Jun 5, 2018

How We Prepared Our Dog For The Baby

I rescued Charlie in July 2012, when he was was about 16 months old. Over the years, he has lost some of his puppy energy but he has also become less inclined to befriend strangers or play with other dogs. Even though he's still friendly to new people and was always super gentle with little kids, Jon and I knew we had to be really proactive in preparing Charlie for the addition to our family. After all, a baby is a big change even when you understand what's happening!

The first pregnancy book I bought was Good Dog, Happy Baby, and I absolutely recommend both it and the associated website. Given how we already interacted with Charlie, Mike Wombacher's approach made a lot of sense to us and helped us not feel overwhelmed by the idea of having both a dog and a baby in the house. Just so you know, Charlie never went through rigorous obedience work. We took an introductory course right after he was adopted (and he'd had some basic training prior to that, though we don't know anything about his early life) and tried to be consistent in enforcing the boundaries we set for him, but those boundaries were honestly pretty minimal. Obviously, though, the better trained your dog is before the baby, the easier it will be to train him for the baby!

Our biggest take-away from the book was that we needed to involve Charlie in every aspect of preparing for and then caring for Robbie. We realized that a baby wasn’t something we should impose on him but rather an adventure we'd be embarking on together. As Mike says in one of his posts,
Again, the idea through all those periods is to continue to create positive associations for the dog with the presence of the child, through various types of interaction. Rather than the opposite, which is what most people inadvertently do, which is: when the baby gets attention, the dog gets kicked to the side. And then, when the baby’s not so much in the picture, then we have a little more time for the dog. Dogs aren’t stupid – they’ll pick that dynamic up super-fast, and develop jealousy and all the problems that go with it.
Here's what that looked like for us before Robbie was born:

Charlie was always allowed in the nursery. We didn't want the nursery to be out of bounds for Charlie. After all, he kept Jon and me company in there when the room was a study; we didn't want him to feel excluded because it transitioned to a new use and then resent the baby for it. I'd spend time reading in the rocking chair while pregnant just so Charlie would be comfortable spending time there, and we always kept the door open so he could wander in and out. We wanted him to see it as another room that the whole family used, not one from which he was forbidden entry.

We picked our travel system and sleeping arrangements with Charlie in mind. 
Buying baby gear is really stressful, especially so when you feel like your baby's life could be at risk if you make the wrong choice, but one of my favorite memories from my pregnancy is watching Jon practice assembling and disassembling different stroller combinations in the aisles of Buy Buy Baby using various imaginary scenarios involving Charlie. The real test was if we felt we could take the car seat off the frame, put the car seat in the car, fold up the frame, and put the folded frame in the trunk of our car - all one-handed and as if the other hand were holding Charlie's leash while Charlie was trying to go after a squirrel. We got some strange looks as he role-played being tugged away by an invisible beast while yelling, "No, Charlie, stay!" (We ended up getting the Chicco Fit2 and Caddy. They've worked great so far and have not only passed the squirrel test but also the cat test!) Charlie was a factor, too, in deciding what bassinet we got when Robbie was a newborn because we knew we needed something that would raise the baby off the ground enough that Charlie couldn't get too invasive. I loved the look of Moses baskets, but having Robbie in one would have required vigilance even in our sleep because of the dog!

Big baby-related items and changes were introduced well before the baby arrivedAgain, we didn't want Charlie to feel like any potentially negative new things were directly associated with the baby and we wanted to give him as much time as possible to adjust to the changes in our home and our lives. For example, we set up the pack n' play bassinet in our bedroom about a month before Robbie was born. Because Charlie used to come up along my side of the bed in the morning to let me know he was awake and needed to go out, we wanted to let him figure out a new method without feeling like the baby was blocking his access to me. We also took a lot of car trips with Charlie in the trunk of our hatchback before bringing Robbie home from the hospital. Our original plan was to buy the Kurgo half hammock for the car so that Charlie could stay in the back seat but be slightly separated from the baby - while the baby was still little and unable to push Charlie away in the event that Charlie got too invasive, we thought it would be safer to have a barrier between the two of them - but it was on backorder until the spring, so we just figured it would be safer to have Charlie in the way back and, again, didn't want him to connect his relegation there to the baby's arrival. (By the time the hammock became available again, we were comfortable with Charlie next to Robbie in the backseat and so we never ended up buying it, but that was the plan!) Another thing we started doing during my pregnancy was training Charlie to sit to have his leash clipped on - we hadn't made him do that before, and we knew that it would be easier to get Charlie ready for a walk while holding the baby if he were sitting still - and we took Charlie out on a few walks with the stroller before Robbie was born so he could get used to maneuvering around it. I actually wish we'd done more stroller walks with Charlie earlier on. He's big enough that he doesn't really get hurt if I run into him so he doesn't respect it as a potentially hazardous vehicle, but bumping into him can jostle me and the stroller/baby, which isn't ideal.

Along those lines, we were also realistic about how we'd have to train ourselves, and we had lots of conversations about what battles would and wouldn't be worth fighting. For instance, we knew that we wouldn't be able to stop Charlie from picking up the baby's toys and stuffed animals. We can teach Charlie to be gentle and to share but, knowing us and knowing Charlie, it would just be an exercise in futility to try to teach Charlie not to touch certain playthings. That being said, we didn't want to put the baby at risk, and so we agreed that we wouldn't ever give Robbie a Wubbanub. As gentle as Charlie might learn to be, putting a stuffed animal on our baby's face would be inviting disaster. Not worth it even to try!

We did play some YouTube videos of crying babies so Charlie would get used to the sound, but honestly he didn’t seem to register them at all. A more important thing, I think, was that we introduced Charlie to as many babies and toddlers as possible (even just in passing, if the families we met in the park were comfortable with it)  in the lead-up to Robbie’s birth. Volunteering with the children's section in our local library ended up being a great way to get Charlie used to how little kids smell and sound and move.

Next up: how we introduced Charlie and Robbie, and my maternity leave home with both boys!