The first thing that my husband and I did after getting our first apartment together (almost two months after we actually had gotten married, thanks to being stationed at first in two different states by the Army) was get a dog. We adopted Gunner, a 1-ish year old shepherd/hound mix, from a local shelter. He was adorable and HYPER. We literally wouldn’t let him sleep during the day so that he wouldn’t run into windows and walls at night. After a few months he settled in and calmed down a bit (naps were now permitted) so naturally we got another dog to keep him company.
We didn’t intend to get a second dog. But we happened upon an adoption event, with Gunner in tow, where he and an adorable 1-year old black lab mix that was available for adoption just took to each other. We left but spent the whole day talking about her and finally decided that if we went back and she was still there, she’d be coming home with us. Next thing you know, we had a second dog- Shera.
So now we had two dogs and a little townhouse and a few months later we found that our trying-to-conceive efforts had paid off- we were going to add a baby to the mix!
We are nothing if not good at pacing ourselves.
I read everything I could about preparing our dogs for the baby’s arrival and you should too, if you’re a pet owner. While I’m not a pet expert, here are a few of the things that we did to get the dogs ready before a baby invaded the home for the first time.
- This isn’t something that everyone does, but we decided to get rid of all the stuffed dog toys that we had. I felt like it was too confusing to a dog to have to differentiate between a baby’s stuffed toy and his own doggie stuffed toy. I mean- they look and (I presume, I haven’t tried it myself) taste the same. So we left our dogs with other toys, and each other, but no stuffed toys. They didn’t care.
- We set up any baby gear/toys/etc that took up a lot of space, made noise, or moved well before my due date. I wanted the dogs to be used to a swing moving or a bouncy chair vibrating or a toy making noise before there was a baby attached to them. And setting up the crib and glider let us start teaching the dogs where their space ended and the baby’s began… again, before there was an actual baby.
- When we brought Fidget home from the hospital, we had my parents go in and bring the dogs out to greet us outside. I greeted them first, gave them lots of petting and love, and then we let them sniff the carseat (with Fidget inside it), all in a controlled environment- they were on leashes- that wasn’t in their “territory.” Once everyone was acquainted, we all went inside together.
- We wouldn’t leave the dogs and Fidget alone in a room together in the beginning. I grew to trust the dogs, especially now that we’re three kids in and I know how they are and trust them with babies, but I didn’t want to take chances in the beginning. Especially with babies that are starting to crawl, sit-up, pull-up, walk, etc… this is prime time for them to start grabbing the dog, pulling on them, and generally becoming a nuisance (in the dog’s view). You don’t know how a dog will react to being yanked on or having a paw shoved into an exploring baby’s mouth (ask me how I know this might happen) until it happens, and believe me- you don’t want to be out of the room when it does. A dog is an animal and may not react well. Please supervise interaction closely!
- If you’re going to be walking the dog alone with baby, investigate good baby carriers. I know a lot of people that take their dogs for walks with their child in a stroller, but I prefer to have both hands free during a walk. And to NOT have the wheels + leash equation to deal with. Again, this is a personal preference.
Living with kids and pets together takes a lot of patience. You’re going to repeat yourself. A lot. Both the animals and the kids will require training. I spend part of every single day talking to my kids about how to treat the dogs (or how not to treat them) and they’ve grown up with them! Luckily, our dogs are ridiculously laid back and have had non-reactions to things like having their tongues grabbed and yanked, attempts to ride them like horses, boys grabbing their collars and running with them, and other borderline torturous behavior. Every time the boys do one of these types of things, we have to remind them that the dogs have feelings and can be hurt, just like the boys themselves. And the dogs get reminded that they can leave the room and do not have to tolerate being abused in such manner.
I’ve (almost) never regretted having the two dogs alongside all the boys. It does take some effort to make sure that everyone stays safe, but the love that little kids have for their pets is unbelievable. You don’t necessarily have to give up your pets because you have a baby- everyone can live happily ever after, with some training for both the humans and the animals. When in doubt, talk to your vet about how to prepare your pet and how to deal with any issues that may arise. If she or he doesn’t have suggestions, the vet will probably know a behavior specialist that might be able to give you more help.
How did you prepare for life with baby AND your pet?