Your new baby is a major life change for you — and it’s just as big a change for your pets. Taking the time to calmly introduce a new baby to your pets can help set the tone for the relationship between the human and non-human members of your household.

If you’re not sure where to turn for advice, though, introducing your pet to a new baby can feel overwhelming. That’s why Crème de la Crème of Carmel put together this guide for local families looking for resources during this transition.

Expect an Adjustment Period

A baby is introduced to the family's pet, a golden retriever.

medium-coated tan dog” used with permission via Unsplash by malidesha

Just like the humans in your life will need some time to adjust to a new family member, dogs and cats require an adjustment period, too. So give your pet the space (both mentally and physically) to figure things out.

Your baby will look different, sound different, and smell different than anything your pet has experienced. This can feel especially disconcerting to pets that haven’t been around infants and young children frequently. Expect and react calmly through the adjustment period, giving your pet the same grace you’d give an older sibling as they acclimate to life with the new baby in the house.

Create a Safe Space for Your Pet

When it comes to dogs, giving your pet some crate time with a chewie can go a long way when things start to get out of control or hectic. You may have to figure things out as you go along for the first few months of your baby’s life, so giving your pup a safe space will help smooth out rocky periods.

Make sure your dog’s crate can be its sanctuary, and keep that crate off-limits to the kids. Preschoolers will undoubtedly think the crate is a cool place for playtime, so make sure children know they can’t go in or open the crate without permission. In fact, you’ll want to make sure any relatives and babysitters are aware of this rule as well.

If you have a cat, they may hide or even become defensive and try to swat at the unusual creature in your home when they first appear. Prepare cats for a baby’s arrival by introducing your pet to the nursery long in advance of your baby’s arrival. Cats love the status quo, so make gradual changes to your home, and keep your cat involved in the process.

You’ll also want to create a private retreat for your cat where they can get away from a crawling baby (and later, a grabbing toddler). Teaching your baby how to respect the feline friend as they grow older can help build a mutually loving relationship.

Listen to the Experts

Babies can make people emotional. A new baby will have you feeling exhausted and even confused, so it’s all too easy to let anyone who voices an opinion get into your head. Try to tune out advice from well-meaning folks that don’t actually understand pet behavior.

If you’re commiserating with someone who really knows dogs, that’s one thing. However, those who aren’t around dogs often can misinterpret friendly gestures. People who know dogs can make better sense of canine instincts and body language. Go to those people for advice to save yourself from well-meaning but potentially off-base advice.

Likewise, turn to pet experts if you need to work on your pet’s behavior. You’ll find a variety of local services to turn to, including:

Local pet training experts can help you train your family pet. The right advice can help set the tone for your pet’s relationship with your child.

Keep Yourself Centered

Dogs can read body language and pheromones. You pets will pick up on your worried and anxious reactions to their interactions with your baby, so practice finding a good balance between vigilance and unnecessary panic.

If you’re holding your breath, your pet will pick up on the sign that there’s a reason to worry. Keeping yourself calm may seem simple, but it can present a challenge if your pet is having difficulty with the transition. Focus on breathing normally when your baby is in the room with your dog, picturing serene encounters instead of worst-case scenarios.

Take Small Steps for Small Successes

Keep in mind that with just about anything involving dogs or kids, you’re not going to get a finished product immediately. Start things simple, creating and building upon small successes.

This can start with smelling a baby through the bars of a crib. If your dog gets panicky or grumbly when the baby touches them, give them a treat when they react without concern or fear. If you have a dog that is gentle when taking food, you might balance a small treat on a baby’s blanket-swaddled feet to encourage a hesitant dog to get used to making contact with the baby.

If your dog reacts inappropriately to your baby, you’ll also want to correct them. However, correcting out of anxiety or fear will only make the issue worse. If your dog grumbles or growls when you sit next to them with the baby, keep calm but firmly eject the dog from their spot.

You’ll want to shower a cat with praise, too, to reinforce good behavior with a baby. When you first bring your baby home, quietly introduce them to a cat. Let your cat sniff the baby’s feet so they can see the baby isn’t a reason for fear.

When your cat behaves calmly and confidently around your baby, make sure to praise your cat. Offer treats in the same room while you feed your baby so your cat associates positive feelings with the baby’s presence. When you cat starts understanding that responding gently to the baby leads to praise, they’ll begin reacting accordingly.Even if your pet’s relationship with your baby isn’t perfect from the start, don’t panic. Pets (like people!) often need an adjustment period. By providing your pet with a safe, loving environment, intervening with calm reinforcement, and looking for expert advice as needed, you can help your pet and child grow together and form a loving bond for years to come. Do you have another tip for new parents introducing their pet to their baby? Drop us a line so we can share it.