Some folks are perfectly happy to become and remain dog parents. For them, a four-legged friend is the only child they need in their lives. For a long time, I thought that was us.
For others, that journey may continue into the parenthood of tiny humans as well.
There is never a perfect time to add a baby to the family, but there are some signs to watch for
It's nearly impossible to know when is the right time to take that next step in the journey as parents. But when they do, a couple might find that having a dog had been the greatest practice of all for preparing to have children.
Certainly the similarities abound: both dogs and children are entirely dependent on you for survival. You're responsible for feeding them, teaching them how to understand and behave in the world, and ensuring that they can thrive knowing they are safe and secure in your care.
While the job can certainly be accomplished by a single person, when there are a pair working together, it becomes easier so long as both parties can communicate clearly to each other to create a seamless handoff of responsibilities. Was the medicine administered at the right does at the right time? Yes it was, or no it wasn't. One person may be better at certain responsibilities than the other. Food prep versus teaching versus physical activity.
Once we found that rhythm with how we were raising Buffy, we felt more prepared to contemplate adding a child into the mix.
What to think about when having a baby and a dog
When we found ourselves preparing to have a baby on the way, there were heaps of questions running through my mind.
- What happens to my dog that has had the run of the house before the arrival of the little baby?
- What if my dog doesn't like the baby?
- What if the baby is allergic to dogs?
- Will my dog know how to be gentle around the baby?
- How do I make sure my dog doesn't bite the baby?
- Can a dog lick a baby?
- How do babies play with dogs?
- Can a dog be on the bed with a baby?
- Will my dog like the baby?
Ultimately, I was asking myself, "how do I introduce my dog to my baby?" in a way that doesn't scar the baby, or create a negative association for our dog about the baby. In other words, how do we add a new baby to the family without alienating or pissing our dog off.
How we got our dog ready to meet our baby
Armed with a list of questions, the next step was researching. Throwing the dog layer on top of all the other baby research to be done, I found a few ideas.
- Introduce your dog to the baby’s scent by allowing him/her to sniff items that have been in contact with the baby, such as a blanket or clothing. We ended up sending home a swaddle and a singlet that the baby had been wearing for about 20 hours. We stuffed the items into a zipped plastic baggy to lock in the scent and enlisted the support of relative to introduce the scents to Buffy while we were at the hospital. This gave Buffy a chance to soak in the new smells before we entered the home with the new baby. It's worth noting that dogs have incredibly powerful noses that can pick up not just scents, but pheromones as well, which mom has been oozing for the past 9 months. Buffy definitely knew something was coming as mom's body changed, and the smells of the swaddle was just the final touches on that transformation.
- Have someone else hold and pet your dog while you hold and interact with the baby; this will help create an association between positive interactions and being around the baby. This also helps avoid the feeling of being neglected as the baby while certainly take up a great deal of your attention. In our case, my father assisted with dog walking and playtime around the house while we tended to the baby, giving Buffy someone to regularly interact with and be distracted by. So far, this has been a great setup.
- Take your pup on walks with you while pushing a stroller or carrier so they learn that babies are part of their routine too! This doesn't have to wait until the baby has arrived. We took our stroller out for a test drive with Buffy walking alongside for a good 5km running errands. We definitely got some glances of confusion from people who wondered if we forgot our baby, but it was a worthwhile way to get Buffy used to having this large four-wheeler alongside during her walks. Not advice, but definitely exercise caution if your dog is a puller—don't attach their leash to the stroller lest it get pulled over at the first sighting of a squirrel.
- Encourage gentle behavior from your pup by rewarding them with treats whenever they act calmly around the new addition to your family. We bought a special bag of chicken balls that we got specifically for this purpose to associate calm behavior with the treats. We got a head start on training this behavior with the help of a toy doll that we used as a proxy for our baby before the baby arrived. We pretended to respond to the doll crying, and would visit the crib in the nursery, lean over and fawn over the doll while Buffy looked on in confusion. As she ventured closer to explore, we urged her to sniff gently and rewarded her with a chicken ball when she behaved, and we cautioned her with a firm "No." when she approached with too much energy.
- Allow supervised visits between your pup and the baby—let them become familiar with each other's presence over time without feeling overwhelmed or scared by one another's proximity. We never left the two of them alone unless there was a barrier between the two. Even with all the progress Buffy had made, we didn't want to leave any room for surprises. Babies are small, and they make small critter sounds, and they can poke and prod a dog in a way they might not like. Supervised interactions give them the space to interact in a safe way that still allows them to explore each others presence in bite-sized engagements. Buffy's favorite activity is investigating whether or not the diaper does in fact need to be changed.
This is still an ongoing process for us, and once the baby has a better command of language, the next step comes of teaching them how to be a good friend to a dog too.