CHILDREN AND PETS
The birth of a baby or adoption of a new child is associated with a great deal
of excitement, anxiety and stress for not only the family, but also the family
pet. Some dogs and cats can have a difficult time adjusting to these changes,
especially if this is your first child, but preparation and planning will help.
How is my pet likely to respond to the new arrival?
There are so many different variables involved that it is impossible
to accurately predict the way that any pet will react to the arrival of
children. However, there are considerations that give some insight into
how your pet might react.
How much interaction has your pet previously had with children? How has
your pet reacted? Obviously the most serious concern for new or prospective
parents is the pet that has previously reacted aggressively, fearfully
or both with children.
If there have been previous problems of aggression you should contact your
veterinary surgeon to determine the situations that have previously led to incidents,
and the safest way, if any, to make the transition. If your veterinary surgeon
is not able to offer appropriate advice you should seek referral to a local
reputable behavior counselor. If the pet's previous problems were with a specific
child, a specific age group or under specific circumstances, it may be possible
to design a behavioral treatment program to deal with the behavior prior to
the arrival of your new child.
If your dog has had little or no exposure to young children or babies a lack
of early socialization to children may lead to some initial anxiety or fear
associated with the sights, sounds and smells of the new child. If there are
no unpleasant experiences when the child first arrives, and the first few introductions
are positive, there may be no problems. Even if your dog has not reacted aggressively
to children in the past, keeping all introductions positive will help to get
the relationship between your pet and your new child off to a good start.
Once the initial introductions are over the next consideration relates to the
growth and development of your child. As a child progresses from being carried
to rolling, crawling, and then to walking some pets may have trouble adapting
to one or more of these changes. Fear, status related challenges, possessive
displays, and playful behaviours could all result in aggression if you are not
aware of how to anticipate, interpret and prevent situations of confrontation.
Even when aggression is not displayed it is possible that your dog may begin
to display other problem behaviours related to anxiety or fear, such as anorexia,
compulsive disorders (e.g. flank sucking, acral lick dermatitis), or destructiveness
(e.g. house-soiling, marking, chewing, digging).
What can we do to prepare for the new arrival?
Behavior problems (destructiveness, house-soiling, compulsive disorders, increased
demands for attention, generalized anxiety) may not develop directly from the
arrival of the child, but rather from the changes in the household, associated
with the new arrival. With nine months or more to prepare for a baby's arrival,
the best way to minimize problems and help the pet to cope is to make changes
gradually, so that they have been completed prior to the arrival of the child.
Consider any changes that you may need to make in the pet's routine, housing,
play, exercise, or attention, so that adjustments can begin to be made well
before the baby's arrival. Set up the nursery in advance and if the pet is to
be kept out of the room, access should be denied before the child's arrival.
Otherwise, if your intention is to allow your pet to continue to enter the room
when supervised, begin to accompany your pet into the nursery, so that it can
adapt to the new smells and new setup. The dog should be allowed to investigate
the baby's room, blankets, and new furniture, and praised or given a small food
treat so that it can develop a positive association with each of these new cues.
For dogs, reviewing or upgrading obedience skills is essential so that you
can safely and effectively control your dog in all situations. Obedience training
should be reviewed every day, in a variety of locations and circumstances. Practice
each command in different rooms of the home, in the garden, while out on walks,
and when visitors come to the home. Concentrate on those commands that are presently
the least successful, using commands and rewards to achieve success and then
gradually shaping the response so that the pet stays for progressively longer
times, comes from greater distances and will heel and follow even when there
are distractions. Any existing behavior problems should be resolved before the
arrival of your baby.
Some pets might become anxious or fearful as a result of any of the new and
different stimuli associated with the sights, sounds, or smells of the new child.
New activities associated with child care can be practiced in front of pets
so that they can become familiar with them. Tape recordings of babies crying,
holding a doll wrapped in a blanket, taking your dog for a walk beside a pushchair
or pram, or even going through the motions of changing a nappy and applying
baby powder will simulate some of the experiences to which your pet will soon
be exposed. If there is any sign of anxiety associated with any of these situations,
then more formal reward-based training should be practiced and repeated until
the pet exhibits no problems in the presence of the stimuli. By providing a
favored chew toy, giving a food reward, or providing extra affection during
these activities, your pet may actually learn to enjoy these new stimuli.
|Once your pet shows no fear or anxiety in some or all of these situations,
you may want to enlist the help of some friends or relatives with young
children. Dogs can be taken for a walk while the child is pushed in the
pushchair or pram. A baby can be carried around the home or nursed in the
presence of the dog and children should be encouraged to play at the opposite
end of a room or garden from where the dog is situated. The dog must be
well controlled, preferably with a lead and head collar, and given food
rewards and/or play to keep the association positive. A basket type muzzle
could also be applied to ensure additional safety, especially when being
exposed to new situations. By the end of the visit it may even be possible
to let the dog interact with the child under strict adult supervision, but
only if it remains friendly and shows no fear or anxiety.
For cats, the most important adaptation to the arrival of a new child is that
related to changes that will be needed in the cat's home. Although fear and
anxiety to the sights and sounds of a new baby are possible, adapting to changes
in the household are often the most trying for cats. For example, obtaining
new furniture, altering the cat's feeding, sleeping, elimination or play areas,
and trying to keep the cat out of certain locations such as the cot, should
all be considered before the arrival of the baby. To reduce the chances of the
cat marking new furniture with urine or scratch marks, the first few introductions
to the new areas should be well supervised. Once your cat has investigated and
rubbed against the new furniture, spraying is far less likely. Similarly, when
the cot or Moses basket is first set up, the cat may wish to mark the area,
to investigate, or even to sleep in it. Booby trapping areas can teach the cat
to stay away from the areas of concern, well before the baby arrives.
Remember, each of these techniques are intended to help the pet adapt to changes
in the household or lifestyle before the arrival of the baby. Once the baby
arrives, there will be far less time to deal with the needs of the pet, and
there will be additional variables to which your pet will need to adapt. Even
if your pet does begin to exhibit fear or anxiety, during this pre-arrival training,
such anxiety will not be associated with the presence of the child. The cat
will have no reason to develop animosity to the new child.
What should be done when the baby arrives?
Do not try to rush the situation and always avoid any situations that might
lead to fear, anxiety or discomfort in the baby's presence. Make all associations
and experiences in the baby's presence positive. Maintain or even increase the
amount and type of training, exercise, and play.
Even a curious and affectionate pet may have some problems adjusting to the
new arrival. Jumping up to greet when the baby is being carried, barking during
the baby's sleep, raiding the nappy bucket, licking the baby's face, or cuddling
up to sleep against a small baby who is still unable to shift position are just
a few of the concerns and potential problems that pet owners may need to deal
with. It is essential to supervise all interactions between the pet and baby
and to keep the pet out of the baby's room during sleep times. Ensuring that
your dog is well controlled and responsive to obedience training commands is
very useful and for some dogs, leaving a lead attached (preferably to a head
collar) is a useful way to ensure additional control. You may also find it useful
to keep your pet's claws well trimmed in order to avoid any accidents through
The most important aspect of retraining is to reward the pet for obedient and
relaxed behavior in the presence of the child. In many households there will
be less time and energy available for the pet. While focused on the child, or
attending to the chores associated with parenthood, the pet may be ignored,
disciplined for approaching too close, or confined to a different area of the
home. Your pet may still receive its play, exercise, affection, food and attention,
but often not until the baby is finally asleep or is under the care of some
other family member. Many pets soon learn that the presence of the baby is a
time for lack of attention, confinement, or even punishment, while the absence
of the baby is a cue for "good things" to happen. This must be reversed.
Every effort should be made to allow the pet into the room for food, play or
affection when the baby is present. Feed the pet when the baby is being fed,
or have another family member give affection to the pet, play with the pet,
or do some reward training (stay, go to your bed) when the child is in the room.
Take your dog outside for play or a walk when you are taking the child out.
The aim is to teach the pet that positives or "good things" are most
likely to happen in the presence of the child.
What should be done if aggression arises?
Such behavior is very upsetting, regardless of its reasons. An immediate decision
on whether to keep and work with the pet or remove it from the home must be
made. Dogs targeting children may be motivated by fear, status or possessiveness
to name but a few. Aggression, particularly fear related, may arise immediately
when the child is brought into the home, or may begin as the child becomes more
mobile. As the child grows a little older and begins to challenge the dog other
forms of aggression such as that associated with status disputes within the
household may start to be seen. Feline aggression toward children can be fear-induced
territorial, or related to misdirected play or predation.
||For most aggression cases, especially those directed toward children,
the guidance and advice of a behavioral counselor is strongly suggested
since it will be necessary to make an accurate diagnosis, determine the
prognosis (the chances of safe and effective treatment) and guide you through
a treatment program Although some cases may be treated quickly and safely,
most cases require extensive precautions to prevent injuries and a great
deal of time, effort and commitment to follow the treatment plan. Regardless
of reason for aggression, biting dogs should be kept on a lead preferably
with a head collar, muzzled and closely supervised in the presence of small
children. Aggressive cats should be confined away from small children except
when they are in a carrier, on a lead and harness, or well supervised.
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