’s important to think about when your baby will be mobile. Most problems with pets occur when babies start crawling and walking. Their movements can be unpredictable and this can excite or threaten pets. Sometimes clumsy actions can cause pain to a pet eliciting an adverse response. To keep your children safe in the long term, consider the following:

  • Never leave your pet and baby alone, no matter how much you trust your pet. Children under 7 should never be left unsupervised with a pet.
  • Continue to monitor your pet’s behaviour as your baby grows and implement behavioural or routine changes as necessary.
  • Seek expert advice from your local veterinarian. A helpful reference book is “Living with Kids and Dogs Without Losing Your Mind: A Parent’s Guide to Controlling the Chaos” by Colleen Pellar. 
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