Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Practice Babies

People used to tell us that dogs are like practice babies.  That's true.  Especially if you feed your dogs 10 times a day, bathe them every other day, and change their diapers at least every few hours.  What's that?  Your dogs don't wear diapers?  Oh.

Anyway, we have two dogs (both rescues):

Ginny (L) and Milo (R), reclining in their pre-baby glory

Naturally, when I got pregnant a little over a year ago, we were very concerned about how our first "babies" would fare with the new addition.  Here is a chronology of how we prepared the dogs for the baby.

Many months before the due date:
  • We switched to invitation-only couch and bed sharing.  They used to be allowed up whenever; now we pat the couch or bed to invite them up.
  • We played Youtube videos of babies crying and laughing.  Their reactions were at first hilarious--there was lots of doggy-head-tilting-to-one-side as they tried to figure out what was going on.  But eventually they didn't even twitch an ear.  That's what we were going for.
A month or two before the due date:
  • The dogs were no longer permitted to enter the nursery (formerly the dining/guest room/study).  Ever.  No invites, nothing.* 
  • We took the dogs for their annual vaccinations and groomed them; we surmised, correctly, that this might otherwise get put off for a while after the baby arrived.
  • I practiced walking the dogs with an empty stroller.  Yes, I looked like an idiot.  But it was extremely helpful.  I quickly realized that I needed both hands to push the stroller.  Now I can walk both dogs and baby fairly easily.  I have a belt fastened around my waist, and then both dogs wear harnesses with short leashes that are clipped to the belt.  On the no-baby practice walks, I made sure to carry treats and showered the dogs with them liberally, so they would associate stroller walks with happy times.
  • I typed up a Whoa, I'm in labor, things that need to get done list.  It had everything from my OB and doula's telephone numbers, to the last few items that my husband would need to throw in to my hospital bag, to (very importantly) the numbers of the people who had volunteered to feed and walk the dogs for us while we were at the hospital, as well as instructions for them.  
When we came home with the baby:
  • I went into the house first while my husband held the baby, and greeted the dogs. 
  • I let the dogs sniff the cap that the baby had worn in the hospital.  I have no idea if this helped, but we'd read that it was a good idea.
  • Otherwise, we really didn't let the dogs interact with the baby at all for the first few days.  
  • Family (my mom--thank you, Mom)!  walked the dogs every day for us for the first couple weeks.  There was no way it would have happened otherwise.  Getting out of the house with a newborn seems overwhelming enough; trying to add dogs to the process would have made it impossible.
  • Gradually, I allowed the dogs to approach and sniff the swaddled baby as I held her.  They quickly lost interest.  Or at least feigned losing interest!
After the first few weeks:
  • We walked the dogs with the baby!  
  • We put the baby on a blanket on the floor for 'tummy time'; the dogs were allowed to approach and sniff, but not lick.  At least theoretically.  
  • At 5 1/2 months, the baby is increasingly interested in the dogs.  I trust one of them (Ginny) completely, and allow the baby to grab fistfuls of fur at will when we're hanging out on the floor together.  With Milo (the little white fluffy guy), I make sure I have one hand on him and one hand on the baby at all times.  Although he's never shown the least sign of aggression towards her, he has snapped at other children (strangers) in the past, so we're being extra-careful.

*   Having a no-dog zone helped a lot with something I will address in a future post:  for a few months following our daughter's birth, I was often disgusted by the smell of the dogs, and by the thought of touching them--especially while breastfeeding.  It was pretty visceral, and I'm curious if anyone else has experienced this?

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