Big Sister Bella

When we found out we were having a baby, one of the thoughts I had was about our animals. None of them have a ton of experience with kids, toddlers, babies. Our friends with kids have come over for dinner parties and BBQ’s and sometimes it goes well, sometimes it’s not great. The cats run and hide. Neither of them like small human creatures and sadly, most kids don’t know that a hissing cat does NOT want to play with you…

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For awhile Bella would get really agitated when kids were at the house. We’d do the introductions very slowly, keep her outside or in the other part of the house until she calmed down. But sometimes she’d just bark the whole time. Eventually she got better. It helped with certain friends that came over more frequently–everyone got more comfortable with each other. Bella got much better with them! The last time those particular friends were over the little one, the 2 year old, was feeding Bella treats. And Bella is really good about being gentle taking treats, so it went well!

The first time Bella met a baby (that same 2 year old that was younger), I wasn’t sure what she’d do. But she did great! She sniffed the baby, licked him and seemed fascinated as he crawled around the house.

bella

Because I was apprehensive about the big addition to the family, I started researching early and making notes. There was a ton of good advise out there. I wanted to share a few things I found, discuss my plan and also ask for advice from you readers who have already gone through this!

One website I looked at was Cesarsway and the ASPCA. Common theme: never leave baby alone with the dog. Don’t plan on it! No matter how much you trust your animals, you just don’t know.

One of the suggestions I saw a lot was to start giving your dog less attention before the baby comes so it’s not a shock to the dog. This made me sad. 🙁 I understand it and I’m sure it’s the best thing to do but it will be hard! Especially for me. I’m used to cuddling and giving Bella lots of attention. Same with Fat Kitty.

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Before the Baby

I found some youtube videos of babies crying and started playing the sound for the animals.

Some of the stuff I’ve read recommended getting a doll or something and having it on your lap to train the animals to get used to you holding a baby. I felt like this was a good idea, especially for Fat Kitty because his spot is on my lap at all times. I knew he was going to struggle with this.

Before the baby comes, practice walking the dog with the stroller. This was a new tip to me! It totally made sense and I can’t believe I didn’t think about that. Although the neighbors will probably think we are crazy if we’re pushing an empty stroller up and down the street… LOL

Bringing Baby Home

Make sure the dog is well exercised before the meeting. Plan on having someone (Michael, our parents, or the dog walker) come over and walk Bella and play with her to wear her out before the first meeting.

Let the dog smell something (like a blanket) that smells like the baby before the first meeting.

Coming home: let the husband carry the baby so mom can greet the dog. I didn’t think about this one and I think it might be a good idea!

Get the dog a new chew toy. I will definitely be doing this. Kind of like when you take a gift to the older sibling when a new baby is born. Kind of grease the wheels so no one feels bad. 🙂

Pay attention to the dog’s body language. Growling, aggressive behavior, etc. Dogs (well, and cats honestly) will give warning signals when they are not happy. When Fat Kitty sees babies and kids he hisses, growls, his ears flatten and then he runs away and hides.

If the dog is underfoot, toss a treat a few feet away instead of scolding the dog or saying no. (Good advice in general!)

I particularly liked the ASPCA advice. It was a great read. I liked this quote:

Teaching Your Dog to Love the Baby: 

As the baby settles in, continue to focus on associating him with good things for your dog. You may be tempted to give her plenty of attention when the baby’s asleep and then try to get her to lie down, be quiet and leave you alone while the baby’s awake. It’s actually much better to do the opposite. Try to give your dog lots of attention when the baby is present. Teach her that when he’s around, she gets treats, petting, playing—and anything else she likes. When you feed the baby, you can feed your dog, too. When you walk your dog, do your best to take the baby along. (Baby “backpacks” and slings are great for dog parents.) This strategy, though it requires some skillful multitasking on your part, teaches your dog a valuable lesson. She’ll learn to love it when the baby is awake and active because that’s when good things happen for her.

I think this will work well with Bella. She’ll be included and the lab in her will like having a task/job.

Sniff the Baby:

Some dogs are nervous about babies or even a bit afraid of them and go out of their way to avoid contact. If your dog seems a little worried about the new member of your family, you can teach her how to touch the baby with her nose on cue. This exercise will give her a safe way to interact with him and get used to his scent, appearance and sounds—without being forced to stay close for more than a few seconds at a time.

This is another great tip! One of the tricks that Bella know is “touch.” We hold our fist/hand out and say “Touch” and she jumps up and touches our hand with her nose. This is a GREAT trick for bringing her focus back to US and we try and use it for fun and when she needs to be redirected/distracted. Like she’s trying to jump on house guests or barking at something and we want to distract her. I think we can figure out a way to do that with touching/sniffing the baby too. It will just take some practice.

That’s pretty much the plan. Have help, wear Bella out, make introductions slowly.

Now what about you? Any tips or advice from people who have been through this?

16 Responses

  1. We had my parents bring the placenta for the cats to sniff before we brought the baby home. (Kidding, they did do that with a baby hat though.)

    Our cats have been so much better with the second baby than they were with the first. The younger kitty has always been more tolerant than the older one, but now even the older one will crawl up on the kids and nudge/nuzzle them. Wrigley sleeps on Kenzie’s bed now!
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      1. The older cat kept her distance but the younger one was curious and has always been pretty tolerant. For a while K just wanted to pull fur and poke ears and eyeballs so we kept them separated until she learned not to do that. Codie’s gentle with the cats but she gets excited and likes to cackle loudly and that kinda startles them. But no one (including the cats) has ever gotten hurt.
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        1. Haha that’s so cute.

          Sounds like a good plan. I definitely will make sure the baby isn’t alone with the cats til it’s old enough to learn not to poke and pull tails, etc. Good tips.

  2. We don’t plan to ever have kids but Sashi has been pretty good with children and is incredibly curious about babies, though she did get too excited sniffing a friend’s little one and scratched him. I think as long as Bella and the kitties know they aren’t being replaced, everyone will do fine.
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    1. Never replaced! They were my babies first. 🙂 But in all seriously, I know the amount of attention will change…I’m going to try not to do that but I know it will to some degree.

  3. We never had babies or young children in the house before we had children and we had 2 cats. We did bring a blanket home with the scent of the first baby. I’m not sure if we did that with the second baby. The cats sniffed around the baby but really didn’t seem to care about the baby. Since the baby grew up around them, the cats knew where they were safe when the baby started being able to move on his own. We have taught our children that confining the cats, chasing the cats, hitting them and pulling hair was not ok. One cat was always more tolerant than the other, and the one that wasn’t very tolerant seemed to have issues with being around people anyways. We only have one of the cats now and he still likes the boys, but prefers it when they aren’t loud or making sudden movements 🙂

    1. I have to agree with the cats–loud and sudden movements aren’t fun. LOL

      I’ve been told that the animals adjust to the baby because it smells like us and the animals can sense that. But I’m not sure if that’s accurate. It’s worth giving the cats a blanket to sniff, too.

  4. I don’t have children so my Bella is not used to children either. I have to say though that she met my best friend’s little boy twice and she was so sweet to him. But the boy was too: no surprise actions towards Bella that would scare her off and he was very gentle with her.

    That tip of never letting your child alone with a dog is a good one. I have heard to many stories on the news where dogs that never hurted anyone before, did something to the children when they were alone with them.

    I’m sure everything will work out when the time is there.

    1. I think it makes a huge difference when the kid knows how to behave with a dog, too. We’ve had encounters where Bella was fine but freaked out because a kid suddenly decided to start screaming and running at her with their hands out. I’d be freaked out too if I was Bella!!

  5. Hi Lisa,

    Kids and pets don’t go along very well because pets are also kind of kids and they love attention of their owners and they don’t like when this “attention” is given to kids. For them this is a kind of competition. But this is not how it always happen, and sometimes they go along with each other very nicely. Like a siblings with bittersweet relationship. Sometimes they play with each other and sometimes they fight with each other.

    I think you should be very careful and keep a close eye on their actions and don’t let them feel that the “baby” is going to replace them.

    We don’t have pets but we had a female dog when I was a kid. She was so nice to me that she had once taken my whole palm in her mouth ( I had a candy in my hand) but had made sure that her teeth don’t hurt me.

    Regards,
    Bharat
    Bharat Sharma recently posted..43 Amazing Health And Beauty Benefits of Amla (Indian Gooseberry)

    1. Thanks for sharing your story and perspective, Bharat. I agree. I think the animals have been treated like babies all these years and it will be an adjustment, similar to sibling rivalry, when the baby gets here. Maybe I’m being overly worried and they will all be indifferent and adjust nicely….

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