MIAMI -

You spent nine months preparing for the big day. Finally, your baby is born and ready to go home.
But what about your other "baby" -- the one you left at home caring for the rest of the pack while you were at the hospital? Did your preparations include getting Queenie or Max ready for the new family member?

Experts say that taking steps to get ready for the introduction between your dog and baby helps ensure a safe and happy experience.

Before Baby Arrives

Take your dog to the veterinarian for a routine health exam a few weeks before your due date. If you haven't already done so, have your dog spayed or neutered. Veterinarians agree that sterilized pets are usually calmer, a definite plus with a new baby around.

Dogs should be obedience trained and respond immediately to your verbal commands. Before delivery is the time to address and correct any behavior that could hurt the baby. A dog's love-bite may not hurt you, but it could seriously injure an infant or small child.

Otherwise, keep your dog's routine as normal as possible. As any new parent will tell you, normal is easier said than done when dealing with an infant. So, anticipate the schedule you will keep once your baby arrives and begin to adjust your dog's schedule accordingly. Gradually reduce the amount of time and attention you give your dog -- time that will soon be spent focusing on your baby.

You can also ask friends with infants to visit your home to accustom your pet to babies. Apply baby lotion or powder to your hands to familiarize the dog with these new smells.

"Before you leave the hospital, find something with the baby's scent on it and send it home for your dog to sniff," says Sandy Molina, the mother of three children, two dogs and a cat. "My vet gave me this tip when my first son was born. He said that if a dog gets used to the smell of the baby, it's like an introduction before the baby gets home."

Any blanket or article of clothing with the scent of the baby should be associated with good behavior. So, don't let your dog play with it or drag it around like a squeaky toy.

Baby Comes Homes

When you return from the hospital after delivering your baby, your dog will be eager to see you and receive the attention he's used to getting."

My vet advised my husband and me to let someone else carry the baby into the house when we got home from the hospital," Molina says. "So, my sister took the baby into another room while my husband and I gave Rocky the attention he was used to getting whenever we came into the house."

After the initial greeting, your baby can be brought into the room, and you should invite your dog to sit nearby while you hold the baby.

Never hold the baby in front of the dog or force her to get near the baby. Allow her to explore the new smells at her own pace. Keep close attention to your dog's reaction. Watch for any signs of agitation. It's OK for your dog to gently sniff the baby, but it's not OK for him to muzzle or paw at the baby.

Correct any bad behavior immediately and use treats to help your dog associate good behavior around the baby with positive experiences. If he wants attention, he has to be nice to his new "brother" or "sister."

Preparations also include preparing for surprises.

"I did everything I could to prepare ahead of time. But the day we brought the baby home from the hospital, my dog freaked out," says Julie Hernandez. "He started to bark and growl at the baby as soon as I sat down with her on the couch."

If this happens, restrain your dog or put him in another room and try the introduction again when he calms down, experts recommend.

Remember that you want to make all interactions between your dog and the baby as positive as possible. While you should correct inappropriate behavior immediately, you should never hit your dog or shout when making those corrections.

Life Goes On

After the initial introduction, you still must be vigilant to keep the peace between the human and canine siblings in your family.

Other tips include:

  • Never leave your dog alone with your baby.
  • Dogs should never be allowed to sleep in a room with an infant or young child.
  • Consider installing a removable gate at the entrance to the baby's room. Make sure the gate is high enough so your dog can't jump over it.

No matter how hectic life gets after the baby arrives, spend at least a few minutes of quality time with your dog each day and give him the affection he was used to before the baby arrived.

Your dog and baby should be given the chance to bond and form a relationship. Taking your baby and dog out for a stroll is a great way to solidify the family bond between them.

Encourage positive interactions by including your dog in your baby's daily routine. If, for example, you are bathing your baby and your dog follows you into the room, let him stay.

"I found this to be a great way to train my dog. If he was calm, I'd let him know it. If he misbehaved, I'd let him know that too," Hernandez says.

Patience and preparation are your best defenses during this time of transition.

Always watch for warning signs that demand immediate attention. Any destructive behavior or behavior that's out of the ordinary for your dog requires immediate attention.

If you need additional information, contact your veterinarian or local animal hospital.