The birth of a new baby is a joyous moment for parents, as well as a transition for the entire family, including pets. Many pet owners think of their pets as family, and are eager to ensure a safe, healthy connection with the new baby. Expectant parents who are pet owners may have questions about circumstances that commonly arise where babies and pets coexist. Here are some things to consider and helpful tips for preparing your dog for a new baby:
• Don’t make assumptions about a dog’s breed being more or less suitable for a baby. Much of what ensures safety between dog and baby stems from learned behavior and reinforcement.
• It’s important for your dog to recognize and respect your role as family leader. Start early to instill and/or correct a leadership dynamic with your dog helps to set healthy boundaries and ensure comfort and safety for everyone.
• Prepare your dog for baby’s arrival by establishing physical boundaries in your home. For example, it is a good idea to keep your dog’s toys in a distinct location away from the baby’s toys. It may also be a good idea to train your dog to stay out of your baby’s nursery, or to set limits for access.
• Establish a “go to” place for your dog, and train him/her to follow your “go to place” command.
• Make a safe zone or space for your dog to be able to escape to if he/she needs to get away from new stresses and stimuli.
• Manage the introduction of your dog to your baby and take things slowly. It may be a good idea to walk the dog first, for example, giving the dog an opportunity to discharge energy before greeting baby.
• Always supervise your dog and baby when they are together; never leave them alone.
• Remember to make time for your dog and try as much as possible to ease the dog into changes in his routine. Doing so can help to minimize the stress of change.
• As your baby grows, be sure to teach him or her good manners towards your dog (i.e. no yanking or pulling on its ears or tail). Dogs are often very patient with displays of affection, but learn to recognize early signs of stress in your dog to prevent an escalation to aggression.
The Center for Perinatal Education and Lactation at NYU Langone offers a monthly, two-hour-long information session called Dogs and Storks for expectant women and partners to help prepare the family pet for a new baby. The session is taught by a licensed dog trainer, certified by Family Paws.
Receiving expert guidance on concerns such as those outlined above can make all family members, including our furry ones, to feel safe, happy and comfortable together.
Elizabeth Moore, BSN, RN, is the coordinator for Parent Education and Community Outreach in NYU Langone’s Parent Education Program. As a doula and childbirth educator, she has worked as a maternal-child health nurse and educator for over 20 years.