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Introducing Pet to Baby

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When Jackie Kondyra got engaged, her fiancé presented her with a ring—and a Maltese puppy they named Rocco. Over the next three years, he became the couple's "baby," sleeping in their bed and getting an annual birthday party that included a cake with candles. "When we were expecting our first child, we worried about how Rocco would handle not being the center of attention anymore," says Kondyra, of Levittown, New York.

This is a concern for many couples. With each new baby, there's an adjustment period for the family pet. But with advance planning, you can avoid ruffling feathers (or fur). Kondyra and her husband spent time getting Rocco ready for the baby, and it paid off: Rocco and her now 4-year-old son, Mikey, are the best of friends, and the dog wasn't the least bit fazed when little sister Ava arrived a year ago. The transition can be smooth in your house too. Use our step-by-step guide to help your two little ones get along.

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Make these tasks a priority before your newborn arrives.

Schedule a checkup. A visit to the veterinarian will ensure that your dog or cat is in good health and up-to-date on all vaccinations. If necessary, you might want to spay or neuter your pet—this usually makes an animal calmer and less likely to bite, according to the Humane Society.

Play pretend. Start getting your dog or cat used to the idea of an infant in the house. "Hold a lifelike doll so your pet adjusts to seeing you with a baby," suggests Mary Remer, a certified personal dog trainer in Villanova, Pennsylvania.

Make changes now. If you won't want your pet sleeping in your bed or jumping on the furniture anymore, establish these boundaries ASAP. "Don't introduce the new baby and new rules at the same time," says Jonathan Klein, founder of "I Said Sit!", a training and boarding facility for dogs in Los Angeles. "Your pet may misbehave and also have a negative reaction toward the baby."

Set up the gear. Put your baby's things in place—the swing, portable crib, bassinet—a few weeks in advance. Let your pet become accustomed to the new items and the different sounds they make.

Offer some space. Find a spot (such as the laundry room or kitchen) that will serve as the "pet area" and begin having the animal spend time there. Fill the space with favorite toys, a water bowl, some treats, and a place to rest (like a doggy bed or a cat tree).

Think about a trainer. If your dog is acting out before your baby arrives, consider enrolling him in obedience classes or hiring a trainer to come to your home. (Search for one at apdt.com or animalbehaviorcollege.com.)

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You'll prep them both the same way, for the most part. But these are the concerns that are specific to each animal.

If you have a cat:

Bring the noise. A cat's hearing is very sensitive, so get your pet used to a baby's cries and laughter. You can download "Baby Sounds for Pets" and play a few minutes at a time ($7; iTunes). Give lots of love and treats during these sessions.

Beware of crib climbing. Only allow your cat inside the nursery when you're there to supervise—and always keep it out when the baby is sleeping. Anything that moves or is colorful (such as a mobile) is attractive to a cat. A newborn can't move her head at first, so it would be difficult for her to breathe if your cat cuddles up close to her face, says Justine Lee, D.V.M., a veterinary specialist and author of It's a Cat's World... You Just Live In It.

Move the box. Once your baby starts crawling, you'll want to keep the kitty litter far from her reach. But since cats are creatures of habit, it's best to reposition the box slowly, in two- or three-foot increments.

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Leash up. We know it'll look kind of silly, but consider taking your pooch on walks with the stroller before your baby arrives. "It helps to establish the pace you're comfortable with so your dog knows exactly what's expected when it's out with the baby," explains Remer. "Adjust the leash so that your dog can walk next to you at all times—not in front or in back of you."

Play nice. Most dogs love to roughhouse, so you should avoid wrestling or playing tug-of-war. "Your dog may attempt to play these rough games whenever the baby is around unless you put a stop to them now," says Christine Hayden, vet technician for Kroger Pet Insurance.

Instill a no-begging policy. Parents often worry that their dog will jump up near the baby. The easiest way to avoid this is to train your dog to stop begging for scraps, says Klein. If your dog steals food, immediately take it away. If it stays away from the table, reward it with praise and a treat.

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On your baby's first day in her new house, be sure to implement these tips for a stress-free meet and greet.

Welcome your pet first. Say hello to your dog or cat—without the baby present. After the pet has calmed down, have your partner present your little one. "Sometimes it's a good idea to keep the pet and child separate for several hours while the pet gets used to the baby being in the house," says Klein.

Start off small. For the initial intro, your dog should be on a leash in a sit/stay position and rewarded with petting or praise. Gradually, your dog and baby can be brought closer together. "As long as the dog is quiet, you can let it remain nearby," says Klein. The same holds true for cats: Hold your baby near your pet, and caress and talk soothingly to the animal.

Don't exclude your pet. "The most common problem we see is an animal who's acting up because it's not getting the same attention it was used to before the baby," explains Klein. "So it's important to remember to include the pet as much as possible when you're around your child." Stick with the animal's regular routine, and try your best to spend a little one-on-one time with it each day. This may even help relax you too!

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Try these mom-tested tips to help your furry friend get used to—and bond with—the new baby.

Bring home the blanket

After I delivered my daughter, Liberty, my husband took a hospital baby blanket home with him so that our dogs, Heidi and Otto, could sniff it. By the time we came home, they were familiar with her scent and very calm.

Michelle Fry; Atlanta, Georgia

Don't forget snuggle time

My husband and I made a real effort to always have one of us holding our dog, Wren, when the other was holding and feeding our baby, Paloma. It showed Wren that she was still important.

Alison Shields Fair Lawn, New Jersey

Take it slowly

We waited a week before introducing our cat, Norman, to our daughter, Kiera. I would stay in the bedroom with the baby. After the two 'met,' Norman took his time getting used to the scent, the gear, and our new round-the-clock schedule.

Nicole PackSan Rafael, California

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Useful Doggy Commands
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These pointers from professional trainers will help your dog behave around your child.

"Stay"

This is an essential command, says Klein. First, put the dog on a short leash near its bed. If it's pulling on the leash, wait for the tugging to stop. The moment the leash relaxes, praise the dog and reward it with a treat. Repeat the process about every five seconds. When you know the dog will do it every time, you can try practicing without a leash.

"Leave it"

Try this command when your baby's toys are on the floor, says Megan Blake, host of PBS's Animal Attractions TV. Just put the dog on a long leash and throw something in front of it. When it looks at the object, say, "Leave it." If the dog goes for it, pull gently on the leash and repeat the command. Offer up plenty of praise and a treat for a job well done.

"ENOUGH!

Dogs can get overzealous when licking a child. Keep this in check with the "kiss cue" command. Start by putting a dab of peanut butter on your hand and allowing the dog to lick for a count of three. After three licks, say, "Enough!" and take your hand away. "As you practice, the dog will stop once you say 'enough,' and you can reward it with a treat," says Remer.

Originally published in the May 2011 issue of Parents magazine.

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