Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Puppy, Meet Baby. Baby, Meet Puppy.


Pet Column for the week of June 13, 2011

Related information:

Related site - Behavior Consultations

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Brittany Way
Information Specialist

Source - Dr. Kelly Ballantyne
From Sounder and Old Yeller to Air Bud and Because of Winn-Dixie, stories celebrating the special relationship between children and pets abound. And for good reason: studies have shown that having a pet in the family helps children with social interaction, empathy, grief, and also sadness.

But as in most relationships, first impressions can be very important. What is the best way to introduce new family members of the two-legged and four-legged varieties?

Dr. Kelly Ballantyne, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois Chicago Center for Veterinary Medicine, has a special interest in animal behavior. She offers these tips for a first meeting when a new puppy or baby is brought into the home.

Before introducing your pet and children, you should understand your pet's body language. Dr. Ballantyne says, "There are many subtle signs that dogs and cats display to tell people they don't want to interact." For example, dogs will yawn or turn their heads away; cats will often move their ears back or twitch their tail.

When bringing a newborn baby into a household with pets, it is best to give the pets a chance to greet the mother, who is typically returning home after a stay at the hospital, and to settle down before introducing the newborn. Dr. Ballantyne also recommends making the introduction when the baby is quiet and napping.

When bringing a new pet into a home with young children, have the child call the cat or dog first, instead of directly approaching the pet. Never force interactions between a pet and a child. If the pet seems uncomfortable, allow the pet to maintain distance and remember to engage the pet so he feels included. Here's a link to a great video on teaching children to appropriately greet pets: http://www.video.clickertraining.com/canis/11_final_10.

When you take the time to properly introduce new pets and children, you can create a harmonious environment for your family and provide a good foundation for a lifelong friendship.

For more information about introducing your new pets and children, please contact your local veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist.