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How to introduce your dog to the new baby

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When Kellyann Conway of Tarpon Springs, Fla., discovered she was pregnant, she prepared her household of three dogs as if a hurricane were blustering in. Up until this point, her three senior-age dogs - a 17-year-old border collie, 13-year-old Akita, and 9-year-old pitbull cross - had limited exposure to children in their life.

And that could have been a problem.

This meant Conway had to acclimate her dogs to the new sounds, smells, and sight of an infant so that when baby arrived and came into their home, they wouldn't be blown away by the newest member of their family.

Before baby arrives

Conway knew what sorts of shocks were in store for her dogs because she's an expert. In the worst case, they could bite the baby or go into a depression from lack of attention. As director of animal training and behavior for Animal Planet Pet Video and Petfinder.com, as well as president of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, Conway had given plenty of advice to clients on what to do to prepare for the baby's arrival.

Now she had to implement her own suggestions. This included:

  • Playing a CD of baby crying sounds.
  • Preparing the nursery early with a baby gate to keep dogs out, but also to allow them to see it.
  • Sprinkling baby powder around the house.
  • Using baby lotion on herself.
  • Setting up baby swings, strollers and other baby items that moved to help the dogs get used to them.

All of these paid off because Conway's baby, fiance, and three dogs are one big happy family.

Adjusting routines is crucial

"The fundamental word is to prepare," said Jeff Nichol, DVM, a veterinarian in Albuquerque, N.M., who specializes in pet behavior.

Dogs and cats are very bonded to routines, more so than most owners realize. Many pet behavior problems can be traced back to some unpredictable event in the owner's routine.

"Needless to say, having a baby is like having the pets move to another planet," Nichol said. "Nothing is ever the same."

While new parents have at least seven months to psychologically prepare for the baby's arrival, many pets find out the day of baby's arrival, and the intrusion of this new being can feel like a slap in the face to pets.

Ideally, owners institute new routines for their pets weeks or months in advance.

Socialize, socialize, socialize

Many dogs and cats have not been socialized to babies or children during the sensitive period for socialization - typically the first 16 weeks of life.

"As a result they are fearful of babies or kids," said Sophia Yin, DVM, a veterinarian in San Francisco and an applied animal behaviorist.

Pet owners can create a positive association between babies and pets. "For instance, every time the dog is in the same room with an infant, it's getting lots of treats," Yin said.

The dog specifically needs to learn that good things happen around an infant.

It's impossible to over-prepare

Make gradual changes to your dog's routines, such as where the dog sleeps or exercises, before baby's arrival, so that the dog will not associate the changes with the baby.

The American Kennel Club offers these tips:

  • It's important your dog accept NOT being the focus of attention for a period of time. Teach your dog to sit and stay on command - and reward him with treats.
  • Bring an article of the baby's clothing or a baby blanket home so the dog can get used to the infant's scent.
  • NEVER leave even the most trusted dog or pet alone with a baby or small child.

By following a few precautions, and adequately preparing your pet for the baby's arrival, you could avoid putting your dog in the doghouse.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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