Isn't this picture just the cutest? It's one of the first pictures we took of our 13 year old Dachshund Honey Bear and our 3 day old baby girl. We weren't sure how we were going to handle our 2 dogs after our daughter was born, but so far so good. It's always a struggle wondering how to introduce your longtime pet to your newborn, or a brand new pet to your child.
When we brought our daughter home from the birth center, our Dachshund (a hound dog breed) immediately became possessive and maternal towards her. She wanted to be with the baby at all times and protect her, and would whine and whimper so much that we had to have my sister take our dog to her house for a few days until she got used to our new addition. Whereas, our other dog, Chica (a mixed Lab breed) was more upset with the new baby cries she was hearing and basically kept to herself.
Lately though, it seems to be the other way around. Now that my child is crawling and getting around faster, she is fascinated by our dogs. Unfortunately they are not as enthusiastic and run away from her a lot, fearing their ears or paws will be tugged and pulled on. 10 month-old babies just don't quite understand the concept of 'gentle touches' yet.
What to do when you have a dog or cat and are expecting a new baby?
We researched this before our daughter was born, and the best advice was to bring something of the baby home from the hospital so your pet could smell it and get used to it before the baby comes home. Usually a baby blanket that the newborn has slept in will work well. BUT, if you have your baby home 6 hours after it is born like we did, or have a home birth, it can be a little harder. My sister rushed home with our baby's little hat so our dogs could sniff them- and they apparently went crazy and sniffed it for 30 minutes!
Another suggestion we found was to get a baby doll that cries and carry it around and see how your pet reacts. But our dogs were too smart for that and it did not affect them as we had hoped.
What worked the best for us was a gradual approach when we brought our baby home. We would let our dog slowly get closer and closer to our newborn so she could smell her and get used to the idea.
We also started having our dog sleep on the floor in her dog bed- she used to sleep with us, but we knew that would not work with a baby who might end up (and did!) in our bed.
Same goes for a cat if they normally sleep cuddled next to you. You may need to start having the cat sleep in a separate room, or in a cat bed. It's important to make sure your cat knows it can NOT sleep in the bassinet or crib as it could pose a suffocation risk.
Experts also suggest making sure your dog has taken an obedience class before you bring home a baby. That way they are already disciplined and will listen to you when you say 'no. This will come in handy when you really need your pet to listen to you. You also need to make sure your pets are caught up on their immunizations.
Now that our child is interacting more with our dogs, the best advice I have read is to keep reinforcing gentle touches, and to limit their play time with them. Much like you would continue to tell your baby that, "the stereo is not for playing with", you would continue to tell your child, "we use gentle touches when we pet our furry dog" and limit their exposure so your dog won't get hurt, and your pet won't snap at your little one.
But are having dogs or cats a good idea for little kids and babies, or should they wait until they are older? There are always two sides to this answer. Some parents think it's a good thing as it teaches responsibility whereas others think that children are not capable of taking care of a pet and should wait until maybe they are teenagers.
Personally, unless your child has anger management issues with animals, I think having a pet is a great thing for children. I loved growing up with my dogs and cats! It not only teaches responsibility, which is something they need to learn in life, but it also teaches compassion and caring. Children learn how to be gentle and kind towards helpless animals which in turns teaches them to be kind towards humans as well.
When it comes to responsibility, it requires deciding if you are going to get a puppy and potty training them, or get an older dog already trained. There are pros and cons to each, so it takes researching and finding the right option for you. Here is a good article about this here.
As a parent, you have to decide how much you will require your child to participate in disciplining the puppy, cleaning up their messes, feeding them, etc. Usually around 7-9 years of age is a good time to start having your child help with potty training, taking them outside to go to the bathroom, taking them on walks and making sure they are fed (of course with your guidance and assistance).
Cats are usually easier to introduce as they are more self sufficient and don't require walks or bathroom trips outside. With cats, you have to decide if they are going to be outdoor cats or indoor. For indoor cats, litter box training can be complicated in the beginning but they are easier to train than dog potty training.
Always remember to make sure your child is safe and not aggravating your pet, so they do not turn around and bite or scratch them. Also it requires teaching your child how to carry your pet safely and how to interact with them.
Since I am definitely not a pet expert or the dog whisperer, here is a link on introducing a new dog to your children and everything puppy training related: The Dog Whisperer
If you're wondering which breed of dog to get for your family, researching online is the best way, and talking to your local Veterinarian. There is a little quiz you can take online here that can tell you what type of breed to chose for your family and your lifestyle.
There is a lot to consider. Maybe you don't have a yard, or room for a large dog. And taking the dog's personality into consideration is important as well so you can find the best fit. Most families have reported to me that the best family dog for children are Labs or Golden Retrievers because they are usually timid around active children.
I'm so glad we have our dogs for our daughter to play and interact with as she grows up! I know they will enjoy her playfulness and enthusiasm and she will definitely learn a lot about caring for pets. The best part so far is seeing her smile and the joy that they bring to her each day :)