REAL LIFE RELATIONSHIPS: When dogs met baby

Empty stroller and the sound of screaming babies prepares dogs for important introduction

My husband and I had some anxiety when our 8- and 6-year-old dogs met our daughter for the first time.

We were the first among our family and friends to have a baby, so our dogs, Stella, a Labrador retriever mix and Mitzi, a Yorkie, hadn’t been around little ones.

Seeing the occasional kid at the park is a lot different than having one screaming in your personal space or taking up the time that was previously devoted to ear stroking and lap time.

So when we were having a baby, we wanted it to be a positive experience for the whole family, including the furry members. We researched every possible way of preparing to introduce the new baby to Mitzi and Stella.

We played baby sounds on YouTube, the actual sounds of babies crying and screaming.

We played kids shows and music to get them used to the new strange noises. Since kids’ shows sound a lot different than the Netflix movies we usually watch, we added some cartoons to the lineup.

The very configuration of the house was going to change with all the gear needed for a baby, so we opened and assembled the stroller, highchair and other baby items. Strollers especially were scary to my dogs, so we rolled it around the house before our daughter was born. This way they didn’t have to be introduced to the baby and the stroller at the same time.

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Once they got used to the stroller, we took them for walks with it. Walks were a very exciting time for the Mitzi and Stella, and we didn’t want that part of our relationship to change, only improve.

We took them for car rides with the car seat installed and we played baby sounds in the car while driving.

We showed the dogs baby clothes, blankets and other items so they could get accustomed to the new sounds and smells.

Because births don’t always go according to plan, we had a backup plan in place to introduce the dogs in a variety of scenarios.

We also took extra measures while we were still at the hospital with the new baby.

My parents, who really wanted to do something for us, brought home a baby hat and blanket from the hospital to let the dogs get used to the baby’s smell.

My husband also ran home a few times while we were in the hospital to see and spend time with the dogs alone and bring them special food and treats to reward them for good behavior.

When we finally arrived home, we took the introduction slowly, allowing the dogs to sniff and respond at their own pace. It sounds obvious but we always supervised them around the baby.

We didn’t believe they wouldn’t do anything aggressive, but we didn’t take it for granted, either.

Harper is 1 year old now and she has a great relationship with Stella and Mitzi. While still always supervised, we truly feel that the steps we took helped prepare everyone for the new arrival.

There are free resources available on social media and many local trainers who specialize in this type of training. I also found local mom groups and Instagram pages dedicated to this topic. One of my favorite accounts is @dogmeets_baby. She is a certified trainer and provides excellent advice to new and experienced parents.

Fortunately, you don’t have to wait until the baby is born to introduce your pets to the idea of a new baby. With a few simple steps, we made sure everyone was ready for a bigger, better family.

Kara Venus lives in New England with her daughter, husband and two dogs. Her love for dogs and volunteering with local rescues inspired this story. She works as a marketing professional by day and enjoys skiing, gardening, and traveling.

Real Life Relationships is a monthly reader-contributed essay that explores the many ways in which we are connected and the all of the emotions those connections can bring into our lives. Interested in contributing? Email nedra.rhone@ajc.com with the subject line “Real Life Relationships.” Read more on the Real Life blog (www.ajc.com/opinion/real-life-blog/).