Leyton’s Mumma Says…
We’ve had our rescue dogs for 4 years (a dalmation and a cocker spaniel) and one of the oh-so-many things I worried about during my pregnancy was how the dogs would react to a baby in the house. People say dogs have a sixth sense and some can tell when you’re pregnant, which would probably help the transition to bringing a new addition to the family…. but I’m fairly sure mine had no clue. The spaniel would regularly do his usual running jump up on the sofa for a cuddle, which would have meant landing on said Bump, even when my bump was so huge and must have been obvious to satellites in outer space (don’t worry he never actually landed on us, I got used to doing a swift side move!) So I was fairly sure bringing a baby home would be a shock to them both.
In preparation I asked friends and family how they coped with having pets and babies – just getting the dogs/baby familiar to the running of daily life seemed a bit of a mystery to me. Turns out loads of people have animals and children the world over so it is do-able, it just often means trying to allow an extra 15 minutes to get anything done! I also read up on various websites for hints and tips – one good one being Victoria Stilwells website on positive reinforcement http://positively.com/positive-reinforcement/why-positive-reinforcement/
In advance of the baby coming it makes sense to try and get things in place, so not everything happens at once. We had heard that the dogs may want a place that was just their own, so we set about giving them a more defined bed/play area that can be a safe haven for when Leyton is screaming the place down, and in the future for when he starts walking and chasing them. This is the intention anyway, we’re not at that stage yet!
We also put a stairgate up at the bottom of the stairs so they wouldn’t be able to follow us upstairs into the nursery (they have always stayed downstairs 95% of the time, but there is that 5% when the spaniel in particular thinks it might be his lucky day and tries to follow!) Everybody’s different but we decided we wanted to keep the dogs downstairs to prevent dog hairs in the nursery, in case the baby was allergic, and making it easier to get the baby to nap in the day in the nursery without the dogs present. We also had already started enforcing the ‘Down’ command when they jumped up in the early weeks of my pregnancy, so by the time the baby arrives the dogs would be used to not jumping up which I’m imagining can be quite hazardous when holding a newborn!
Generally I think the advice is to get into good habits whilst you are pregnant so it is one less worry when the baby arrives, and also means the dogs don’t associate the baby with all these changes. This means if you don’t want the dog to sleep in your bed when you have a newborn in there, or you don’t want the dog to sit on your lap in the chair you intended to breastfeed in… now’s the time to try to change those habits me thinks! We were quite happy with the routines we had generated with our dogs but I did spend time when I was pregnant thinking of each hypothetical scenario and how it might play out, to decide if changes were needed.
Moses baskets/baby play mats/pushchairs etc were a regular feature in the house when I was around 30 weeks pregnant to give the dogs time to get used to these new foreign objects. Our dalmation doesn’t tend to like metal things like ironing boards so he was a bit scared of the pushchair initially and kept barking at it, but after a couple of hours he could see it wasn’t a threat and settled. So it was definitely worth doing without the baby in first!!
Arrival of Baby
When we had baby Leyton I ended up staying in hospital 2 nights so we decided to start with the next stage of advice we learnt- familiarise your pet with your babys smell, and link it to something positive. So on night 1 when the hubby had to leave me (visitors aren’t allowed to stay overnight in our local hospital) he took a blanket and babygrow that our little one had been in for the dogs to smell. When he arrived home, he fussed over the dogs and then let them smell Leyton’s clothes praising them and giving them treats for sniffing the clothes (our boys are very food-oriented). A small part of me did wonder if this technique would mean the dogs would then think of Leyton as food when they first smelt him, but that is fairly unlikely I’d have thought (!) and we use food and headrubs as praise in our house, so actually it made perfect sense for them to have this type of praise for sniffing his clothing nicely. Hopefully they would then have warm fuzzy feelings when they actually met the baby 😀
My husband continued to do this each time he came home whilst I was at hospital (he was under strict instructions!) When we received the all-clear and arrived back with Leyton we did a retrospectively-comical version of The Fox, The Chicken and The Corn (that puzzle where a man has to get a fox, a chicken, and a sack of corn across a river. He has a rowboat, and it can only carry him and one other thing….you get the idea). Ok, so this may have been overkill but I really wanted to do the introduction right!!
So this is what we did:
- Husband goes into the house with bags and says hello to the dogs, praises/strokes them. Me and Baby stay in the car. Husband returns.
- I go into the house with some more bags (you always take more than you need into the hospital) and praise/stroke them. This is because I smell of the baby, and also because I’ve been gone 3 days so I thought they might be excited and jump around which they did. Husband and baby stay in car.
- I get treats ready and keep fussing the dogs as husband comes into house carrying the baby in the carseat, so there is protection round him and he can be lifted to safety if necessary. The dogs were super inquisitive and sniffed around loads whilst I talked in what I hope was a soothing manner and gave them the occasional Coachie treat here and there. I resisted the urge to just yank them both away because anything that startles them/connect negativity with the baby isn’t a good thing. And they were brilliant!… When the spaniel tried to lick his foot I told him no and he stopped mid-attempt. After a few minutes the novelty wore off and they went about their business playing with dog toys with hopeful puppydog eyes, and soon forgot about the baby. Every dog is different and every scenario is different but luckily this worked for us, and we think the introduction went as well as it could.
Every day life with Baby
As Leyton has got older we have found it is tricky to do all the things we did before such as take the dogs out for a walk on my own (don’t have enough arms for 2 dogs and 1 pushchair, and daren’t chance taking him in the baby carrier in case the dogs pull me over) therefore we have to plan around my hubbys shifts at work so we walk together. And now Leyton is crawling and cruising along furniture I have to keep watching and talking to all 3 of them to make sure they crawl/ walk round each other as best as they can – and the dogs have got much better at this over time!
My cleaning regime has improved dramatically too much to my husbands delight, because I’ve found we get a lot of dog hairs float around and because they cling to Leyton as he crawls I find myself hoovering the whole of downstairs and then wiping Flash Floor wipes around the surfaces every morning!
But things have worked well with the dogs and baby, it just takes perseverance and a bit of forward thinking. I think overall it will be a big benefit to Leyton to grow up with pets and learn the responsibilities that comes with having dogs, as well as the unconditional love an animal can give if you look after it well. Hopefully the dogs will also see over time that it’s not so bad having Leyton around when he is becomes a 3rd person in the house to give them fuss and cuddles…. it’s a hard life hey?! 😉