Your Newborn and Your Pet
Your dog sees the world a bit differently than you do. To him, you are the alpha male, your partner is the alpha female, and the three of you are a pack. Upon arrival of the baby, your dog may experience several weeks of post-partum depression. But if all goes smoothly, your new baby will soon be accepted as a junior alpha, eligible for all the benefits of membership-protection, loyalty, and relentless face-licking.
Before the Baby Arrives
- Dogs learn by association, and you don't want your dog to associate the baby with negative things such as diminished play time, being kicked out of the bedroom, and the relocation of his food dish. If you are going to implement changes, it's important to do so at least a month before the baby arrives.
- Play a recording of a crying baby to get the dog used to the loud, high-pitched screams. Dogs have a keen sense of hearing, and may panic upon first listen, but eventually they adjust. It can help to desensitize you as well. You can download a three-minute audio crying jag from www.beprepared.net.
- Some dog experts suggest that several months before the due date, you "play pretend" with a doll to acclimate the dog to the new family dynamic. The dog watches you change, feed, sing to, and put the doll to sleep. This is certainly an option, but it may be easier and less humiliating to get a friend to bring their baby over to your house once in a while.
- Make sure your dog understands the "Down!" "Stay!" and "Drop it!" commands, and if not, train him. Also, take him to the vet to make sure his shots are up-to-date and that he's parasite-free, and secure someone to take care of him while you're at the hospital issuing the "Breathe!" command.
- Soon after the birth, take a piece of clothing that the baby has worn and bring it to your dog so that he can scent-bond.
- Upon arrival from the hospital, your partner should greet the dog first while you hold the baby. Your partner hasn't been home in a while, and the dog's natural excitement may give way to jumping and rough-housing. When all is calm, put a leash on the dog and let him view the baby from ten feet away. Then slowly bring the two closer to one another. If the dog remains calm, allow him to sniff the baby.
- Don't let the dog lick your baby's face for the first few months. The baby's immune system is still immature, and your dog's tongue has been to places you'd rather not think about.
- Even the most gentle dogs shouldn't be left alone with the baby. Always be quick to reprimand aggressive behavior and reward good behavior.
Almost all of the dog-based suggestions will work with cats, although you might not have much luck with the commands. Because cats are instinctually drawn to moving objects, they are generally disinterested in newborns. That being said, it's never a good idea to leave the two alone in a room together. Cats have a tendency to curl up against warm bodies and may try to get in the crib with your sleeping baby, which is a bad idea, as the cat could inadvertently scratch, bite, or possibly smother the baby. Here are two ways to make sure the cat stays out of the crib:
- After you put the crib in place (several months before the due date), put something on top of the mattress that is really unpleasant for the cat to touch. Cut a piece of cardboard the size of the crib mattress, cover it with double-stick tape, and place it in the crib, so their paws become sticky. Or cover the mattress with tinfoil (they hate the crinkly sound). After one or two ill-fated encounters, the cat should leave the crib alone.
- Purchase a mesh crib tent that fits snugly over the crib to deny access. The cat may end up hanging out on top of the tent, becoming a living mobile.
It is also important to make sure you cat is healthy and clean as babies are highly sensitive. There are myriad cat health problems; it's best to consult your doctor as well as a veterinarian for further instructions.
From BE PREPARED by Gary Greenberg and Jeannie Haydn. Copyright Ó 2004 by Gary Greenberg and Jeannie Haydn. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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