SIOUX CITY | Bringing home a new baby is stressful enough, but when new parents already have a four-legged “child” at home, life can get extra complicated.
Sirena Sigears, obstetrics nurse and instructor of prenatal classes at Mercy Medical Center, commonly hears these concerns from parents-to-be.
“Right off the bat, we encourage parents to start preparing prior to delivery,” she said.
It’s important to start changing routines as soon as possible so the dog has time to adjust before the baby comes, Sigears said.
“If you have a small dog that likes to sit on your lap every night while you watch TV, and that’s going to be the baby’s spot once it’s born, adjust where the dog sits before the baby comes,” she said. “That way it won’t associate the baby with the reason why it had to move.”
Set boundaries for the baby’s area, such as the nursery and swings, to keep pets away, Sigears said.
“If you don’t want the dog or cat in the baby’s area, don’t let them in there before the baby comes, even as a funny ‘ha-ha’ because when baby comes they will still think they can get in there,” she said.
Prior to bringing home the baby, make sure the dog is vaccinated and checked out by a veterinarian to ensure its health. If the dog isn’t spayed or neutered, Sigears recommends doing that to reduce the dog’s energy.
Once the baby is born, have someone bring home blankets and burp rags with the baby’s scent and place them in locations where the baby will be so the pet can get used to the smell.
During the first greeting, Sigears recommends having a third party introduce the baby to the dog if possible to avoid initial confusion. She said that dogs see their owners as alpha and themselves as beta. Seeing their owner holding a new baby will confuse the dog about where it sits in the pack.
“Dogs are pack animals and they have to learn their position,” Sigears said. “They have a hard time if mom’s holding a baby and they think, ‘What am I?’ They really have a better sense of things than we give them credit for.”
Also, during the introduction, allow the dog to smell the baby’s hands and feet and give the dog treats as positive reinforcement.
“Correlate a positive situation with that baby being around,” Sigears said. “Just as we are preparing for that baby, we have to prepare our four-legged children.”
She also recommends having someone go home and walk the dog or play with it to wear it out before introducing the baby so that it’s less likely to jump during the introduction. If jumping is a concern, keep the dog on a leash so it can be pulled away if necessary.
In addition to teaching pets to respect the baby, once the baby becomes a toddler, it’s important to teach them to respect the pets, Sigears said.
“You have to teach the children boundaries as they get older,” she said. “They can’t go and pull on Fido’s ears or tail or play in his food. It’s all about respect on both sides.”