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

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Meeting the New Baby


Pet Column for the week of August 18, 2008


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

As the notion of companion animals evolves, pets continue to play a more centered role in the family. For many couples, their pet may be their first "baby." But how do you prepare your favorite four-legged friend for the newest two-legged addition to the family?

Linda Case is an adjunct assistant professor who teaches companion animal behavior and training at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana. She also owns Autumn Gold Dog Training Center, in Mahomet and has authored several books including one due out this summer entitled Canine and Feline Behavior and Training: A Complete Guide to Understanding Our Two Best Friends.

"Basic manners training is especially helpful when a new baby is going to be added to the home," says Case. She says that teaching your dog the down and stay commands before the baby arrives is a good start to a well-mannered pet that will be calm around infants. She also recommends teaching your pet to "come when called, sit quietly for petting and handling, and to keep four paws on the ground."

With these commands in your dog's repertoire you'll be more apt to keep things under control when you bring the baby home. However even new parents have a hard time preparing themselves for the jolting cries infants can produce, so imagine how stressful that sound might be to an unsuspecting animal.

For this reason, it is recommended that you expose your pet to infant cries long before it hears the real thing by use of a CD of baby noises. Case explains that, "owners can play the CD very softly and as soon as an unusual sound occurs, the dog is given several high value treats."

Although exposing your pet to sounds of babies is helpful, Case says, "It is important to realize that dogs' primary special sense is olfactory." Because of this, the Humane Society of the United States recommends that you have a friend or relative bring a blanket with the new baby's scent on it home for the dog to smell prior to the baby coming home.

Along that same train of thought, it is also a good idea to allow your pooch to smell and investigate all the baby gear you buy and put together long before the baby arrives. You do not have to go so far as to take your pet for a ride in that new stroller, but at least let it get used to the new items.

When you come home from the hospital with your new bundle of joy, remember that you have been gone for several days and your pet will be excited to see you. It is a good idea to spend a few minutes alone with the new older brother or sister before you introduce it to the new baby.

As a final word of advice Case reminds new moms and dads that "a dog should never be left unattended with an infant or small child." She also recommends keeping your pet's daily routine the same both before and after the baby arrives, as abrupt changes will only make the situation more stressful.

For more information on introducing a new baby to pets speak with your local veterinarian or visit the Humane Society of the United States Web site at
www.hsus.org/pets/pet_care/introducing_your_pet_and_new_baby.html.