June 25, 2013 at 8:04 AM ET
Preparing a “canine kid” for a baby’s arrival might seem a little silly to some people, but it’s serious business according to vets and animal behaviorists. Expectant parents who don’t help their dog adjust before the new bundle appears may run into trouble down the road, when their furry friend acts out and vies for adult attention.
And the most famous royal pup in the world is no exception.
Experts say Duchess Kate, due to have her first child mid-July, should take precautionary measures now to ensure that her little Cocker Spaniel, Lupo, who the couple adopted last winter, and has already made Tatler’s 50 most fascinating “people” list, is all primed for the newest member of the royal family.
Victoria Wells, senior manager of behavior and training at the ASPCA adoption center in New York City, says she sometimes sees pregnant moms bring dogs to shelters before there’s even been a problem because they’re so anxious about their pooch getting along with their newborn.
She firmly believes that parents can take pro-active steps before a baby comes home to ensure that their “fur kid” is ready for the big change— and to calm their own prenatal nerves about everyone coexisting. She advises the Duchess of Cambridge and all other expectant moms this summer: Make sure your four-legged friend knows some basic commands, like “stay’” and “leave it,” so Fido doesn’t jump on the baby and listens when called.
“Go to dog training classes or hire a trainer,” says Wells. She also suggests teaching dogs impulse control before there’s an infant in the house.
Marc Siebert, owner and medical director of The Heart of Chelsea Animal Practice in downtown Manhattan, has seen many couples in his more than 20 years of practice balance new baby and beloved pet— and he breaks it down in canine terms for new parents.
“Most dogs will accept a new baby as part of their ‘pack’ readily,” he explains. But sometimes the dog will “see the new baby more as prey,” which is when you have problems.
So how do you convince your “canine kid” that the baby is part of the pack, royal or otherwise? Let the dog get used to the nursery and the smell of an infant before you walk in that door with the car seat, Siebert says. Encouraging your puppy to explore the new room and smell those blankets and onesies really does help a dog get acquainted with a new baby before the official introduction.
For first time mom Aubrey Bartolo, 29, of Greenwich, Conn., ensuring a smooth transition between her 7-year-old Yorkie, Rufuth, and baby girl Bartolo, born two weeks ago, was a top priority.
“We had our doula bring a blanket and a little hat home each night from the hospital,” Bartolo said, “And she’d wrap [Rufuth] up in the clothes so he was used to her smell when we came home a few days later.”
Bartolo also says she’s been reserving special, one-on-one time in their bed, every night cuddling with her “first kid”— no babies allowed.
Victoria Wells tells parents they can even buy an infant doll and use baby products on it, as well as “rocking it” to sleep in a glider to prepare the dog for what life will be like with a “sibling.”
“The key to all of this is positive reinforcement,” says Wells. “Whenever you’re interacting with the baby or the doll, before the real baby arrives, try to make a positive association for the dog and give him treats.”
Which shouldn’t be a problem at the palace, as the pregnant princess regularly receives treats for her pup from her loyal fans.
In the final analysis, though, it’s crucial to trust your gut, no matter how hard it might be to admit that your baby and pet are incompatible.
Unfortunately, for Stephanie Klein, 37, a blogger and Jericho, New York, mom of 6-year-old twins Lucas and Abigail, obedience classes and behavior therapy didn’t do the trick for her toy fox terrier, Linus. The dog had nipped various people before the twins’ arrival. And despite all the professional help she sought and progress he was making, Klein ultimately made the heartbreaking decision that it was too risky to have the dog around her babies.
Linus now lives happily as an “only child” with Klein’s sister in Florida.