A common life-change that happens in families with pets is the addition of infants or children. This can be a stressful time for the dog or cat of the house that is used to being the sole recipient of the owner’s attention. There are some techniques and recommendations to ease this transition and prevent potential problems.
Starting some settle commands such as “sit”, “down”, or “off” particularly for dogs that jump up on people. This should be started prior to the arrival of an infant. These are commands to provide an alternative to the undesired jumping behavior. Reward the dog with treats for doing the desired behavior. Although jumping on adults may not have a lot of consequences, this can be a safety issue for young children and infants.
Make sure your dog gets used to spending time away from you. Pet and treat the dog when you solicit the attention - not the other way around. Use barriers such as baby gates to keep the pet behind when you are present in the house. Walk over and give treats or attention when the pet is calm. Young children and infants require a lot of parent time and the pets need to get used to not having access to their owners at all times.
Before an infant arrives, consider adding baby toys, cribs and strollers to the house. Start walking with an empty stroller with the dog to get them used to family walks with an infant in tow. Reward the dog with petting or treats when it walks well and is calm. Carrying a doll around and going through some baby care routines prior to arrival may also be beneficial.
When a baby arrives home, all interaction should be supervised with the dogs on a leash. Children should never be left alone with access to the pets. Baby gates can be utilized for keeping the dogs near but not allowing complete access to an infant. Netted crib covers may prevent curious kitties from jumping in the cribs. Pay attention to the dog or cat while the infant is awake so the pets do not associate the awake infants as a negative loss of attention. If at any time the pet acts fearful or aggressive toward the children, complete separation may have to occur permanently and a veterinary behaviorist may have to be consulted.
New additions to a family are life-changing for everyone including the pets in the household. This is quite an upheaval in their perceived social structure and they need time to adapt. With some forethought and preparation this can be a wonderful time of change for all the members of the household.
- Dr. Ashly LaRoche, DVM