Bringing Baby Home
Babies mean new sights, sounds, and smells and they take the lion's share of the attention. And of these things may make your dog or cat feel threatened. If you plan ahead, you can make the arrival of a new baby much less stressful for you and your pet.
Begin by introducing scents, such as baby powder and lotion, before the baby's arrival. You can do this by using these products on yourself or on a small doll.
Once you have the nursery set up, allow your pet to gently inspect it. Install a baby gate and begin using it, or close the door when you aren't around so your pet doesn't have free access to this room. This helps establish boundaries before the baby arrives.
Once the baby is born, have your spouse or a familiar relative take a piece of baby clothing or a baby blanket home for your pet to smell. Keep the homecoming a quiet event. Throwing a party or inviting a bunch of guests right away will only make your pet more nervous and excitable.
Have Dad or a familiar relative carry the baby in so that Mom can greet the pet. Only after your pet has settled down should you attempt to introduce the newcomer.
Keep the first meeting brief and supervised. It may help to have someone familiar hold your pet while Mom holds the baby. Holding the pet provides a means of positive attention and safety.
It is a good idea to spend some special quality time with your pet once the baby has settled in for a nap. When the baby awakes and starts crying, however, provide reassurance to your pet to help alleviate any agitation at the new sound.
No matter how well the relationship seems to be progressing, however, never leave the baby and pet together unsupervised.
Bringing a Pet Home
Bringing a new pet home is similar to bringing home a baby.
Establish a quiet, out-of-the-way place for your new pet and set boundaries for the interaction. Just as your pet should not be allowed free access to the nursery, you child should not have free access to the pet's "home."
Interactions should supervised at all times and limited, especially during the first few months.
Once the child and pet comfortable around each other, invent games they can play together, such as fetch or dangling a piece of ribbon for a cat.
The toddler years are the most difficult for child-pet interactions. The toddler is old enough to get to the dog or cat, but not old enough to handle pets responsibly. The normal sudden movements and high-pitched noises of a toddler may cause your pet to become overly excited or agitated. Therefore, it is important to continue watching interactions carefully.
Many pets adore children and will withstand vast amounts of roughhousing. But it is best to begin setting limits on play. Reading books about animals to your child can help your toddler understand that pets have feelings, too.
Take advantage of the enormous attention your child pays to your every move by using it as an example for acceptable behavior around pets. While your child is watching, gently rub your dog behind the ears or scratch your cat under the chin, all the while talking in a low soothing voice to your pet.
Learning to Get Along
Once your children are past the toddler stage, they are old enough to learn how to act around animals.
Teach children not to bother family pets when are sleeping or eating. They shouldn't pet a dog without asking permission and letting the dog sniff their hand first. And they should never chase or corner cats and dogs!
You may want to involve your child in the daily care of your pet. Small children can be taught to scoop food into a dish, or help brush a patient pet. If the pet is small enough to be handled, show your child how to properly pick up your pet. Again, it is important to supervise these activities.
It is also important to teach your pet how to behave around children. If your pet nips, react with a loud "ow!" and end playtime. Get it used to having things removed from its mouth. Remove the food dish or a special toy during food or playtime respectively, and then return it so your pet will learn to guard toys or food.
If you have a dog, arrange for you and your pet to attend an obedience class to speed learning of proper behavior.
By monitoring your children and pets and creating positive ways for them to interact, you can be assured of a happy family mix and hours of joyful play.