June 22, 2006

Pets & Babies: Avoiding Cute-offs And Other Problems

We were not one of those couples who prepared ourselves for having a kid by getting a puppy first. And neither of us is pet people, really, so I really never gave a second thought to the potential risks and challenges of bringing a baby home to a house with a pet in it.

Until, that is, I saw a picture that Matthew Baldwin posted right after bringing The Squirrelly home; their cat looked like it was stalking the kid, and pounce on his soft, little head. Haven't heard much since, so I figure things are going fine.

But Slate's pet person Emily Yoffe has written a useful primer on mediating between pets and newborns and pets and mobile, animal-clueless kids. It covers some basic safety principles [never leave animals and babies together unattended] and some fascinating pet psychology [the cat who started limping whenever the baby was around; the dog who got nervous about a kid's impending scolding whenever he heard someone counting "1,2,3"]

Why Can't We All Just Get Along? The complex dynamics of babies and pets.


We used to sleep with our door closed. The cats learned that they could wake us by reaching under our door and rattling it (we have an old house). We learned to sleep through that.

That is when he discovered it was much more effective to do the same thing to the door of the baby's room because she wouldn't sleep through it.

Now, we sleep with the door open, which presents all new challenges, but reduces the likelihood that they will wake our daughter.

As far as their interaction, the one still wants nothing to do with her (maybe he hasn't grown out of it because, the last month or so, she started screaming at him when he's in the room), the other has been very very patient, but can still be pushed to the brink sometimes. This usually results in him getting a claw caught in her clothes (he is very effective at doing this without scratching her), or one of those warning bites cats have (you can feel this, but if I wanted to, you could REALLY feel this).

We have a bulldog who was 3 years old when we brought the kid home. He actually stayed at my brother's house for a week while we were in the hospital (c-sec 4 day stay) and for a few after we got home to sort of give us some time to acclimate. We sent a bunch of clothes from the kid home with him so the dog could sniff them. He really didn't have a reaction.

When he finally was brought home, he was terrified of the kid. He would run away if you even tried to walk up to him holding the baby. Which actually was a pretty fun game, chasing him around the house with a baby. Hours of entertainment. It took about three months for the dog to even walk up to him and give him a sniff. But the kid LOVES the dog. Every time he walks by, Deegan starts cracking up. Now, with the kid at 13 months old, the dog is sort of starting to go sit beside him in the playroom and hang out. He keeps a few feet away, though, because Deegan is in that slapping phase and the dog took one to the kisser a couple of weeks ago.

HOWEVER, before the kid was born the dog was perfectly trained. Very well behaved. Now he's sort of an a-hole. He goes through the trash, whines ALL the time, runs up and down the stairs barking when Deegan's put to bed. He still hasn't acclimated to being second fiddle to the kid. We've tried everything in the books to make him still feel like a valued member of the family, but I think I need Cesar from the Dog Whisperer to come over and snap him into shape.

There's a trainer in San Francisco who has written an outstanding book on preparing your dog(s) for the arrival of a baby. I can't say enough good things about him, or his book, or his expert advice when our dog became unnerved by our newly-mobile little one.

I'm not being paid to say that ... I'm just grateful to him for helping our pets adjust, and hope that his sensible training advice reaches the larger audience it deserves.

Mike Wombacher, There's a Baby in the House!,

"We were not one of those couples who prepared ourselves for having a kid by getting a puppy first."

I think you got that backwards. ;o)

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