If you think that your world will be turned upside-down once you’ve had a baby, try and understand that your pet’s world will be completely turned upside-down too. They understand life as being fed at regular intervals, being stimulated with play and walks, and being the general centre of attention when in the house.
Sometimes in the past when they were naughty they got even more attention. Now, everything will change. The baby’s needs will come first, so often the animals are not fed at the same times, maybe even missing meals (shock & horror!) and they miss out on walks for days on end. They lose contact with their ‘pack’, no longer getting the attention they once did, and often are pushed outside when previously they had run of the house! Everything they have known will be changed in an instant.
Some cats and dogs cope very well with the change, they take it all in their stride and are generally interested in what is going on around them. The amount of hustle and bustle around the child might be all the stimulation they really need and enjoy. They aren’t overly stressed about missing a walk as they chase the birds in the garden or play with each other. These are the animals that cope very well with new babies, only later have some issues with toddlers as the pack order starts to change again.
Other pets don’t cope very well. The best thing to do is to be prepared for your pets not to cope well. So it’s a good idea to start ‘training’ your pet for the arrival of a baby months before the birth.
Because you wont know how your pet will react, the first thing to do is to have an action plan. Include what needs to be done with your pets before a baby is brought home – identify problem areas. For example, one of our dogs sleeps on the bed. This will not be allowed with a baby in the room as dogs see height as a form of dominance. I do not ever want the dogs to be over the baby in height. So, the dog must now be trained to sleep on a mat by the bed, or out of the room entirely.
Feeding times need altering, attention time needs to be developed, and baby training, i.e. can your dog be poked in the eye and not bite? Start very slowly. These changes to an animal’s life need to be started months before the arrival of the baby, and even better if started in early pregnancy.
Below is an example of an action plan to best prepare your canine and feline friends.
Pet Action Plan
1. Establish Your Family Order
Dogs and cats rely on the order of who is the most important to be able to know where they belong in the family. The old rule of “Alpha male” can be related to the family order as well. Most animals relate order differently than humans. It is not necessarily the person they spend the most time with, or the largest person in the house.
Animals care about:
- Who goes through the door first?
- Who eats first?
- Who rests on the highest level?
These are indicators of family order and the most important thing for animals to understand is that they are at the bottom of the order.
2. Identify Problem Areas
Its important to start thinking about possible issues, including:
- Sleeping positions
- Eating organisation
- Furniture use
- Exercise times
- Touching by children
- Jumping up on people
3. Start Training Your Dog To Sit, Stay, Drop and Come
These basic commands start your dog learning how to listen to you and understanding that you are the one in control of the situation. This will make it easier for them to understand the need to pay attention to you at all times.
4. Set Up Time Limits For Each Area On The Action Plan
Don’t start everything at once! It’s just as bad as bringing a baby home and starting everything then. Introduce things gradually.
5. Be Strict With New Boundaries
Make sure you’re strict with your new boundaries – for example – our cat loves jumping in portacots and prams. We had to start leaving the pram in the lounge room so that whenever the cat jumped in it, he’d get a squirt with a water pistol. I also sprayed the pram with citronella which cats tend to hate, so when our cat jumped in it, he’d smell around and jump back out.
Leaving your pram in the lounge area also gets all the animals used to the idea of having a pram. We’ve even taken the dogs for a walk with an empty pram, just to get them used to it.
When the baby comes, put a dirty nappy or worn clothes into the pram in the lounge room, so when the baby is asleep, the animals can explore the smell a bit better.
By 8 weeks before your estimated due date, you should have identified all areas that need to be worked on and had most of them started. In the last two months, being consistent with the pets is the best option. If it is too late, more time needs to be taken with each animal in the house daily to get them ready.
6. Introduce Your Pets To People, Children and Strangers
Lots of people come out of the woodwork to visit when a new baby arrives, so get your dogs used to it now! Throw a party, invite people over etc. Let the people know that preparing the animals for extra company is the main objective and supply the guests with treats for the animals upon arrival. Each person throughout the night should try and give the animals some attention – for dogs get them to sit and give the treat with a pat. For cats, if they approach the guests they can have a treat.
As your daily handling of the pets gets more and more advanced, invite guests to gently pull the pets tail and give a treat. I don’t advise this with animals over 10 years, only if you can do everything with the pet without distressing it too much – then others can do it as well.
Most importantly get help. If you have problems with obedience or if your animal has selective hearing, get help with a certified trainer. Doing this will help establish order for when your new baby comes into your family pack.