In the Walt Disney movie Lady and the Tramp, there is a famous line from the scrappy and world-wise Tramp about what happens when babies arrive on the scene of a pet-friendly household: “When the baby moves in, the dog moves out.”
While this sentiment may have been true in another place and time, today pets are family. And studies keep proving families benefit from adding pets. Not only can your new baby bundle and fur babies coexist under the same roof, but they will likely become lifelong friends. And just like human friendships do best when started off on the right foot, the same goes for baby and your pet. Here are our five best tips for parents when creating a smooth transition for your new little love and four-legged friend.
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1. Go slow.
For pets that were previously used to a kid-free household, a new baby can be a (noisy!) surprise. Allowing your pet to ease into the relationship is best. If possible, introduce your pet to the baby’s scent with an item that has been around the baby in the hospital, such as a blanket or a onesie. Dogs, in particular, use scents to understand the world around them. Giving Fido the opportunity to “get to know” baby through scent will help put your pet at ease when baby comes home.
2. Stay calm.
When you do bring baby home for the first time, it is best to allow a friend or family member to hold the baby so you can greet your pet fully. If they are particular energetic, play fetch for a few minutes or have someone take your pup on a walk to help them release some energy before meeting your baby. When it’s time to bring your pet near the baby, allow them to sniff carefully around the baby. Be sure to use calm but firm tones when speaking (high-pitched “baby” talk excites your pet, causing them to become rowdy).
3. Set boundaries. It’s important to be clear about no-go spaces for your pet from the start, including your baby’s swing, crib or car seat. You may need to use a baby gate to create separation. Likewise, when baby becomes mobile, teach them to be respectful of your pet’s zones, such as their sleeping space and feeding area. Pets can become territorial of these spaces, so it may be best to move any bedding and feeding bowls to an area that is inaccessible to baby until your little one is older. This will not only keep baby safe and allow your pet a place to escape when needed, it will cut down on the inevitable mess of baby turning Fido’s food bowls into an impromptu snack or sensory experience.
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4. Keep watch.
While your four-legged friends may have been your first baby and a part of your family for years, it is important to remember they are being presented with a new situation and may act unpredictably. Never leave your baby unattended with a pet, and keep a close watch for signs of frustration in your animal, including, for dogs, crouching, shaking or a tail tucked between their legs, and, for a cat, an arched back, flattened ears and an erect tail.
5. Enjoy each other.
In those first few weeks and months with baby, your pet will (understandably) take a backseat in your time and attention. Make your pet feel secure and relaxed by keeping a consistent routine with meals and walks. Once you’re feeling comfortable, cuddle up on the couch together with your two loves. Or, when energy allows, take walks with your pup and the stroller. By allowing your kids to grow up watching you enjoy your pet, you’re laying a solid foundation for them to follow in your animal-loving footsteps.
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