First, be sure to introduce your new baby to your pet in a gentle manner. New smells and sounds like baby powder and midnight crying can stress a pet out - they're just not used to it! "That first meeting is really going to set the tone for their whole relationship," says Wolfe.
Try introducing your pet to your baby's smell first. Other members of your family can bring home a blanket or an article of clothing from the hospital and let your dog or cat smell it so that they are introduced to your baby's scent. Let them examine the nursery as well. Allow them to smell the baby powder and hear the noise of the mobile above the baby's crib. The more they see, smell and hear these things, the easier the adjustment will be.
When your son or daughter first comes home, try holding them on your dog or cat's level. "Don't panic or pull away," says Wolfe. Let your dog or cat examine the baby, but be sure to slowly pull back if the animal suddenly becomes aggressive.
Be sure to keep your baby's safety in mind at all times. "The absolute number one rule is that you never, ever leave a pet and a baby alone together... Even the gentlest dog might react differently when there's a baby in the house," says Wolfe. Help your pet and child bond by encouraging calm interactions. When your child learns to roll a ball, have them roll the ball to your cat or dog. Help the child gently stroke your pet's head or show them how to scratch gently behind their ears.
Beware of crawling toddlers, however. Once your child is moving around on their own, your pet may see them as a threat, especially if they accidentally back your cat or dog into a corner. "Watch for signs of aggression, like growling, hissing, crouching," says Wolfe. If you notice that you pet seems threatened by your child, provide a safe place for them that they can retreat to, such as a spare bedroom or a sun room and keep this area off limits to your toddler. Be sure to provide water and other essentials like a litter box, chew toy or a pet bed in this safe space as well.
Good obedience training can help curb any potentially threatening moments. Besides the basic "sit" and "roll over" commands, you want to teach your dog or cat other emergency commands as well. "You want to teach commands like, 'go to your spot' and 'wait' and 'stop'," says Wolfe. "Any breed of dog can work for you as long as you've taken the precautions."
With a little planning and conviction, you can help make your pet's transition as smooth as possible. "If you have a dog beforehand, you don't have to get rid of it," says Wolfe. The goal is to get your child and your pet to interact in a calm and friendly manner.
For more information on introducing your baby to your pet, as well as other parenting advice, click here.
By Erin Petrun