How many people do you know who immediately got rid of their dog when they had a baby? Or permanently moved the dog to the backyard?
When I was pregnant, I can’t tell you how many people asked, “So when are you getting rid of your dog?” I was horrified! When I told them “never,” they gave me an all-knowing “we’ll see” look. One friend even said, “You won’t give a crap about your dog once you have a baby.”
Having just been there myself, I get it. Life with a newborn is beyond overwhelming. Throw sleep deprivation into the mix and you feel like you can’t deal with ONE MORE THING. Like the barking dog who just woke up the baby. If you lose your bond with your dog, you might find yourself contemplating giving him away.
I’m super bonded with my Miniature Poodle, Jäger. If you’ve ever shared that special connection with a once-in-a-lifetime heart dog, then you know what I’m talking about.
When I was pregnant, I fretted over what would happen to our relationship once the baby came. I would cuddle him close and vow to continue taking good care of him, even if I didn’t feel like it. I even cried about it a little bit. I know it sounds crazy (blame it on pregnancy hormones), but I was really scared that I would somehow stop loving my dog once my baby arrived.
Well, guess what? I didn’t stop loving my dog. Now that I have a baby, I can really appreciate how easy my dog is. He doesn’t ask for much.
“The simplicity and peace of a relationship with your dog can be a balm to the soul of a new parent,” says Penelope Milne, certified pet dog trainer and owner of DubDubDog Animal Behavior Services in Laguna Beach, Calif. “Time with your dog can ease the mind and heart, and let you return refreshed to infant care.”
Our relationship didn’t suffer because I made a huge effort not to push him to the back burner. After those first few months of life with a baby (what I call “the dark days”), things got so much easier!
I hope other moms find these tips helpful. With just a little effort, it’s possible to find balance between caring for your “first baby” and your new human baby.
When you’re sleep deprived and have a crying baby in your arms, the last thing you want is to realize you’re out of dog food! Moments like these can make new moms think, “Oh man, this dog has got to go!”
Before the baby was born, I bought a six-month supply of dog food, refilled my dog’s prescriptions, and took him to the vet for his annual checkup and teeth cleaning. And my dog LOVES toys, so I also bought a bunch of dog toys on clearance so I could take one out any time I felt like he was getting bored or restless.
I make an effort throughout the day to give my dog a few quick cuddles and throw his ball for him while the baby plays on the floor. Taking just a moment to connect with my dog lets him know I still care.
“Look for activities that are either short duration or high intensity so you can do them in a brief window of time, or things you can do with one hand, so you can entertain dog and baby at the same time,” Milne says.
When you have your hands full with the baby, you can’t always pet or play with your dog, but you can talk to him. I say my dog’s name several times and look directly at him, telling him he’s a good boy and I love him. I always get a lot of tail wags.
Exercise is good for the mind, body, and soul. Taking your dog for daily walks gives him the chance to go potty, stretch his legs, and sniff all the great smells. A nice long walk will help your dog stay calm and relaxed at home, and it also helps you lose the baby weight! I walk with my dog and the baby at least once a day, sometimes several times a day. We all love the change of scenery.
In the beginning, particularly if you had a C-section, don’t hesitate to ask for help. “Let paid helpers (or volunteers) do the routine stuff like scooping poop,” Milne says. “Consider using a dog walker or a well-qualified dog day care.”
I groom my own dog, but the first few months after the baby was born, I had him professionally groomed. When I was ready, I started grooming him at home again.
In the first few months, I definitely took advantage of the oft-heard advice “nap when the baby naps.” I always brought my dog into bed with me so we could snuggle together. (This also cut down on the chance that he would bark at something and wake the baby!)
“Doing nothing together is a nice bonding choice,” Milne says. “One of the lovely things about dogs is they sleep about 16 hours a day!”
When we brought our baby home from the hospital, he was asleep in his carrier. My dog sniffed him, then ignored him … until the baby woke up and started crying. My dog completely freaked out, running in circles and barking at the baby. Yikes!
Thankfully, my dog settled down after a few days and eventually tuned out the crying completely. Now, my baby can be level 10 screaming and my dog rarely lifts his head.
If you hit a bump in the road in the early days, don’t jump to the conclusion that this isn’t going to work out. If your dog seems unable to adapt, you can always call a trainer to come out to your home. But give it some time. A baby is a big adjustment for everyone, including the dog!
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About the author: Jackie Brown is a freelance writer specializing in the pet industry. She lives in Southern California with her husband, son, and adorable Miniature Poodle, Jäger, who is obsessed with fetch and killing all the toys. She is the former editor of Rescue Proud, Dog World, and Puppies 101. Follow her on Twitter or visit her website.