Wednesday 24 June 2015

"We're having a baby!" ....."What will you do with the dog?"

A volunteer shares their experience of having two dogs and bringing a new baby into their home....

"I've had this written for a few weeks and just hadn't gotten around to finishing it but in light of what happened in the UK recently I feel it is time to share my positive experience."

In Summer 2013, I found out we were expecting our first baby. We were so happy to start a family and when we started to share the good news with friends & family I found it hard to believe the amount of times we were asked "What are you going to do with the dogs?"

We have two dogs: a 7 year old Westie called Casper and a 5 year old Labradoodle named Ralph. Everyone immediately looks at Ralph, he's big, he's bouncy, he's not aware of his own size and I know they think we are mad. But Ralph is extremely good natured, he's just a giant teddy bear. In a way, it was more Casper I was worried about. Westies wouldn’t be known to be the “greatest” dogs around children but he is a gentle soul who just loves his food, a walk and a comfy spot on the couch.

So what did we do? Get rid of them? No, they are part of our family. We've had Ralph since he was a pup and we adopted Casper from Last Hope in 2013 after we fostered him and found we couldn't part with him. 

I've volunteered with Last Hope for a few years and have seen so many dogs rehomed because a new baby is coming. Before the baby is even there, people have decided you can't have both so without giving their beloved dog a chance he is shipped out of his home. I’ve seen the confused looks on their faces. Where is my family? Why am I here? Alone. 

I wanted to be proactive, so in preparation for the new arrival along with all the usual stuff we decided to get some help from a dog behaviourist. He came to the house and helped us set rules and showed us where we were going wrong. Never have I seen these two dogs so well behaved. It was well worth the money to get myself and my husband on the same page with their training and give us a good place to start. So after he left it was up to us to keep up the training. If you don't it will immediately go back to how it was. 

Our son arrived in April 2014. We did all the things we read about; my husband brought home a babygrow from the hospital for the dogs to get used to the new scent. When I came home with the baby, I went in first to meet the dogs as they hadn’t seen me in a few days and so were excited. When they had calmed down we brought in baby Jack.

We kept them at a distance for a couple of weeks. At first, I only let them in the same room if someone else was there with me, just in case. Ralph was very keen to find out who this new being in the house was. Casper on the other hand had no interest whatsoever. He was happy that when the baby was asleep in the crib he could sit up beside me on the couch like always. We let them smell Jack, he got a few licks on the head and things settled down and we found our new normal. 

Some fluffy baby toys were lost to the dogs. They quickly tried to claim any squeaky toys lying around, so we stopped buying those. We discovered how much dogs love dirty nappies and yes, it is as disgusting as it sounds. We felt like crying when Jack was woken by them barking after taking a long time to settle him. But we saw huge smiles and laughter when the dogs came over to him. He clicks his tongue to call them and in his own little language tells them what to do.

Babies develop so quickly in the first year that every few months we had new challenges. When Jack began to crawl he could get nearer the dogs without us being in total control. Standing and walking, two huge milestones for him but now he was easily knocked over if the dogs brushed against him as they walked by. We learned and so did Jack. He learned to balance against the furniture when the dogs passed by and now is pretty steady on his feet so a slight bump doesn't cause him any trouble. He does get an occasional knock but he's quick to his feet again. 

One year on, and we have a happy little toddler who adores our dogs and is animal crazy. We've made new rules, some we've forgotten about, others we've stuck to. It's been a learning curve, we've made mistakes. Our dogs sometimes don't get their walk. The baby has eaten a dog nut ...or three. But challenges arise in every household with a newborn, it just so happens that these were part of ours.

Enjoy sharing your love of animals with your children. It's amazing to see them interact. Jack might only be a little over a year old but it's clear he loves the dogs and other animals he meets in relative's homes. He likes throwing the ball for them, rubbing their belly and giving them a treat. He shares Ralph’s love of water and they splash in buckets and puddles together. I feel as he gets older he will just love his two buddies more and more. 

What we have learned that may be helpful to others? 

Be patient. Our dogs were curious. The safety of our baby was our priority. We took it slowly and we found a balance. We didn't need to banish the dogs to the garden but they did need to spend more time out there than they had. When we could we had everyone in together. We let the dogs get close but not too close.

 Exercise is importantTired dogs are quiet dogs. I admit this is something we still struggle with. If one of us is working or not home its hard bringing a baby and two dogs for a walk on your own, especially if the weather isn't great. Some mornings I get up half an hour early and get in their walk before work. I can manage them with the buggy when its quiet out but I also bought a baby sling so we could still walk them in our usual spots like the Hill of Tara and places you could never bring a buggy. In the early days ask friends and family to help when they visit. 

Always supervise. It's always said but it really is so important, especially when food is around. This is something we are careful about. The temptation is too high for the dogs with food in the mix and they very quickly learned to look for food from him. I put the dogs in the garden or the hall at meal times until jack is finished and then he gets a giggle out of giving them some leftovers. If he is toddling around with food in his hand again they go to another room or outside if I can't keep a close eye on them. He likes to share but there is always a risk of one of them snapping something from him and you need to be watching to prevent this. Or they may snap at him if he tried to take food away from them so when the dogs are being fed it's important not to let him annoy them. 

    Learn about their body language. Sometimes the dogs are happy to sit there while Jack pets them. But if one of them moves away to be alone, I dont let Jack go after him. I see it as the dogs way of saying "ok I've had enough" and I dont want to test their patience.

But most of all we learned it can work. Like many of the other Last Hope volunteers we know having a baby does not necessarily mean you cannot have a pet. Like any big change in life it takes some work and time to adjust. At times it has been difficult but giving children the chance to grow up with a pet, to teach them how to treat animals with kindness and to love them is a gift we are happy to be able to give our son. 

Pets & Children

For advice on Babywearing - choosing a sling and safety guidelines

With Thanks to

To see animals currently looking for their forever homes visit