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Pets Need Training for New Arrival

October 21, 1998|PAMELA WARRICK

Cats don't suck the breath out of sleeping newborns, and dogs don't suffer sibling rivalry. But that doesn't mean that family pets don't require special attention to keep your baby safe.

By the time the stork arrives, your pet should be ready. That means resolving any pet behavior problems well in advance of your due date. A dog who bites--even in play--jumps up or growls at children needs obedience school if you want to keep your baby safe. And a cat, or any other domestic pet, who suffers mood swings and has unpredictable toilet habits also needs to change its ways.

That said, pets and babies can co-exist--though for at least the first few years, only with adult supervision. "The single most important rule about bringing a baby into a household where there are already pets is to never, ever leave the baby and the pet alone together," says Michael Bobek, managing veterinarian of the Pasadena Animal Emergency Clinic. "And no pet should ever be permitted to sleep with a small child. Even the sweetest-tempered animal could inadvertently scratch or smother an infant."

Before introducing a newborn to a pet, prepare the animal as well as you can. If the pet is going to be moved out of the bedroom to make room for baby, make the switch long before baby's homecoming.

Give the dog a chance to sniff the crib--and the baby's scent from a hospital blanket or bootee--before the baby comes home. As for the homecoming, someone other than the mother should hold the baby for those first critical moments at home when the pet is anxious to greet and be greeted.

If the dog--or cat--has been your "only child," remember that sharing the spotlight will be confusing. To ease the transition, link the baby's presence with a dose of extra attention for the dog. In "Childproofing Your Dog" (Warner Books, 1994), dog trainer Brian Kilcommons suggests, "Speak kindly to the dog whenever you go into the child's room. Be extra warm to him when he's around the child and the rest of the time pretty much ignore him. Soon," the author promises, "he'll be wagging his tail whenever you approach the baby."

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