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Baby Steps

Bringing a new baby home or to the grandparents’ house for the first time may be new to you, but it’s also an adjustment for pets.

“Sometimes new parents don’t prepare animals for when the baby comes, but there are a lot of things you can do to plan and think it through,” says Linda Hilliard, a certified professional dog trainer for Courteous Canines and a pediatric nurse practitioner. Hilliard is a presenter for a course called Dogs and Storks, available in Warren and South Kingstown, which helps ease the transition for pooches and parents-to-be. Most advice can work for both cats and dogs:

1. Define boundaries. Have areas where the baby can be, but the pet can’t, and vice versa, says Hilliard. “The baby’s room should be off limits at first,” she says.

2. Teach behavior. Teach commands like sit, stay, wait and go, so that they won’t be surprised. “You can teach a dog to sit outside the baby’s room with the door open, so that they can see you, but not come in,” Hilliard says. “That way they can participate, but not be on your toes.”

3. Expose your pet. Babies come with a lot of paraphernalia and animals are very sensitive to changes in their environment. Set up new equipment like a crib, bassinet and baby carrier so that your pet can get used to it well before the newborn’s arrival.

4. Stay attentive. Make sure your dog’s exercised. Stock up on new toys or yummy treats to get pets through the first couple of days. “Reinforce good behavior,” says Hilliard. “Saying ‘stop’ or yelling at your pet doesn’t tell them what would be appropriate.”

5. Scent prep. Bring home the baby’s blanket or hat from the hospital and give it to your dog to familiarize him or her with the baby’s scent. 

6. Baby double. In extreme cases, when you’re unsure how the dog will react, you can practice carrying a doll around the house. “The dog will get used to seeing you hold a baby,” says Hilliard.

7. Be vigilant. “You never, ever leave them together alone,” she says. “That’s your ultimate safety device. One of the two of them must be with you.”



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