Baby Proof your Dogs
Dogs before children, chronologically speaking. It’s a common arrangement. Dogs are easier, cheaper, and less commitment than your own progeny. People are prone to have bliss-full, canine centric lives, before Junior shows up. People like me, who give dogs a 13 year head start on procreation. Over a decade of their lives, kid-free, let alone infant, baby, toddler free, which is a whole special subset if you ask the dog. Squirmy, loud, with poor impulse control, and developing motor skills. Sort of like dogs, but they grow out of it. Eventually.
Yet we expect our dogs to accept these new beings without question. Not just the new noises and smells from something they recognize as only vaguely humanoid, but a major shift in the pack and their lifestyle. Changed priorities. Newly unnaceptable behaviors, parts of the house off limits. Maybe they don’t get to sleep in the bed anymore. Maybe a bleary eyed new Mom or Dad pushes off or forgets the standard meal time. Maybe their spot on the couch is shifted slightly, if not gone altogether. We completely change the game. And if they don’t comply, we send them packing.
Well, some people do. I do not. I do crazy things. Like put small, elderly, (scruffy!), white dogs (who are still with us) into strollers and prance around my neighborhood with a veritable sled team in tow. See, I have been anticipating this adjustment for my dogs, just as I’ve been anticipating it for myself. There’s a heck of a lot I’m not going to know how to do. Same with the dogs. We are all going to need time to figure it out, together. In the meantime, as I prepare myself – with books, with childbirth classes, with gift registries and stocking up on essentials – I prepare my dogs. For the new world order. Life with baby. It scares me. I want it to be easier on them. So how do you teach a bunch of (mostly) old dogs the new trick of dealing with a baby?
Let the crying begin! Vocalized crying is the universal distress signal. It is designed to evoke a reaction in animals of any species. A reaction of ‘OMG, Whats going on?!’ and ‘How do I make it stop?’. So, it stresses everybody out. Until we get used to it. Until we figure out that ‘Red Alert!’ doesn’t actually mean Red Alert. It is perhaps an over reaction from somebody with a cold wet diaper, whose communication skills aren’t particularly great. But if your life hasn’t been filled with crying, how could you know that? As it turns out, You Tube is an excellent source of videos of babies crying. Who knew!? In order to ready the dogs, we’ve been taking a scenic tour of its offerings. At odd times. Babies crying when I get home from work. Babies crying in the morning. Babies crying upstairs, down stairs, while we lay in bed snuggling. Initially, as suspected, the dogs were most disturbed by these noises. There was pacing, whining, general discontent, which we ignored. We acted normal. We went about our business, and let the video play. The other night I popped up one such video during the quiet before bed time. I got a couple head raises, before they went back to snoozing. These sounds are no longer exciting. Will it translate to the real thing? Who knows for sure. But, it can’t hurt.
Equipment now. Babies come with stuff. Big stuff, little stuff, rolling stuff. (My stuff is used). Stuff my dogs haven’t experienced before. This is why I’ve insisted on setting up this stuff in central locations, not just hidden away in baby rooms, and leaving it there for a time. My controversial car seat? Sat in the living room for a week or so. As did our fancy (2nd hand) stroller, which we’ve then taken on walks with us, sans baby, but possibly with tiny, old dog. Just because. Yes, it has warranted us some interesting looks and commentary from passersby. I’d rather my dogs know and learn to disregard the equipment before it contains a baby I’m worried about protecting. Operation Empty Stroller is a complete success. Dogs will walk next to it calmly and politely for miles on end. All incoming supplies will go through a similar process. Although, I’m not planning to roll the crib around the neighborhood.
Who’s the boss? I admit it. We don’t spend a lot of time training anymore. My dogs know the essentials. At this stage it in the game, that’s really good enough. But in anticipation of the game changing, now’s the time for a little refresher. This is as much about establishing leadership, as it is rewarding behaviors you’ve perhaps taken for granted. I think about what will come in handy when I’m down and out and tired; a quick ‘come here’ or ‘kennel up’, ‘wait’ or ‘off’ even when they don’t necessarily want to. All things they’ll do of course, at a more leisurely speed than I may be hoping for. So we are running some speed drills, with treats flowing, so dogs remember I appreciate enthusiastic participation. We are also doing lots of sits just because, waiting for our dinner, and generally listening in all areas of the house. If nothing else it reminds them, I call the shots. Here’s hoping that will hold true when I havent showered or slept for days on end.
We prepare. We can’t possibly know how this is going to go. Other than that something will definitely go sideways. We can still put our best foot (feet? paws?) forward. Does talking about it a lot to my dogs help? Probably not. That’s an emotional thing. It feels good to tell them about the baby. It doesn’t actually benefit them much. Or at all. The fact remains, I’ve got a pack of rambunctious, shedding, barking, pooping monsters that live in my house. I’m hopelessly outnumbered, and that’s not going to change. In fact, in the adults vs. everyone else category I’m only adding to the deck stacked against me. The actual doing of things though, real preparation, that feels better and might actually be accomplishing something. At the very least, I’m pretty sure this is going to work. One way or another. The dogs won’t eat the baby.
Parents, Aunties, Child Guardians of all kinds, did you prepare your dogs? Care to share your tips and tricks? What worked? What didn’t?