Before there was an us, or a we, there was just 'Coco' and me.
I fell in love with my puppy before I knew my husband existed, or that I would have a beautiful baby boy just after Coco turns 5 years old. He has been the center of half a decade and has brought immeasurable amounts of unconditional love into my life. I am a better person due to him and he will always be my first child.
I know I am not the only one who has loved and raised a pet with as much love as their own child. I definitely met people who told me that I wouldn't love my 'dog' as much when I had a baby (or who almost got slapped by me for telling me I should give him away before the baby comes), but I knew that would never be the case and it isn't. I am even more protective of him now to make sure that he's well integrated and does not feel left out. Below are the steps I took to make sure that Coco remained comfortable, did not feel any sibling rivalry and did not feel left out or depressed through this transition.
(Note: some stress and confusion is invariable but the goal is to eventually make every member of your family love one other.
It is also easier to bring a pet into a family with a child than to start a family when you already have a pet.)
For those who don't have a pet and are worried about the interaction, you should know that children with animals fall sick significantly less than those who do not have any pets. They get less colds, coughs, allergies, and way more unconditional love (and licks) than those who do not.
Oh, in case you didn't realize, I have no experience with cats. Nothing against them, but if you want to know about a cat and a baby I can't claim to have any authority there and don't know if this will help you. If it does, please let me know! :)
Things you can do to introduce your pet and your new baby:
1. Make sure your pet knows just how much you love him. Coco spent 9 months cuddling my belly, no matter how big I got. Even though I reached a point where I wasn't chasing him around anymore he didn't care as long as he could come and cuddle me. (I'm sure he could hear Riaan's heartbeat too and got kicked in the face more times than I can count.) Dads - take over when mom is exhausted.
2. They can often sense that a change is coming as they can smell and hear the changes in a woman's body.
3. Bring your baby furniture in early (dads, this means you have to set it up too). He needs to get used to them before the baby so that there isn't too much change all at once. 2 months or so before the baby is fine. Do it slowly and put on the swing and things that move to see if you get a reaction.
4. Try to train him not to bark at night if possible - mine only barks when his ball is stuck under the couch or when the doorbell rings.
5. Train him not to go crazy with things with squeakers. I tried but I have a terrier so I just don't buy things with squeakers. The training did help though as he won't take any of Riaan's toys. (Used the same training as I did for the 'leave it' command. Feel free to reach me if u want more info on this.)
6. Some people have rules about not letting their pets in the nursery or on furniture, I do not, but if you do, train your pet early. Some are stubborn and will take time to learn things while adjusting to the other changes around them. I've heard that way to do this is to keep your fur baby leashed and off the furniture until they get used it, but I don't have an issue with him on the furniture and refuse to leash him at home so I'm definitely not a resource here.
7. Feel free to take a class on how to introduce your pet and baby, but keep in mind that most will advise you to get an expensive trainer, and unless you have a ferocious pet, I don't think there is a need. (We took one and I thought it was a marketing gimmick, a few of the worthwhile points I learned are on here.)
8. I didn't plan to leave them on the same level unattended even asleep (e.g., bed or floor) but I now know that Coco is no hazard to Riaan, it's likely the other way. Coco actually watches the baby/ will nap next to him and comes to me to let me know if he wakes up or is crying.
9. Make sure you train your pet to know how to stay and leave it, if they don't already. This will be helpful if something spills and you can't get to it right away (with baby in one hand), and when your baby is throwing food or spitting up everywhere.
10. We did a test before the baby was born and played a baby crying really loudly on YouTube. To see if he was stressed or reacted, he did for a minute but then calmed down. This helps you know whether you need to play it repeatedly to desensitize him.
11. Another test is fawning over a doll of some sort to see if your pet gets upset with the lack of attention they are getting.
12. Signs of stress in canine pets: pacing, whining, barking, frowning, yawning, sniffing the ground obsessively, shaking off, ignoring you, not taking treats, licking lips, peeing/marking. (And in mine - trembling or hiding in the bathroom).
13. One of the many ways to get your pet used to the baby is to spray a scent on his things before the baby comes and also to spray the babies things with the same smell. Maybe using a child friendly scent can help. I used a mild lavender spray.
14. When the baby is born, send a swaddle cloth (or another worn baby item) home from the hospital and have your pet smell it or even sleep with it to get used to the smell of the baby.
15. When you get home, enter the house first and say hi to your pet and give him the kind of attention you would when you get back from a trip. Then go back out and get your baby (I had my husband wait outside with the baby and car seat, then go in and greet Coco while I waited outside and then I went in and held Coco while he smelled Riaan in his car seat)
16. To do the actual introduction, (you can leash your pet if you find it necessary, I didn't) hold your pet, and then have him sniff the baby to get familiar.
17. This won't prevent your pet from wondering whether your baby is a you the first time the baby cries at home, but hang in there and keep letting your pet sniff your baby to know that he's human and not a toy.
18. If your baby has heard your pet bark while you are pregnant, he will not be startled with barking and can even sleep through it (mine has from day 1).
19. Your pet may be wary at first but try to give him as much attention as you can.
20. My vet told me to ignore coco when the baby is asleep (so that he doesn't think that he only gets attention when the baby is not around). I knew that my fur baby isn't the jealous type, but if you think yours may get upset you can try this strategy. It wasn't for me.
21. I chose to try and give him attention even when I was nursing or busy, even if it meant I held him under one arm or just kept my foot on him. Of course, he got even more attention when I was free but I tried to be in the same room so he knew that the baby was also present.
22. Giving your fur baby a treat when you are nursing or busy, is a great way to make your lack of attention a positive experience (seriously). I did this for the first two months and kept a bag of treats by my bed. He eventually started follow me in and lie with me even after he got the treat.
23. Cuddles are important (with the baby involved too).
24. Do not ignore your child because your pet needs you. Don't ignore your pet either but take your child along and tend to your pet's needs. If you tend to your child first your fur baby will learn that your child is the alpha (pack mentality), and respect him too.
25. Hold baby and use your baby's hands to give commands (also to establish pack dominance), so that he eventually is obeyed too.
26. I bought a ton of dog puzzles to keep Coco busy when I was busy. Apparently they can take days to solve! My little yorkie though would get through them in minutes so Ur did not buy me any time.
27. Try to ensure that your pet's routine does not change too much when the baby comes and that they continue to receive a lot of exercise and stimulation. For example, I sent coco to daycare 3 days a week while I was working and I still send him at least once or twice even now that I am home so that his routine doesn't get altered too much (especially since I cannot give him as much attention as I would like to when he is home).
28. If your pet shares your room or bed and the baby is now in your room too, it's likely that your pet will be (almost) as sleep deprived as you. Resist putting them in another room as they will feel neglected (and can even associate this with the baby). Don't worry, your pet will eventually learn to ignore the noise, even though you will not.
29. As they got closer I noticed coco running up to the baby and licking him to show affection. I'm fine with this as long as it's not near his mouth. You can use wipes as needed but keep in mind that kids with pets seriously get sick a lot less often due to their increased immunity (thanks in part to the licking).
30. Once your baby is reciprocating the affection your pet is giving, beware that your pets hair doesn't get pulled, it will scare him off (at least temporarily). Same with his tongue!
It's amazing to see now Coco's love for Riaan being reciprocated as my son gets more alert. He recognizes Coco's name even though he does not as yet know his own. That was always the ultimate goal for me and these were my steps to success.
I don't know how this is going to go once the crawling starts, though I am sure it will also eventually be fine. Someday I will have a child to go under the couch, get the ball that's stuck, and play fetch!
Hope this was helpful to all the dog lovers out there!
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