Babies and Pets
Before I launch in to my research and experiences regarding pets and babies, I should say this: I am a dog mom. My husband and I are actually both allergic to cats, so it really isn’t an option for us to have one. We do, however, have two dogs. We have a cocker spaniel who was 4 when my son was born and an English Cream Retriever who is currently 2, butcame to us from a family with kids. As far as whether or not all of this applies to kitties as well, I honestly wouldn’t know. But, cats seem more unaffected by social change in the home anyway, so this article is probably only useful to dog owners.
My labor nurse with my son was a dog breeder on the side, so during labor I got to learn all about how best to introduce my little girl to my new baby boy. She gave me a lot of really helpful tips that I think did end up helping us during that transition out of “only child syndrome”.
The first thing we did was, before bringing Lake into the house for the first time, we brought in a pair of PJ’s he had been wearing the night before. We greeted Lona (cocker spaniel) as excited and lovingly as our tired selves could muster and then we showed her the PJ’s. She sniffed them veraciously and began to wiggle her butt like mad. (good sign we thought!)
Next, we brought Lake in and set him (in his car seat of course) on the ground in between us. Our nurse the dog breeder had told us and keeping Lake above Lona (literally) from the get-go was a bad idea. They needed to be introduced on her level, since in her eyes, he was coming into HER space. When she first told us this, I immediately asked if she was sure this was OK as, God forbid, this meant Lona might TOUCH our new baby. She laughed and told me that babies that live in homes with pets actually end up with stronger immune systems and are less prone to allergies. As long as Lona was reasonably clean and had all of her shots, a kiss or two was not going to hurt our little guy.
The floor session went very well. There was more butt wiggling and sniffing and she kissed him on the hand. (another way that dogs figure out what things are) However, when she did that, it startled Lake and he started to cry. Our nurse the breeder had warned us that when this happens, dogs can get nervous. It is crucial that when this happens, you and your partner maintain calm, if not cheery, voices and only ONE of you tends to the baby. The other should continue to give the dog attention. Maybe even go get one of the dogs toys and take them to play. This tells the dog that when baby cries: A) there is nothing to be afraid of and B) there is nothing to feel threatened by. We continued to do with this with Lona for a few days and by about a week in, she was sleeping through hour long cry fits like nothing was happening.
Once Lona had the idea that Lake was part of our pack, the next thing we had to tackle was her protectiveness over him. She did not appreciate being locked out of rooms he was in, and she DEFINITELY did not like when strangers (to her) would come and pay no attention to her and go straight to holding him. Our nurse had warned us that outside of hurting the baby, the most common behavioral issue of dogs with newborns was biting care takers. We quickly recognized that this was our greatest risk with Lona. We did some research online and found that putting a bed for her in Lake’s room so she could be near him when he slept or was fed made her feel comfortable. We also directed those that came to visit to greet Lona for a minute before going to Lake. We also had to tell them to be sure not to scold Lona for being near or tell her to get away from Lake. We found that when this happened, her behavior was consistently negative. A couple times when this happened, she immediately ran to Lakes room and peed on his rug. We read that this was a territory response that was supposed to tell the visitor that THEY were the ones out of line. She also growled with raised lips at some that did this as well. We were careful to make sure our response was not to scold her again. We simply tried to calm her, gave her attention, and made sure to sit near the person holding Lake. This response to visitors subsided within a few weeks.
Introducing Lona to her new little brother was actually oneof my favorite parts of bringing Lake home. I loved watching her accept him as her own. Now, as my son becomes old enough to truly love his doggies, it is even more fun for me to watch him fall in love with animals the way I did as a child. The most important thing to remember is that Dogs feel, and will match, your energy. If you stay calm and keep things as normal as possible- they will too.
- Jennifer Akiyama