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Self-Improvement & Hobbies

Pets experience sibling rivalry too

Pets can get jealous of new additions to the family, be it a baby or a new partner
The Straits Times - May 19, 2012
By: Kimberly Spykerman
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Pets experience sibling rivalry too Baby Natalie and dog Stitchy now get along well despite some early missteps. -- PHOTO: MICHELLE ENG

Expectant mothers are usually busy with ante-natal classes, getting the nursery ready, and shopping for baby clothes.

But also on the list for mum-to-be Melissa Liew, 32, is taking her dog Charlotte to classes with a dog behaviour specialist to prepare for the new arrival.

Charlotte, a nine-month-old English cocker spaniel, is learning to recognise certain types of behaviour - such as jumping and play biting - that might not be acceptable around a newborn. Part of the training - which costs about $450 for three sessions of two hours each and takes place in the home - will also involve familiarising it with the smell and feel of the baby's clothes.

'Right now, Charlotte is the baby of the family and she can be quite clingy. We want her to integrate easily with the new member of the family,' said Ms Liew, who works in retail operations and is six months pregnant.

Preparing a pet for a new addition to the family is critical to ensuring that it does not become possessive or jealous when attention is diverted from it, especially if it has been treated like the family 'baby' all along, say experts.

Mr Lance Tan, a dog trainer who has been in the business for 16 years, said: 'We always tell people to start early. You don't want the dog to associate its privileges being taken away with the baby coming home.'

Still, even the best-laid plans can go awry. Teacher Michelle Eng, 28, tried to prepare her two-year-old miniature schnauzer Stitchy, by letting it listen the sounds of babies crying on YouTube, and giving it the baby's clothing to sniff.

Despite this, Stitchy did not take well to Natalie's arrival nine months ago.

'He used to get all the attention. But visitors would shift their focus to the baby and when he realised they were coming to see her, he started to get jealous,' she told Life!, adding that the normally active dog would sit mournfully in a corner when visitors arrived, and refuse to respond to calls.

Stitchy, who is toilet-trained, would also urinate and defecate on the floor near Natalie's cot, take her toys and bark at her whenever she cried. Even the dog groomer noticed a change in Stitchy's normally cheerful disposition.

It got so tough that she even considered having Stitchy live with a relative or friend that it was comfortable with till things got more settled.

But Ms Eng kept working at it, making sure that if she was carrying Natalie, her husband carried Stitchy, and took care not to ignore the dog whenever the baby was in the room.

Things have improved significantly, and they are now playmates. 'It's an ongoing process but I would never abandon Stitchy,' she added.

Ms Corinne Fong from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) told Life! that it is not uncommon for people to dump their pets after getting a new baby, citing concerns such as allergies and lack of time for the pet.

She added that the SPCA usually tries to counsel these couples to try and find alternative solutions before leaving the pet with the society.

'To remove the pet from the home after a long time is very traumatic for it, and whenit is suddenly thrust into a new environment, it can get depressed,' she said.

Veterinarian Cathy Chan told Life! that when pets act up, it is very likely due to the stress that comes with upheaval or disruption to a routine that they are accustomed to.

Dogs might express this through excessive barking or aggressive behaviour such as growling, while cats and house rabbits might display less overt symptoms such as a tendency to overgroom, stop eating, or even go into hiding.

But these jealous tendencies are not just restricted to babies. Bringing home a new boyfriend or girlfriend might just get your pet hot under the collar.

General manager Derrick Tan, 31, has had eight-year-old border collie Leo, who is toilet-trained, urinate on the pillow, shoes and towel belonging to his partner. Mr Tan, who is currently single, said: 'I know his style, he just wants my attention and my partner knows that my dog is my priority.'

Similarly, designer Eunice Ho, 26, has been the target of her partner's dog's jealousy for nine years. The 13-year-old Jack Russell Terrier gets agitated every time she is around and barks at her aggressively.

'I think it's quite annoying... I've tried to be nice to him by giving him treats and spending time with him but it didn't work,' she said.

Another trainer Ricky Yeo, who also runs dog shelter Action For Singapore Dogs, said that when dogs are cuddled and pampered by their owners, they see it as an elevation of their status to a pack leader role. 'They feel the need to guard the person, and when the dynamics of the pack change, the way they react is what we perceive as jealousy,' he added.

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