Once you get Baby home from the hospital, these tips should make for a stress-free introduction to your pet.
Greet your pet first. When you get home, the cat or dog should be allowed to greet you without the baby present. Only after the pet has calmed down should Dad come in and present the baby. "Sometimes it's a good idea to keep the pet and the baby separate for several hours, so the pet can begin to get used to the baby being in the house without actually being close enough to investigate it," says Jonathan Klein, the founder of I Said Sit! Personalized Dog Training Center in Los Angeles.
Start off small. For the initial intro, the dog should be on a leash in a sit-stay position and rewarded with petting or praise. Gradually, dog and Baby are brought closer together. "As long as the dog is quiet, it should be allowed to remain nearby--close enough to smell the baby, but not close enough to bite," Klein says. With a cat, an introduction should also not be rushed. Hold the cat near the baby (again, just close enough so he can smell the little one) and talk soothingly to your pet.
Stay calm. If you're nervous during the introduction, your pet will pick up on your uneasiness, says Megan Blake, an animal rescuer and host of the PBS show Animal Attractions TV. "Keep the environment as calm as possible--there shouldn't be a ton of people around at first," she explains. "And never yell at the dog or cat if she gets too close for comfort--you can be firm, but don't raise your voice. It will only frighten the pet and create a negative association with the baby."
Give plenty of praise. If your dog or cat is behaving nicely around the new baby, be sure to point that good behavior out, Blake says. "Offer plenty of praise through words and treats," she suggests. "Positive reinforcement will encourage good behavior."
Don't exclude your pet. "The most common problem we see is the pet acting up because it's not getting the same attention it was used to getting," Klein explains. "So it's important to remember to include it as much as possible when you're around the baby and take that extra step to make it feel like it's part of the family." Stick with your pet's regular routines as much as possible, and be sure to spend one-on-one quality time with your pet each day--it may even help relax you too!
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