At the shelter the other day, a young couple was waiting to adopt a Labrador retriever puppy. The puppy was bouncing around and the couple was smothering him with attention. I was distraught over this possible adoption. The woman was pregnant and only a few weeks from having a baby. I guessed she was adopting because she either wanted her child to grow up with a puppy or was ready to become a mom and was getting a jump on the process.
Whatever the reason, I knew the couple would likely return the puppy to the shelter shortly after the baby’s birth: Around the time they realized that housetraining a puppy and having a baby should never happen at the same time. I knew one of our adoption counselors would talk them out of this impulsive decision.
Ironically, I was heading over to our “pets and baby” class. Every month, about 40 pregnant couples take this class to learn what they can do to prepare their pet for the baby’s arrival, and how to deal with the child/pet relationship afterwards. Even if a pet is well-established in a household, there can be an adjustment period when the new baby arrives. Sadly, without knowledge on how to prepare the pet or make proper introductions, some pet owners end up relinquishing their seven-year-old terrier to the shelter because “it doesn’t seem to like the baby.”
It’s not the baby the pet doesn’t like, but the change in attention, schedule, and household rules.
Long ago, when our parents walked three miles to school, people got married, had children, and then got a pet. Today, things are harder. Many people are single for much longer and often bring pets into a marriage, having them for many years before having the first child. Pet owners often spoil that “first baby.” Then, when the rules and attention-giving changes for a new spouse or child, we wonder why the pet is having trouble adjusting. Pets don’t like change, but they can handle it if you don’t expect results overnight.
“We have a dachshund who loves to sleep on the bed,” says one woman during class. “We don’t want her in bed after the baby is born. When we try to move her, she growls. What do we do? “
It’s hard for pets to change their sleeping practices. If you must change their sleeping location, begin making changes months before the baby is born.
“What do you do when she growls at you,” I ask.
“We leave her alone,” she says.
Clearly, this dachshund is top dog in the house—not because she sleeps on the bed, but because she doesn’t listen to her owner. While the dachshund should respond to her owner’s request, the woman needed to know that her dog will get back on the bed again, and that it could take months to change her sleeping location.
When the new baby arrives, pets often get ignored too—not intentionally. Most people play with their pets as soon as the baby takes a nap. However, you can actually enhance the pet/baby relationship by giving the pet less attention when the baby is not present and more attention when the baby is around. The pet learns the baby is the source of attention and playtime and will sometimes anxiously wait for the baby to wake up so the fun can begin again.
Some parents worry about cats and babies, others worry about their dog biting. There are things you can do to prepare your pet for a new baby and eventually teach your child about pets, so that both will grow up happy and safe