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New baby On The Way? Creating Companions

By: Linda Goldston

Here are steps you can take to prepare your pet.

Michelle and Bryan Eacret knew their pets might be jealous when they added a baby to their family.

Five-year-old Awana was a feline diva and "queen of the house." Three-year-old Rascal, a tabby cat, was more easygoing, but their dog, Scooter, was still a pup and rambunctious.

"I had heard some horror stories that cats would start spraying or clawing when they never had before, and I wasn't sure how our dog would handle the new baby," Michelle Eacret said.

The Milpitas couple didn't wait until their daughter, Allison, was born to start preparing their pets for her arrival. They let the animals sniff all the new baby stuff - the crib, the blankets and the clothes - and they never shooed their pets from the nursery.

Thinking ahead like that is exactly what the experts recommend when a new baby will be joining a family that includes pets. They emphasize that if you plan to change the pet's routine when the baby arrives, make the changes before the baby comes home.

Michelle Eacret even took an extra blanket to the hospital so her husband could take the baby's scent back home to their pets before mom and baby arrived. The day after Allison was born, the new mom made sure the new baby was wrapped in that blanket; that night, the new dad took the blanket home and laid it out on the floor for Awana, Rascal and Scooter to check out.

"We left it there until the next day when we brought home our new daughter," Michelle Eacret said. "Then we sat on the couch holding our daughter as each animal came to investigate."

Nearly six years later, "we're all just one big happy family and even added another family member - Jessie, our 11-month-old tabby."

Stress-free Transition

By planning ahead and being careful to include their pets once they brought baby Allison home from the hospital, the Eacrets made the transition fairly stress-free for everyone.

"People often put pets to the side when they have a baby," said Melissa Bain, a veterinarian and animal behaviourist at the University of California-Davis. "It's sort of sad."

"The child's safety always has to come first, but there's no reason they can't be together with supervision."

Bain and others stress that the key is planning.

A good place to start is having a checkup for your pets to make sure that they are healthy and that their vaccinations are up to date. For dogs, it's especially important to brush up on obedience training, giving special emphasis to the 'sit' and 'stay' commands.

Before or after the baby comes, "if you feel uncomfortable with your dog's behaviour in any way, seek help," said Kelly Helsing, owner of Downtown Dogs in San Jose, a day-care center for dogs, and co-presenter of a recent workshop on babies and dogs.

"We start before the baby comes," Helsing said. "Pretending like the baby is already here, walking around with a doll and taking the dog on a walk with the stroller before the baby arrives."

"There are also CDs of crying babies you can play. It helps desensitize your dog to the baby's crying."

Sleeping Arrangements

If you plan to stop letting the dog or cat sleep on your bed or in your bedroom after the baby comes home, you need to make that change before the baby arrives.

"If the parents are planning on changing routines and the physical structure, do it far in advance of the baby coming," Bain said. "If you want to kick the dog out of the bedroom before the baby comes, just close the door and give it a bed. You don't have to put the dog outside. Just be matter of fact about it."

The point is to keep the pet from associating the new baby with negative things. "No, no, no" will only make the pets feel more anxious about the new arrival if that's all they hear when they're around the baby.

"With any animal, have as much positive interaction with the pet when the child is around as you can," Bain said.

That includes treats, special toys to give the pet when around the baby, and a lot of "good dog" and "good job" compliments "in a real happy voice," Helsing said. "You want to really try to be happy with the dog. Let them know it's a fun thing, not a scary thing."

If your friends have babies, encourage them to visit to help get your pets used to infants. You might even try babysitting a friend's child for a few hours at a time.

Protecting The Crib

Around the house, try to think of solutions to potential problems. To keep pets from jumping onto the changing table or the baby's crib, for example, the Humane Society of the United States recommends using double-sided tape on the crib surface where the pet would jump and on the baby's mattress.

When the big moment arrives and you bring the baby home, have someone else take the baby into another room while you greet your pets. You've been away, and they'll be excited to see you.

For the actual introduction, it's best to have two people - one person to reward the pet and one to hold the baby. Have your dog sit, for instance, while you let him see the baby.

When you feel comfortable, let your pet get close enough to sniff the baby.

As you settle into the hectic routine of having a newborn, always remember that you should never leave your baby alone with a pet.

And when your baby reaches the toddler stage, it's time to train the child.

"I was careful to talk to my dog, Ginger, when I talked to my baby," said Lois Giblin of Cupertino. "It worked beautifully."

"And more importantly, as my son grew, he was taught that no hitting or pulling on the dog was allowed. He had to be gentle. They became great playmates."

The Humane Society of the United States has a free brochure called "Your Baby & Your Pet." To obtain a copy, write to the HSUS, Attention:

Your Baby & Your Pet - SJMN
2100 L St. NW
D.C. 20037

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