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(207) 846-6515

BEHAVIOR: INTRODUCING PETS TO A NEW BABY

BASIC PRINCIPLES FOR INTRODUCING PETS TO A NEW BABY
It is important to remember that no child should ever be left alone with a pet; even the
“best” pet may hurt a baby. Close supervision is mandatory when an infant/toddler
and a pet are together.
■ Anticipate schedule and household changes that may occur when the baby arrives;
try to implement these changes well in advance of the actual arrival of the baby.
This may mean spending less time with the pets, pet segregation from certain areas
of the house, teaching the pet to stay off the furniture, awakening at night, etc.
■ Practice Tranquility Training Exercises (see handout) with your pet prior to the
arrival of the baby.
■ Prior to the arrival of the baby, obtain a recording of a baby crying. One resource
is www.soundsscary.com, Soothing Sounds CD with baby noises. Play on low
volume for 5–10 minutes multiple times daily. During sessions, have the dog do
basic obedience commands and reward good, obedient, calm behavior. Gradually
increase the volume at successive training sessions until the recording is played
at true baby crying volume. If at any time during increases in the volume the dog
appears to be agitated, return to a lower volume and progress more gradually. It
may be beneficial to start carrying around a baby doll and rewarding the dog for
good behavior around the “baby.”
■ Get the pet used to new baby product odors and furniture by having them in the
house prior to arrival of the baby.
■ Get pets used to pulling on hair/ears by initially doing it very gently and
rewarding them for good behavior with a treat/affection. Gradually increase the
intensity of the pulling until you mimic what a toddler may do.
■ Do not allow pets to get into the crib or sleep in areas where the baby will be
sleeping/resting.
■ For particularly anxious dogs/cats, consider placing a canine pheromone product
(DAP—dog appeasing pheromone R  ) or Feliway R  (cat calming pheromone)
diffuser in the house about 2 weeks before the baby’s arrival.
■ After the baby is born, bring some of the clothing that the baby has worn in the
hospital home for the pets to smell.
■ When you bring the baby home, have another person hold the baby so that you
can greet the pets.
■ Once things have calmed down, introduce your pets one at a time to your
new baby. The pet must be controlled during the introduction. Leashes and
head halters or harnesses can be helpful. Have one person hold the baby while
sitting comfortably on a chair. Another person should be carefully monitoring
your pet’s behavior. At any sign of aggressive or unacceptable nonaggressive
behavior (i.e., crawling on top of baby), interaction with the pet and the
baby should be immediately interrupted. Aggressive behavior should result in
immediate isolation of the pet and contact with your veterinarian. Unacceptable,
nonaggressive behavior should result in redirection of the pet to do an alternative
behavior (e.g., sit); desirable behavior is rewarded.
■ If there is only one spouse at home during the first few weeks that the baby is
at home, then the pets should be restrained or confined in the presence of the
infant. Tethers, crates, or baby gates may be helpful.
■ Usually when a new baby enters the household, the adults ignore the pets
when the baby is active and give the pets attention when the baby is sleeping.
Inadvertently this teaches the pet that the baby is something negative (baby
equals no attention) and that the absence of the baby is a good thing. This is
the opposite message that we want to give our pets. Therefore, make a point of
trying to pay attention to the pets when the baby is active/present. This can be
done with verbal engagement or if two adults are present, one adult can attend
to the baby and the other adult can pet or play games with the pets. When the
baby is sleeping, you should pay less attention to the pets.
 

Drs Horwitz and Neilsen, Canine and Feline Behavior

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