When Pets Meet Babies

“New baby.” It’s a common reason people give when relinquishing a pet to our shelter—when concern for the safety of their new child or doubts about having the time to care for a pet outweigh their attachment to the family cat or dog. In some circumstances, it may be a valid explanation, but we believe that most pets and babies can live happily together with some pre-baby preparation and post-baby positive-reinforcement training.

“The arrival of a new family member brings changes for everyone,” says Behavior Manager Marissa Martino. “By making gradual adjustments before the baby arrives—like helping your pet become accustomed to baby sounds and smells, establishing a quiet place for your pet when things become hectic and reinforcing good manners—you can create a more calm and welcoming atmosphere for everyone in the household.”

Megan Rees, our public relations manager, was seven months pregnant at the time this article was written and for several months had been prepping her three dogs and cat for her son’s birth. Says Rees: “I’ve had several people make comments to me as a mom-to-be about my pets. ‘Oh, your poor pets!’ they’ve said upon learning that I’m expecting (side note: please don’t ever say this to a pregnant woman). And in all honesty, it was a source of my own anxiety when I first saw that pink plus sign. Right now, my pets are my kids and basically my whole world, and I found myself worried that they would feel neglected or wouldn’t be welcoming of this new addition. But my husband put it into perspective, pointing out that our baby will be one more person to LOVE our pets—so we’ve chosen to approach it with positivity instead of anxiety and get a head start on preparing the whole family.”

Rees heeded many of the tips found in our “Preparing Your Pet for Baby’s Arrival” behavior handout, including playing a sound clip she found on YouTube of six minutes of an infant crying. “I started playing this every evening while my husband and I do things around the house so our pets can get used to the noise. While the crying sounds are playing, I reward them with treats, talk in a happy voice and give them lots of love and attention so they can get used to this being a positive experience. We’re getting the nursery set up so they can get used to this new space in their home, and we plan to send a family member home with a blanket or hat from the hospital with the baby’s smell on it for our animals to investigate before we come home.”

Dumb Friends League volunteer Lauren Klostermann, husband Andrew and 5-year-old terrier Sophie welcomed baby Hudson in January. From the initial introduction, Sophie and Hudson hit it off beautifully, as documented by Klostermann in her monthly blanket-buddy photos (note: never leave a pet and baby unattended, regardless of how companionable they are).

Klostermann followed many of our baby-introduction tips, including providing Sophie with a “safe zone”—a different room where the dog can retreat if Hudson is crying. She also reinforces Sophie’s good behavior throughout the day, as detailed in our handout titled “Nothing in Life is Free.” Says Klostermann, “Any time I’m walking Hudson in the stroller and Sophie on leash, I treat her for following my commands or doing something I like, such as standing next to me. I’ve also been working with her on not barking at every person who comes to the door (very unhelpful during nap time) by getting her to focus on me when the doorbell rings and then treating her. I also have always done positive reinforcement to make her wait before going outside so she doesn’t ‘scream’ out of excitement when running out the door.”

She offers one last pearl of wisdom for new parents with pets: “If you don’t want the dog playing with the baby’s toys, keep them separate. Sophie thinks she has a toy-sharing program with Hudson because who can tell the difference between stuffed toys and stuffed dog toys? I don’t mind because babies who are around dogs have fewer allergies later in life, so it doesn’t bother me if something has Sophie spit on it!”

To find more helpful tips, check out “Preparing Your Pet for Baby’s Arrival.” And did you know you can find dogs and cats at the Dumb Friends League that have a previous history with children? Let our adoption counselors help you make the best match for your family!