I grew up a dog lover. Okay, a dog fanatic. Our Labrador was my favorite sibling (sorry, sis). To this day, I still prefer dogs to most humans. Dogs are such wonderful, genuine creatures that love us unconditionally and without judgment. They ask so little of us and give so much love in return.
My husband and I adopted an English Bulldog named Huey not long before we got married, and soon after we adopted another named Clarence--you know, so Huey would have a friend with whom he could converse while we were away. These two mongrels ruled my life. My entire camera roll was filled with pictures of their antics… mostly pictures of them sleeping, because that’s about all that English Bulldogs really do. I couldn’t imagine feeling as much love for another being as I felt for my fur babies.
Then I had my daughter and our little family of four was suddenly five, and Mom and Dad’s lives centered around this wriggly little screamer. My camera roll suddenly was filled with pictures of a sleeping, eating, crying, playing baby. I didn’t wake up every morning to greet them; they soon became an afterthought after pumping, feeding, diapering, rocking, and if I was lucky, showering. As much as I felt guilty about it, my doggos took a backseat to my baby.
Still though, I think our transition went pretty smoothly. I was very adamant about making sure life was good for ALL of us. Here are a few things we did to make sure our dogs were ready for baby:
Involve your pup in the preparation for baby. Let your dog hang out in the nursery while you’re preparing the room. Dogs are very sensitive to physical surroundings and need to feel reassurance from their people when surroundings change. Let them hang out in the nursery often so they’re accustomed to the new territory as much as possible.
Get on YouTube and find some audio of a crying baby to play. Start with little spurts so as not to totally freak out your dog. Gradually play a little more here and there so your dog is a bit more comfortable with the sound. The idea is introduce the sound and comfort your dog at the same time. Then when the real thing comes, hopefully they won’t panic too much. My poor fur babies aren’t even phased by the wailing going on around this zoo anymore.
Introduce baby’s scents to your dog. Rub the lotion on your hands which you will be using on baby and pet your dog with this scent. Of course baby will have his or her own natural scent which you will introduce later on, but it’s helpful to let the dog smell things ahead of time so there is some sort of familiarity with the new sibling.
Spend some extra time with your pup. I’m sure those who are not dog-obsessed think this sounds silly, but I know dogs are much smarter and more intuitive than we realize. Go on a special outing with the dog; do something you have wanted to do with your dog that you know you won’t do for a while after the kid arrives. Maybe this just made me feel better myself, but I like to think the memories of our special pre-baby hikes are buried somewhere in the minds of my dogs.
Talk to your dog about the new addition. Again, I’m sure there are plenty of people who would think I’m insane for doing this. But I believe my dogs picked up on the tone and intention behind what I was telling them and somehow knew a change was coming. Huey snuggled with my belly throughout both pregnancies and was very protective of me; even though he’s a humongous knucklehead, he definitely knew what was up. It couldn’t have been much more insane than talking to my 15 month old about her soon-to-arrive baby brother, right?
If possible, find a friend with a baby and expose your dog to the kiddo. Obviously, please be sure you are in control of your dog and your friend is in control of the child if they are meeting for the first time. Kids smell really weird and do really weird things, so it’s great to expose your dog to these things as much as you can before you have your baby.
When baby does arrive, there are plenty of things you can do to soften the blow of a baby taking the spotlight.
Logistically: Make sure someone is available to take care of your dog when you are away birthing baby. A lot of people seem to forget this detail until the last minute, but you want to make sure you have a dog-lover committed to coming to soothe and care for Fido before his world turns upside down.
When you arrive home, have an article of clothing or blanket that has been used by baby available to let your dog smell it before you come in the house. We specifically had a hat that we chose ahead of time and let our dogs sniff the heck out of the hat before we stepped foot in the house.
Let your dog check out baby when you come home. Again, make sure you’re in control of your dog. It should be common sense, but remember that dogs are instinctive beings and may have a crazy reaction that you would never expect. Speak in soft, calming tones and make your dog feel at ease around the baby.
Don’t be too hard on the dog if he or she gets too rowdy or too curious. Babies are resilient and your dog probably just wants to check out what this new little one is. Plus, all of that doggy-essence is great for a baby’s immune system!
Be sure to exercise your dog. Take walks often--maybe even more than you already were. The dog is likely frustrated and feeling lonely, so get the baby in the stroller and let your dog have an adventure every day. Mama and baby need to get out for some fresh air too, so it’s a win-win. If you’re truly unable to do so, have a friend or neighbor take the dog for you.
Teach your child to respect your dog. Don’t let your kid pull on your dog’s ears, tail and skin. Think about it: how would that feel to you? Teach your child to be respectful of your dog during meal time. I know I don’t want anyone up in my business while I’m eating. Don’t allow your child to scream bloody murder in your dog’s ear. Or in anyone’s ear, for that matter.
Make time for your dog one on one. Just like you would for an older child, make some individual time for your pet. For me, it’s super early in the morning, during nap time, or super late at night. I’ll give them some extra ear-scratching or belly rubs. Nothing that special, but they love the physical affection and so do I.
Overall, I think our doggy-kiddo cohabitation is going pretty well. There have been some concerns as our dogs get into their grumpier senior years and our kids get into their annoying-er toddler years, but so far so good. Huey steals my daughter’s banana out of her hand when she’s not paying attention, and it’s a riot. Clarence lays on his back while my daughter pats his belly. She kisses them goodbye and goodnight (yes, it’s as adorable as it sounds). The dogs sniff new baby brother and lay with him while he’s learning to crawl. They’re very protective of their little humans, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I love all four of my babies. Remind your pets of their importance in your life and keep them feeling valued. They’ll return the love to your children, and you can all be one big happy family.