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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.

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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?

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Comments

K.B.
Reply

I love that you are preparing your dogs – I know of way too many “animal lovers” who were suddenly beset with “sick” animals after the baby came.

I don’t have kids, but close friends of mine had a pair of toddlers (twins!) when I got my first dog. In addition to all the normal stuff, I taught him “touch” – if he wanted something, like a toy, he touched it with his nose instead of grabbing it with his mouth. That way, any interaction between toddlers and dogs and toys wouldn’t end in tears (of course, they were always supervised, but stuff can happen *quick*, even with adults in the room).

Jill
Reply

One thing we did with our dogs (we had 3 at the time our daughter was born) was my husband brought home a blanket that my daughter used for the first day so that the dogs could smell it and get used to it. Like you, we kept the baby supplies out and I tried to give them attention when our daughter was asleep. I was determined that the dogs were not going to take a backseat to having a baby in the house.

Erica / Northwest Edible Life
Reply

This is wonderful! You are doing such a great job helping transition your entire family to the new arrival.

cassadega
Reply

Good work! We did all of those things too (with number one, not so much with number 2…) And despite all the preparing, Guinness was still a basket case with Jasper. Nothing can prepare you for a jealous dog, or a nervous dog that doesn’t understand why there is suddenly a loud, crawling thing that drools. (For the record, number two passed inspection with barely a head nod.)

The only other things I can suggest is if you have a swing (or are getting one) turn that baby ON….all the time. Both dogs had absolute breakdowns over the baby swing. (so scary!)

The stroller and carseat are big things too. Good on you for stroller training…wheels are scary too. :)

If you are doing the baby-wearing thing, I would strongly suggest walking around with it on, perhaps with a towel or something to look baby sized, so they get used to you having that crazy contraption on, and just having something being carried around in general. Plus, it gives you time to practice doing everything with one arm.

The biggest one, and one that was the best for us, was hiring a dog walker the first two weeks after we came home with baby. I don’t know if it would work for you, but having someone they like take them out (even just to play) gives them some special time to be just dogs, and gets them out of your hair for a bit. Because there is NO WAY you will want to (or even should) deal with any of that. You will be sore, sleep deprived, and just trying to figure out how to get all of this ‘new baby’ business down….Hubby too.

And some dogs get really weird about breastfeeding, so keep an eye out for that. Otherwise, I’m sure they will love all the ‘mommy’ time while you’re at home with a babe on your boob, and all the gross things that taste delicious (spit up, poop, boogers, etc….) :)

It will all be just fine!!

LD
Reply

Great Post! There are some really good ideas here relating to a situation that many of us will find ourselves in. I’ll be interested to hear more on this dog/baby integration process from you as you gain the experience.

I wonder if this is easier or harder with older dogs. On one hand they are more set in their ways and established in the household, but on the other they tend to be so much less taxing to handle when full of energy.

Ivy
Reply

Our dog was less than a year old when the baby arrived (yes, we got him just before finding out I am pregnant, not really the best timing) and he treats both kids as litter mates. Regretfully he also harbors illusions that he is the alpha of the litter, which really doesn’t go well with us. I thought he will learn to obey the kids, but I guess they are too little for this, so he only listens to us really.
We didn’t really do any of the preparations you describe, but they make a lot of sense, especially with older and multiple dogs. No bad experiences, but I wish we were better at training him not appropriate the occasional toy for chewing (some of the larger legos are really popular with him) and not to pull when he is getting walked together with kids and the stroller slows us down. And yes, the boundless energy gets very tiring when you are getting demands from both kids and dog.

Tammy
Reply

You are a sweet girl! Your dogs probably take after you and will surprise you of how much they will love your little one. I understand your apprehension. A favorite memory, 21 years ago, when our precious dog Maggie, after several weeks of being separated from the baby, put her paws on the couch, sniffed the baby and then licked him. Best friends until the day she died. Since then we have been through many dogs, like you, and they always surprise me with their resilence and desire to be a part of the family! So glad you are back, I missed you!

Suzanne
Reply

check out the series that love and a six foot leash did on adding a baby to the mix – lots of the same things you are doing.

prapc
Reply

OMG & lol re: Youtube crying prep! Love it!

Ditto on the dog walker – we recently re-hired ours. Outsourcing is key to our sanity.

I guess I’m in the minority, but we had zero problems having & adding cats, dogs and children to our mix. We didn’t prepare any child or animal with a strategy.

In hindsight I’m glad, because it would have added to the one billion and fifty other ways I worried and “prepared” :) Definitely also luck, having only 2 (cats, dogs and children) at a time and… no terriers :)

Mobility. Toddlerhood. The “Terrible Twos” (and/or threes) That was (and is) the real (ubiquitous and expected) literal kicker for the dogs :[

Michele
Reply

You are doing everything right I wish more people would do what you’re doing. There would be less dogs in shelters. I do have one more command to add. The “Place” command if you don’t do it already. Jeff Gellman does a great video on it and this is someone with 7 kids…lol! He is all about a bomb proof dog(s) around kids. .

Cassi
Reply

I never thought about this, but that is a really good idea. I’ll have to keep this in mind for the future. (A long time in the future!)

Betsy
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You are a breath of fresh air with common sense! So happy to read this. We’ve (the rescue I work with) have had two dogs returned recently (one in her home for YEARS) because “I just had a baby and cannot give the dog the time he/she deserves.” Sigh…

dogsordollars
Reply

I love that excuse! *Sarcastically* Because what dogs deserve is time, as opposed to the trauma of being put out of the stable home they’ve had for years. Given the option I think they’d take the temporarily reduced hours. I’ve found my dogs to be quite understanding under the circumstances. This is a family affair. They being part of the family, are subject to changes just like the rest of us. So far… they’re quite willing to accept that.

Betsy
Reply

I hope you don’t mind…. I posted a link to this particular entry on both our website (www.beaglemaryland.org) and our Facebook Page (Beagle Rescue of Southern Maryland). I can remove it if you like, but the message is an important one. “This is a family affair. They being part of the family, are subject to changes just like the rest of us.” Love it. Congratulations on the baby, by the way! You’ll look back on this as the best time of your life. Try to remember that when you’ve been up for 36 hours straight. :-)

dogsordollars
Reply

Totally fine! And for a good cause. I’ve known some wonderful beagles in my day. Thanks for the linkage!

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