|Other Pet Issues|
Many physical traits of certain types or breeds of dogs and cats can be fairly predictable. Some are good traits like size, coat and hair types, and some are bad, such as over-breeding, health problems and so forth. Some have general personality traits: retrievers like to have things in their mouths; terriers like to dig; and Siamese-type cats tend to be very talkative. These traits can be predicted to a limited degree, however, it's hazardous to make too many assumptions about any infant's individual personality based solely on what traits his or her "group" is expected to have.
Each baby, whether human, canine or feline, will develop into an individual with a unique personality and special characteristics all their own. Their personality will be based on some inherited and some learned traits, and that combination is what makes each individual unique. When we choose our friends, we look for certain characteristics that fit into our lives, traits we share, and attitudes that help us mesh. Physical characteristics may play a part in those choices, but the real "click" comes from those combined traits that are unique to each individual. The same is true when we choose pets to share our lives with us for ten to 20 years.
How do I decide what age pet is right for me? Many people assume that puppies or kittens are the only "right" age for a new pet to be introduced into the family, when in fact, an older pet is more suitable for many situations. There are important differences between the needs and abilities of adult dogs or cats and puppies or kittens. Puppies and kittens learn many of their most important skills, such as how to be a dog or a cat, from their mothers and littermates until they're ten to twelve weeks old (see "Stages of Puppy Development" and "Stages of Kitten Development"). Baby animals taken from their families before that age need specialized lessons and care. Just because they can eat grown-up food doesn't mean they have grown up. However, those first few weeks aren't the only time for learning.
The first six months of life are vital to the development of puppies and kittens and require a lot of time, care and energy. Many households are not able to provide what is needed during this busy period of high-rate learning and growing. Baby animals that are not properly taught and cared for during this time find it difficult to develop the proper social skills. Depending on the type of cat or dog, most pets can be considered "teenagers" or young adults from six months to 16 months old. These puppies and kittens are still growing and developing through adolescence, but are beginning to show the direction that their individual personalities will probably take. They're still high-energy "kids" at this stage and will test your patience at every turn.
Every pet has a history, no matter how young or how old. Some animals come with details about their backgrounds, and some have histories that remain mysterious. A pet of any age can bond with the people who love and care for him, giving as much to the relationship as he receives in return. Some animals may have very negative memories of humans who mistreated them, and need extra time to adjust and to learn to trust. The majority of adult cats and dogs, however, can bond with their new families as deeply as puppies or kittens raised from babyhood.
If you're looking for a pet with certain personality traits, it's more likely that you'll find the right companion to fit your lifestyle if the candidate is at least six months old. If you don't have the patience or energy for a teenager, you should consider an adult dog or cat that is at least one year to eighteen months old. Dogs and cats this age learn quickly, have more coordination and control over their physical functions, and have more predictable natures.
You must first decide if you have the time, energy, space and money for a pet - it's a huge commitment. You then need to determine whether a baby animal or a mature pet is more appropriate for your lifestyle and your expectations for this new member of the family.
To help you weigh the "pros" and "cons" of adopting a dog or cat versus a puppy or kitten, ask yourself these important questions:
An adult pet is usually past the stage of becoming overly excited, and you can better gauge how hardy and tolerant he'll be toward childish enthusiasm. It's your responsibility, to your pet and to your child, to monitor their interaction. You can help to strengthen the relationship between your pet and child by showing your respect for your pet's needs and feelings. Teach by example that your pet is an important family member, not a "plaything" to be neglected and tossed away when no longer new and exciting.
While a family pet offers children a wonderful opportunity to learn about caring and responsibility, regular pet-care duties need to be carefully supervised by an adult. A child should never be solely responsible for a pet. You also need to keep in mind that your child's life and interests will change over the next ten to 15 years. The ultimate responsibility for a pet's care and safety is that of the adults in the household.
Most pets like to have at least one "buddy." You might want to consider adopting a pair of adult pets that are already accustomed to and attached to each other. Many pets (especially cats) are surrendered to shelters in "pairs" because their human families are no longer able to care for them. There are many benefits to keeping a pair together.
In addition, dogs that are involved in these types of activities must have excellent manners, and you must be willing and able to build a strong relationship with your dog, including ongoing obedience training. Many pets, like many people, don't travel well. Some reasons for chronic carsickness can be remedied, but if you specifically want a pet to travel with you to local activities or on short vacations, don't expect miracles from a young animal. There is no way to tell which pet will have the stomach for it.
You can benefit from someone else's poor planning if you adopt an adult or teenage dog, but only if you're willing to do what they did not - teach him the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. This training may take weeks or months, but it can begin very simply with a dog over six months old that's ready and able to learn quickly, and has good muscular coordination and some knowledge of social skills.
Helping your pet adjust to the arrival of a new baby is much like preparing a young child for the same event. Handling your pet's curiosity, anxiety and increased insistence for attention may seem like an overwhelming task, in addition to preparing yourself and your household for the baby's arrival. You can, however, help your pet adjust to the big changes ahead with minimal time and effort by making gradual adjustments to your lifestyle before the baby arrives.
Sounds and Smells
Your pet is very sensitive to sounds and smells and uses these special abilities to gather information. From your pet's point of view, you and your home have specific identifying smells that are uniquely yours. There are also certain sounds that your pet considers "normal" for your household. Even the different tones of voice you use send important signals. Your baby won't actually change those scents and sounds that are part of your identity, but the baby's arrival will certainly add some new and very different ones. It's important that you introduce these new smells and sounds to your pet gradually in a calm and pleasant atmosphere.
Each time you introduce something new to your pet, make the experience positive. Stroke him, give him treats and praise him for his good behavior when he's faced with a strange new sound or smell. Relax! If you act anxious, your pet will be anxious too.
In order to prepare your pet for the new baby, borrow some baby sounds and smells. Visit a friend's baby or a nursery and make a tape recording of baby sounds like gurgling, laughing, screaming, crying and kicking. Handle a baby and absorb some of the smells of baby lotion, powder and food. Go directly home and spend some positive, relaxed time with your pet. Give him a massage or play with him while the baby smells mingle with your own odors and you introduce the recorded baby sounds.
Start out with the volume turned fairly low and if your pet doesn't react strongly to the sounds, gradually increase the volume to a normal level. As you play the tape, look at your pet and speak calmly, using your pet's name. Smile! It adds a special tone to your voice that helps your pet relax. Repeat these sessions daily until the baby's arrival. After a week or so, add the actual sources of the odors to the sound-and-smell sessions with the supplies you'll be using for your own baby. Think about your pet's perspective. How does a baby bottle smell when it's freshly sterilized? When it's dirty? Borrow a dirty diaper and let your pet become accustomed to that smell, too.
After a few weeks, combine baby sounds and smells (which should be familiar to your pet by now) with the bustle and attention of a visiting baby. This is an excellent "dress rehearsal" for the extra visitors and attention you and your baby will receive during the first few weeks after delivery.
After you bring your baby home, be aware of the ways you use your voice. Do you only speak to your pet with negative tones when the baby's in the room ("no," "off," "don't," "stop")? If so, your pet will certainly connect unhappy feelings with the baby's presence. While you hold your baby, smile at your pet and use his name. Give your pet a small treat when the baby is fed to distract your pet from the smell of the baby's food. Make time with the baby a pleasant time for your pet as well.
If you'll be redecorating or rearranging your home, do it long before the baby arrives. With your supervision, let your pet explore any off-limits areas, then exclude him from these areas before the baby arrives. Screen doors are excellent, inexpensive barriers for off-limits areas like the baby's room. Your pet can still see, smell and hear all the action and so can you. If an off-limits room has been a favorite area for your pet, this will be a major change for him. Move his favorite things from that room into another area, if possible in the same arrangement.
To boost your pet's confidence, establish a private, comfortable place that your pet can use as a safe retreat. Select an area you can close off, if necessary. The "safe-zone" should include a water bowl, a nest composed of a soft towel or your pet's bed and some worn, unwashed clothing with your smell on it. If your pet is a cat, you should include a litter box in this area also.
Your pet can choose to retreat here, or you can choose to confine him to this "safe zone" when things get extra hectic. Spend some positive time with your pet in this area every day, and if he must be confined for an hour or so, it mustn't seem like punishment. During the transition, respect your pet's need for rest and privacy. This will become especially important when your baby reaches the crawling stage. In addition to a "safe-zone," cats should also have access to plenty of escape routes, hiding places and perches.
Routine is important to pets because they need to know what to expect. Think ahead and gradually begin establishing new routines early on. Include in your adjusted schedule at least once a day, quality time for just you and your pet, with no competition for your attention. This "non-baby" time is very important for your pet and for you!
Some of the changes in your post-baby routine won't be permanent, like getting up at all hours of the night. Help your pet handle temporary schedule adjustments by ignoring any extra attention-getting ploys used at those times. Try to get back to your normal routines as soon as possible.
The first priority for an animal faced with a new family member is to determine who will be top dog (or cat) in the relationship. Dogs and cats live by an unwritten code of ranking in their relationships. For most dogs and cats, it isn't really important which one comes out on top, only that the rank be decided.
Whether you have one pet or several, your own position in the family's social order should be clear - you must always be the top-ranking animal in your family. This will be especially important as your baby's arrival approaches. When your position as leader of the family is secure and it's clear that the baby belongs to you, your pet should not challenge the baby's important rank in your home.
If your pet is very protective of you or your home, is a little pushy about food and toys, has been known to behave aggressively toward other animals and/or challenges your rank as leader, then you probably have a dominant pet (see "Understanding Dominance in Dogs"). In this situation, it's especially important that family rank and household rules be firmly established before your baby's arrival.
Reinforce house rules and manners to remind your pet that you are the leader in your family. If your pet hasn't learned basic manners or obedience commands, now is the time to start. Train your dog to sit and lie down on command. This physical control will be especially important when your arms are filled with your baby and various baby paraphernalia.
Be sure that your pet understands when (if ever) jumping onto people or things is appropriate. If cats have always had access to any surface in your home (counters, tables and so forth) you need to decide which places will be off-limits after the baby's arrival. Start training your pet now to discourage him from jumping onto those places. Be considerate, though, and be sure to allow your cat access to some high-up places in your home. Dogs should only be allowed to jump when specific permission is given.
If your pet likes to spend time in your lap, teach him to ask permission before jumping up. You don't have to eliminate lap-time completely, just limit access to those times when you can give him your full attention and an entire lap. Teach your pet that your voice, your look and your presence are also positive forms of attention -- that you don't always need to touch him to show affection. You can do this simply by talking calmly and pleasantly to your pet as he lies or sits nicely at your feet. Use his name, smile and make eye contact with him.
Insist on good manners from the beginning. Don't accept any whining, growling or pushy behavior in an attempt to gain attention. Give your pet plenty of time and attention whenever you can, but not when he's demanded it!
Plan short periods of play time, treat time and snuggle time with your pet - with and without your baby in the room. Meals should be eaten in the same room and at the same time whenever possible. Whenever anything inappropriate is in your pet's mouth, offer him a treat in trade for the object, say "drop it" and when he takes the treat praise him enthusiastically and offer him a toy that he's allowed to have. As a "rule of thumb," if you don't want it in your pet's mouth, don't leave it on the floor.
Encourage a positive relationship between your baby and your "furry child" by involving them in activities you can all enjoy. Settle into your favorite chair by a sunny window, with your baby in your lap and your cat on a table beside you, so you can stroke them both at the same time! Walk with your baby in a stroller and your dog on leash, just like you did before the baby came, but with this nice addition. Share mealtimes, and when your baby gets a treat or a toy, be sure your pet has something nice to hold, too.
Has your pet left "scent marks" of urination and/or defecation on your floor or furniture? To successfully re-train your pet to avoid those areas, follow these basic steps:
These steps work as a team! In order for your efforts to be successful, you need to follow all of these steps. If you fail to completely clean the area, your other re-training efforts will be useless. As long as your pet can smell that personal scent, he'll continue to return to the "accident zone." Even if you can't smell traces of urine, your pet can. Your most important chore is to remove (neutralize) that odor.
Methods to Avoid
You should avoid using steam cleaners to clean urine odors from carpet or upholstery. The heat will permanently set the odor and the stain by bonding the protein into any man-made fibers. You should also avoid using cleaning chemicals, especially those with strong odors, such as ammonia or vinegar. From your pet's perspective, these don't effectively eliminate or cover the urine odor and may actually encourage your pet's inclination to reinforce the urine scent mark in that area.
To Clean Washable Items
To Clean Carpeted Areas and Upholstery
To Clean Floors and Walls
If the wood on your furniture, walls, baseboard or floor is discolored, the varnish or paint has been affected by the acid in the urine. You may need to remove and replace the layer of varnish or paint. Employees at your local hardware or building supply store can help you identify and match your needs with appropriate removers and replacements. Washable enamel paints and some washable wallpapers, may respond favorably to enzymatic cleaners. Read the instructions carefully before using these products and test them in an invisible area.