Introducing a new family member to the “pack”.
Recently, a friend and I were chatting about her introducing a new dog to her older dog. It reminded me about our approach after Ethan was born. All the same principles apply, as technically the aim is to get your new baby accepted into the “pack”. We have two fur babies, Turbo and Shelby. Turbo was born on the 11th April 2008 and I was blessed enough to watch him arrive in this world. A life changing moment for me as I never thought I could love a dog this much. My husband (then boyfriend) absolutely refused to have a dog cohabitating with us. After a lot of arm twisting and lets just be honest, flat out begging on my part, Turbo arrived in Port Elizabeth. Sometimes I think my hubby loves Turbo more than me, so he has definitely softened towards dogs. Two years later, our midget Shelby was born on the 11th June 2010. Yet again there was a lot of begging involved and the inevitable phrase, “Turbo is lonely, he needs someone to play with. A sibling will be good for him.” It worked and our darling Shelby joined the family.
While I was pregnant, it was amazing to see the changes in their behaviour. I had a very bad pregnancy and they would just not leave me alone. I guess I got a taste of what it is like having a toddler follow you everywhere, because they even escorted me from the bed to the loo every single time. I was very worried that they would not like the baby and I researched everything I could about introducing a new family member to your pets. This is what worked for us.
While you are still pregnant:
- Let them sniff, cuddle, lick (if you are comfortable being licked by your pet) or react to your belly in any way they want to. Your body is changing and your hormones are fluctuating. You are probably rearranging the house and feeling unsettled. I know my fur babies can feel that, so let them be involved. I used to sit on the floor and our eldest Turbo would rest his head on my belly. Ethan did not like that and he would give a swift kick or an elbow to wherever Turbo had his head. It was quite hilarious to watch Turbo puzzle over it.
- Let them have a tour of the baby room and sniff the clothes. It’s a big change to a room in the house that they also live in, so they should get to look around and explore.
- If you are going to change anything in their lives do it long before the baby comes. If you usually have them sleeping in bed with you but decide once the baby comes to stop that. Or if you cannot have them on the couches anymore, then make the change in advance. It is best they do not associate the baby with negative changes in their lives.
- DEWORM and VACCINATE! Please deworm and vaccinate your dogs before baby arrives. They will inevitably sneak in a lick and you don’t want your baby catching something that’s preventable. Most dewormers only last three months so you will need to deworm regularly once baby arrives. Kids can only be dewormed from one year old so it is important they don’t get exposed before then.
- From puppies, we taught our dogs that its ok for someone to take their food away or sit and put their hands in their bowls or take food away and hand feed them etcetera. If you have not done this before with your dogs, then now is the time to start. Baby is not going to know to leave the dogs alone while eating so if they are not used to this you will have to separate them at meal times.
Once baby has arrived:
- Let them sniff baby blankets and clothing. If you are having a hospital birth, let your husband or family member take dirty items of clothing back home from the hospital every day and give them to the dogs to sniff. Our dogs carried the blankets and clothing to their bed in the lounge and fell asleep on them. This prepares them for the new smells that enter their home. If you are having a home birth and they are not present in the room when you give birth, you can do the same blanket sniffing in another room so that they can get introduced slowly.
- Introduce them on neutral ground, just outside their territory. For us this was the garage and drive-way area where they do not normally go. This way they met the new baby in an area they did not feel possessive over.
- Let them still be around and involved. Ethan used to be flanked by two dogs permanently as a baby. It did not matter where he was, one or both were always nearby.
Once baby starts moving:
- The dogs must have a safe place. Somewhere out of the way that is theirs and free of baby. Baby is too young to understand he must leave the dogs alone. For us this is their kennel. If they seemed frustrated or annoyed we would open the door and let them hide in their safe place. An escape route is important for the older individuals of the pack.
- Keep an eye on what the baby does but try not to interfere unless necessary. It’s important for the dogs to have interaction but you do not want baby hurting them and vice versa. We were very lucky as our dogs are very patient and it worried me that this was where the wheels would fall off in the whole situation. You know your dogs the best and when you will need to move baby out of the situation and vice versa.
- Round about the time the start moving, they also become moving food dispensers for the dogs. Sounds awful but a baby that is eating solids and crawling is perfect for transporting food. Keep an eye on the dogs. If they are snappy around food, its best to remove them from the situation before it happens. In addition, not all human food is ok for dogs. At the very least they can put on excess weight or they could be seriously ill. Our dogs are super sneaky but gentle and would almost lick Ethan’s hand open to get at the food. As a result, we only realized how bad it was when they put on a lot weight. From that moment on we had to be very strict.
Adding a new family member can be exciting for all members of the family. Having a human baby does not mean you stop being a fur-parent. So, I would encourage you to try make the transition and continued interactions as joyful as possible. It’s rewarding for yourselves, the new addition and the “pack” as a whole. Are you a mommy and a fur-mommy? I would love to hear your “pack’s” story and what worked for you.