The other week, I saw a discussion on the NYTimes Motherlode boards about dogs and babies. Specifically, a couple was considering getting a dog a few years before trying to have a baby and was soliciting advice.
As someone with an awesome baby and an equally awesome dog, I do get asked frequently about how I manage the two. (That’s them below!)
First things first, my response to this thread is a hearty, “Yes! Get a dog now.” My pup, Spencer, was 3-years old when I had my son. Having a puppy does prepare you in a lot of ways for a child, if not entirely:
•Waking up early. Spencer has always been an early riser, so he broke me of the habit of sleeping past 9 a.m. or even really 7 or 8 if I’m honest. I’ve always been a light sleeper, so Spence knows he can wake me up with a gentle whine or a more forceful nudge of the bed if I’m being lazy.
•Poop, poop and more poop. Dogs poop. Babies poop. A lot. Walks with my pup helped me get over the “ick” factor (for the most part).
•Drool. They both drool quite a bit, too.
•The responsibility. I have to provide for Spencer’s welfare, making sure he’s fed, watered, walked, goes to the vet for checkups, gets his playtime in and gets plenty of affection. I have to walk him on chilly mornings when I would much rather stay in bed and play with him when I am trying to work (he’s relentless when he wants attention.) All of this is good prep for a baby who needs all of the above and much, much more.
•The love. Saving the best for last—he introduced me to the concept that a large piece of my heart is now independently walking around outside my body. I can’t always control what it does and there’s a risk I might get hurt, but there’s nothing like a big friendly greeting at the end of a tough day or a warm pup curling up against your legs in the morning. When Spencer is at his happiest, say, chasing after a ball at the dog run, it makes my heart soar. And then just as quickly he’ll start to dig and I’ll be frustrated with him because he never listens to my saying no. There’s no better prep for having a toddler!
Finally, I would never recommend having a puppy and a baby at the same time. So if you know you want both but aren’t ready for a baby, go ahead and get a dog. In two or three years he’ll be out of the adorable but demanding puppyhood phase, a must for bringing home a baby.
Introducing Baby to our Dog
Now, as for how we did with baby and Spencer getting along—it took a bit of prep and a lot of effort, but we found our groove along the way. First and foremost, my husband and I never considered Spencer our “baby” and were always careful not to call him that or treat him that way. We knew we wanted to have a real baby and Spencer was not a substitute for that. He was—and very much still is—our best buddy.
When it came time to bring Leopold home from the hospital, we made sure to bring Spencer a swaddle that Leopold had used so he could sniff it first. It’s also recommended to bring a dirty diaper home for pups, but we heard that tip too late. Spencer was home first when we came home so he could technically be more comfortable (he had been at my in-laws). The first few moments were a little frantic as he ran around, happy to see me after four nights and not sure who this new little being was. He desperately wanted to lick the baby, a habit that he hasn’t grown out of, though the desperation has subsided, thankfully.
At first, he would whine when Leopold would cry to make sure we were taking care of him. But as the cries continued, Spencer eventually started to leave the room—we figure he knew we were going to take care of the babe and he was sick of the crying.
He’s definitely protective of Leopold and will watch our babysitters with an eagle eye to make sure they aren’t hurting his baby brother. And when we go out all together, he will bark if you get too close to Leopold.
As for Leopold, Spencer is his greatest joy in life. He gets downright giddy when Spencer comes into a room. He is now desperate to pet him, though Spencer doesn’t usually hang around for too long as Leopold’s version of petting is grabbing Spencer’s floppy ears. (We’re working on showing him the right way to pet a dog.)
Overall, having a dog and a puppy worked for us because it was important to us that Spencer stay a part of our family and our lives. We have worked hard to make that happen and now that we’re back in a rhythm, the payoff is there. Spencer is still our best buddy and Leopold gets to grow up with a big furry brother!