First comes marriage, then comes baby, then comes family pet––or, first comes fur baby then human baby. Whichever category your family’s lullaby falls under, introducing a pet to your young family (or vice versa) can be tricky, balancing bottles and diapers with walk time for doggo or litter duty for kitty. We know this transition might be overwhelming, so we asked the experts how to make this transition seamless for your Brady Bunch.
Bringing Home A New Baby
If you’re bringing a new baby into the mix, there are several steps you can take to prepare your pet for the newcomer. Firstly, socialize your dog with children before baby arrives. “They can go to playgrounds or spend time with family members and friends who have children,” says Pia Silvani, director at the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center. And once you have the stroller picked out, take it out for a spin with dog in hand, allowing him to feel the new speed and rhythm of your walks. In the home, Silvani recommends purchasing a doll that makes crying sounds to get your dog or cat accustomed to the new noises. You can also play baby-crying noises via YouTube. Also, get your pet used to not being the center of attention. “Before the child arrives, have certain periods of time when they are sitting and not doing anything, when the dog has to settle down and not demand attention,” she says.
When bringing home Baby, Silvani recommends first going into the house without your little one. “Have someone else come in with the baby and transfer the baby over to the parents,” she says. And as you’re introducing baby to their new home, be mindful of your dog’s space too. “Remember to protect the dog’s personal space, especially when the child starts to crawl,” Silvani says. “There has to be safe areas for the dog to go to that are off-limits to the child.” And if the thought of introducing your week-old baby to your adult dog or cat seems too overwhelming, it’s totally OK to save this occasion for once you and Baby have settled in. “Feel empowered to be able to use a border or a fence to assist for the first day or two,” shares Jessica Lockhart, certified applied animal behaviorist and director of animal care and behavior at SPCA of Texas.
Observe your pet’s behavior as you’re making the introduction. There are telltale signs that they may be nervous and uncomfortable about the new addition. “Dogs will walk up and lick the thing that is making it nervous,” says Lockhart. “A lot of parents interpret this as, ‘Oh look how sweet, they are giving them a kiss,’ but that’s really called the ‘Kiss to Dismiss.’ [It’s] a sign that your dog is feeling pretty unsure of what’s happening.” If this happens, you should probably take things more slowly. Give the dog a few more days before creating a communal living space between the two. For cats, this might show up in excessive meowing. If your dog or cat is continually showing signs of being uncomfortable and nervous, Lockhart recommends talking to your vet. “There are some supplements that can help keep dogs’ and cats’ anxiety in check for these big transitions,” she says.
Bringing Home A New Pet
If roles are reversed and you’re bringing a new pet home, do some pretend play that he is already part of the family before he comes home. Use a stuffed animal in place of your new pet. It might prove to be a fun game for the kiddos, but it will also give them a chance to learn the proper way to pet their new puppy or kitten. “Parents should teach the child how to appropriately pet a dog and cat,” says Silvani. She recommends kids practice soft strokes as they pet––not patting. Let your kids know that even though they are excited about meeting their new family member, it’s important to give your new pet his space. Place the stuffed animal in different places of the house and have them practice leaving it in its space for a few hours.
On the big day, make the introduction between the new pet and your littles as calm as can be. Talk to your kids about the animal you’re bringing home and the proper way to go about welcoming their new family member––remind them what they’ve already practiced. Lockhart suggests bringing a new dog home on a leash while petting his head. Guide the child’s hand to stroke the dog with the back of their hand, avoiding getting their fingers into the fur. This will help prevent an aggressive grab of an ear or tail, which might startle the dog. You don’t need to place your baby’s face too close to the dog or cat––their sharp noses will already notice the new smells. And although it may be tempting, Lockhart advises not to include treats in the mix during the first introduction. “You don’t know which way that could go, so you want to hold off on the treats until everyone has had their first meeting,” she explains.
The concept of sharing your home with a pet is new for both the kids and animal, as they are learning their new parameters. It’s vital to have a space your pet feels is his own and that your kids recognize as his space, too. Similarly, create a space that’s just for the kids and a shared space for the whole family. “You want a place where your child can explore very safely, where you don’t have to be concerned that an animal might show up without you knowing that it’s there,” shares Lockhart. A nursery, playroom or kid’s room could serve as these no-pet-allowed areas. “I usually tell people that the nursery is a no-go place for dogs and cats,” says Lockhart, “[so the pet] isn’t going to feel free to sneak in there in the middle of the night.” The living room or dining room can be the communal spaces, where both kids and pets play together.