Dogs are often a couple’s “first child” and are treated as members of the family. When the family grows and parents welcome their first human baby, a bit of prep work can make all the difference for furry friends.
Dr. Adri Mendoza of Firehouse Animal Health Center began prepping her two pups years before her baby arrived last fall. "it's all about how you socialize them beforehand," she notes. Dr. Mendoza's dogs are rescue dogs-one is a Shar-Pei and Pitbull mix while the other is a German Shepard-Chow mix. "I always know I wanted children, so as soon as we rescued our dogs, we made sure they knew what kids looked like, sounded like, and smelled like by taking them out and about with us."
Dr. Mendoza encourages dog owners to do the same when kids are part of the big picture. “Make sure dogs are exposed to children early in their lives,” she says. “Take them to public areas with kids. Let them hear what children sound like.” YouTube videos are a great resource if parks or playgrounds aren’t an option. Dogs should be familiar with the sounds of crying babies, laughing children, baby rattles, and toys by the time a baby is brought home.
When Dr. Mendoza was pregnant, she began to include her dogs in the nursery preparations. As she and her husband assembled baby furniture, the dogs sat alongside them throughout the process because she warns against making the nursery 100 percent off limits. “Letting the dogs in the room helped them get used to the baby’s environment and the smells that accompanied it.” Overall, it works toward the goal of alleviating a dog’s anxiety about the changes to come.
When the baby was born, Dr. Mendoza’s husband brought home the baby’s hospital cap and blanket before the newborn made his entrance. Letting a pet smell the new baby’s scent is key! When they arrived home with the baby for the first time, mom and baby entered the house once the dogs were out of their kennels. She let the dogs greet the baby in the carrier. While she didn’t allow the dogs to sniff her baby’s face, getting used to the baby’s smell, sight, and sound continued daily for a few weeks. She notes, “If you’re calm, the dog is calm.”
While all new parents are sleep-deprived and focused on the needs of their newborn, Dr. Mendoza reminds parents to keep dogs active. “Whether your partner walks the dog or you hire a dog walker, exercise prevents confinement and anxiety.” She also advises that parents never leave a dog and a baby alone. Be vigilant about keeping an eye on pets.
On occasion, a family pet might not react as planned. “If a dog gets temperamental around the baby or as the child becomes mobile, it’s time to meet with a behaviorist.” Firehouse recommends experts like Austin behavioral guru Steve Haynes of Fidelio Dog Works. Mr. Haynes regularly helps new moms and dads with pets. He teaches the “place command” so dogs go to their bed when a mom is nursing. He ensures that dogs are good on the leash so walks alongside a stroller are safe. Plus, Mr. Haynes also teaches kids to never jump on dogs, tease a dog using food, or pull its tail. According to Mr. Haynes, these are the primary ways kids frustrate pets. If an expert can’t help, it’s time to rehome the dog to an adult-only household.
Now that Dr. Mendoza’s baby is three months old, her family is enjoying family dog walks and backyard time together. “Outdoor time is great for all! The dogs love chasing tennis balls and the baby loves fresh air.” In Austin’s hot summers, plan B is key. This might mean taking your dog to doggy day care or enjoying Austin’s outdoors after dark once the temperatures have cooled.