Our home, which we lovingly refer to as “the funny farm,” is filled with four-legged family members. We have two crazy beagles and two cat jerks, and boy are they loved and spoiled. (As they should be.) But we are now finally having a baby of our own, and he’ll be here before we know it. Just so everyone feels comfortable, I reached out to a celebrity cat and dog trainer in Los Angeles to see how to introduce your pet to your baby. What’s the process, and how long does it take? Also, will the four-legged members of the family ever forgive us?
Los Angeles-based certified dog and cat behaviorist and trainer Russell Hartstein says in an email interview with Romper that he would actually highly recommend preparing everyone for the arrival of baby before they get here. He suggested getting your pets conditioned to the stroller, crib, toys, and noises, and apps can help with this transition. “Hire a certified competent dog trainer or behaviorist to help in the initial stages. It is important your dog has some healthy boundaries, as well as training, well before your baby comes. And it is important to not ignore your dog or cat after the baby arrives,” he says. “It is never too early to begin desensitization and counterconditioning with your cat or dog. Both will benefit tremendously from having the extra training and behavior work well versed before your baby arrives. I would prep a cat (or any animal) in the same fashion [as your dog] and utilize all of the animals senses as best you can.”
Using a baby doll or fake baby before your actual baby’s arrival, and keeping the dog and cat away with healthy boundaries are important, he explains. “When you actually bring the real baby home, you can act just like you did in the mock trials (with the fake baby, scented object, and baby sounds), making the process something your cat and dog are familiar with and understand a little better than if you were to just arrive home suddenly with a new baby (scents, sounds, sites).”
As far as when you bring baby home, Hartstein says to utilize the baby’s new smell. “Take a blanket or some cloth with your new baby’s scent and introduce it into the house, allowing both the dogs and cats to investigate it [before you all come into the house]. See how they respond and let them become familiar with it. I would also pretend that the blanket or any object that smells like your new baby is the baby itself.”
Additionally, the ASPCA suggested having everyone else (or just your partner) come into the house first with the blanket, but without the baby, so the animals can greet them as normal. And after they smell the blanket and expend energy, leash the dogs before bringing the baby in with treats handy. Positive reinforcement is crucial. To meet the baby, "choose a quiet room, and sit down with the baby in your arms," the website noted. Have your partner bring the leashed dog into the room, and avoid nervous or agitated behavior. Talk to your dog in a calm, happy voice as you call them over so you can convince them that meeting and interacting with their new friend is fun.
Hartstein also suggests creating healthy boundaries — something our cats desperately need training with — including “holding the baby, rocking the baby, and talking to the baby for purposes of training your dog and cat [while creating boundaries]. For example, not allowing your dog or cat to enter a certain room or area where your baby will be except when you are present or supervising. Or not allowing them access at all to a designated pet-free zone.”
We’ve had some issues with our cats thinking everything we’ve brought home for the baby is for them, and if we forget to close the nursery door, one of them will sleep in the crib all day. The other thinks the bassinet and changing pad are for him. I asked Hartstein for ways to keep them off, just in case life gets in the way and we forget to close doors, and apparently you can “train” your cat similarly to the way you train a dog. “If you already have the bassinet before the baby’s arrival, you can work with your cat and the bassinet (or any object) as soon as you get it. A cat may like the bassinet for a host of reasons, especially when your new baby is in it. I would focus on rewarding and training your cat to go to where you would prefer them to go, such as their own bed, space, or area, instead of areas you don’t want them going. Making sure to meet the cats' needs with environmental enrichment will help ensure your cat will be fulfilled and have many options to choose from (cat trees, shelving, vertical spaces, boxes, and beds, etc.),” he says.
Will the funny farm crew ever forgive us? Hartstein says yes. “It’s important to remember not to neglect your other family members (dogs and cats) because of a new baby. They are all your family. If you balance your time wisely, all family members will feel, loved, cared for, and included. Eventually, you will be able to incorporate fun training games for your dog and cat with your child while teaching [your child] the beauty of loving and respecting all sentient beings, even if they look and act different then us. The beauty of compassion and care.”
That sounds perfect. I hope being surrounded by animals like I was when I was growing up will teach our son compassion, love, and respect — along with a good dose of responsibility to show him how to care for other creatures. And as far as preparing the crew for baby’s arrival, it looks like we should start conditioning them now. I’m excited to see the bond they all form with each other, and hope it's a seamless transition for everyone.
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