I first noticed it the other day when Jim Dear came home. “Down, Lady. Down! Darling? Darling, are you all right?”
“Of course I am. Why shouldn’t I be?”
“Well, I just can’t help worrying. After all… in your condition, alone here all day, walking that dog.”
“That dog”? “That dog”?
He’s never called me that before.
That excerpt from Disney’s Lady and the Tramp caught my ear recently, while watching the movie with my kids. Poor Lady – once the apple of Jim Dear and Darling’s eyes – is devastated to be referred to as “that dog” now that Darling is expecting a child. Sure, not every beloved pet becomes “that dog” when baby comes home. But, without a doubt, your pet’s life will change when your new addition arrives.
Dogs, like children (and type A adults!), thrive on routine. Wake up, go outside, have breakfast, hang out and wait for you to come home from work, go to sleep. Wake up and repeat. And as any new mama will tell you, your old routine is history once baby arrives. So, what can you do in advance of the little one’s arrival to ease the blow to your pet?
Before baby arrives, try to acclimate your pet to what life might be like once the baby comes. My advice? Borrow a friend’s baby! Having a baby in the house and making it a positive experience for your dog will set the stage for what’s to come, even if it’s just for an afternoon or two. No interaction between your dog and the baby is required – just the sights, sounds, and smells of a baby will help you get started. While the baby is visiting, show your dog loads of attention and love. Work with him on basic obedience training, doing sit-stay exercises, and pointing out his (not the baby’s) toys.
Think of the new smells and sounds that will be in your house, and introduce them to your pet early. Formula, diapers, baby wash, giggles, cries, and noise-making toys in advance of baby’s arrival will make for less of a surprise when he or she comes home. If you’ve prepared a nursery, introduce your pet to that area, and make sure he knows his role – is he allowed in? Will he sleep there? Let him get adjusted to his new role as best you can.
Once baby is home, try to continue the association between new baby and positive experiences. You simply won’t have the time you once had for your furry family members, but you can still find some time for them. I found myself doing lots of sofa snuggling during feedings, for example. Times when you need to devote yourself to baby, like bath time, could become time for a new chew toy or treat. Importantly, make sure your dog knows basic obedience training before your baby arrives, and that he knows what toys and treats are his, and which are off-limits. If you feel the need for an expert eye, Rosemarie Tang is a pet trainer I recommend, and you can find more info on her website.
From the beginning, but especially once your baby is a crawler or toddler, teach your child how to be kind and gentle to pets. Soft, gentle strokes and no poking, pinching or pulling. Also, if a child has a pet for a best friend at home, he or she may tend to think all animals are friendly. Make sure your child knows never to reach for, or pet an unknown animal without explicit consent from the pet’s owner. Finally, even when your child and your pet form that wonderful bond, you still need to be on the lookout for any signs of fear or aggression. I particularly liked this blog post on how to look for warning signs that your dog may have had enough.
It’s helpful to take your pet to your general practice veterinarian for his yearly physical just before baby is scheduled to arrive. Routine veterinary care is not only important for your pet’s health, but will also help to prevent any diseases that might be transmitted from your pet to your human family members, including your newest addition.
Having pets when baby comes home does take some adjusting. But you’ll probably find that the warm furry body that once snuggled at your feet will soon be snuggling next to a new pair of feet in the family. And I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sassy Mama Alane Cahalane is an American veterinary specialist who lives and works in Hong Kong. As Hong Kong’s first and only specialist in companion animal surgery, she treats dogs and cats with cancer, orthopedic and neurologic disease, and other diseases that require advanced surgery. She lectures to veterinarians both locally and regionally, and is committed to educating the public on pet health issues. Alane is also a mum to two terrific kids and a terrier named Patrick.