Are your loyal old bruiser and baby on track to be bitter rivals or old mates? Follow this advice and get their relationship on track from the start.
They can sense it. Look in their eyes as you and your partner prepare to have a child. The dogs know. Shit is about to get turned upside down. There is going to be a great disturbance in the force.
Everyone will tell you your dog is going to get pushed way down the priorities list. But they don’t understand how much you love your dog, do they?
Yes, it’s likely you won’t have as much time to spend with the pooch. But it’s not like you WANT to spend less time with it, and you’re going to feel like crap about it. It’s not as though you suddenly won’t care about your mutt anymore.
So, the best you can do is try and integrate dog and baby so nobody gets left out. It’s far too to say they need to be mates from the start, because they will both freak each other out a bit in the beginning. But that’s what the long-term goal should be.
The RSPCA recommends the following:
- Don’t upset the dog’s routine too much when you bring the goblin-thing home
- Continue to treat the pup in the same way as always. Say hi, reward them for good behaviour
- Make sure the dog has calmed down before you introduce them for the first time
- Do stuff that’s fun together. Going for walks is the easiest way to get everyone involved
- Never leave the kid unsupervised with the dog, no matter how much you trust the dog
- Even as they get a bit older, children should be supervised with the pooch, as attacks can occur when they don’t realise they are irritating or threatening it
- Check out the Kidsafe website and/or contact them for recommendations
I had zero experience with babies until ours arrived about a year ago, but plenty of practice at training dogs, so was able to apply some of that knowledge, even if we were entering entirely new waters.
We were told to bring an item of the baby’s clothing for the dog to sniff before mum and bub came home from the hospital, by way of preparing him. Maybe that helped on some level, but I just got a look of ‘why are you showing me this random blanket? Where have you been for the last three days?’.
Our dog Alfonso is a big bruiser, a very happy GSP with endless energy, so we have had to be very careful he doesn’t misdirect that enthusiasm around the baby.
When we first got home it was a matter of introducing them carefully, when he was relatively calm. He was surprisingly good – even dumb dogs can sense you are holding something very precious – and because she was covered in our smells, he knew already she was part of the family.
In the early days it was a matter of making sure he spent a couple of minutes in her vicinity most days, so she didn’t become, in his little mind, this weird foreign object that sucked up all our attention.
As always with dogs, the temptation when feeling guilty is to bribe them with treats. It was much more important to make a bit of time to give him attention and have a play, even if it was less than he was used to – just to show him I hadn’t forgotten about him.
As the baby gets a bit older, and slightly less fragile, you can really start building the relationship between them.
Our dog and baby were both fascinated and slightly terrified of each other. But as soon as we got to the stage of not living in constant fear of harming her, we began to hold her up to him and let him have a sniff, and yeah, he gave her a few kisses. You can’t tell me that dog slobber doesn’t give babies military-grade germ resistance.
He learned very quickly that walks now involved the baby as well, and he was cool with that. He even got protective of the pram and trotted alongside it.
The thing I had to be most careful with was being absolutely certain he wouldn’t overdo it around the baby and accidentally hurt her, while also trying to prevent him from becoming resentful towards her.
Throwing a ball for him while holding her in my arms proved a bit too risky, as he got over excited and was harder to control. He was going through a stage of giving little nips to our hands when he was hyped up, and once he did it in the region of the kid’s feet. I gave him a massive bollocking to let him know that was the line he absolutely couldn’t cross.
He was a bit scared of the baby for a few days after that, so I had to work hard at letting him come close to her when he was relatively docile, so he got it through his head that he could be around her but had to be calm and gentle.
This is the pattern I’ve followed as she gradually became more aware, and more mobile, and began to interact with the world around her. They remain obsessed with each other, even if he scares her sometimes because he’s a big dopey galloot, and she still scares him a bit because he doesn’t know what to do with such a tiny human.
As parents our levels of caution are still extremely high – any interactions are very carefully supervised – but they are very fricken cute together. There are pats now and lots of giggles, and he loves the extra attention. Wariness is evolving into comfort, and eventually that will become companionship and friendship.
She’s calmed him down, I’m sure of it, and she absolutely loves him. I’m pretty sure her first word is going to be ‘Alfie!’.
It may feel like one extra thing to worry about when you bring home a new baby, but having a dog there as your kid grows up is a wonderful thing.
It will give them many of their first experiences of caring, teaching, discipline, responsibility, friendship and yes, even death.
It’s worth working really hard to nurture that relationship, as the rewards for you as parents, the kid, and the pup will be endless.
READ MORE FROM DAN COLASIMONE:
- 8 tips for weaponising your baby in social situations
- How a baby will change all the relationships in your life
- As a new dad you have to learn quickly – it’s no longer about you