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My sister, Colleen, often refers to me as an FKIA. She says that the last three letters stand for “Know It All.” I’m not sure what the first letter stands for, but I assume it’s probably “Famous.”
Anyway, Colleen used this phrase toward the end of her pregnancy with her first child. In my infinite wisdom, I suggested that she probably wouldn’t find all that much difference between having a baby and having a dog. A few years ago, I’d given her and her husband, Max, a boxer puppy out of the first litter from my Janice and Leroy. The little guy ran them ragged, to say the least – they were up at all hours of the night putting him outside, cleaned up mountains of poo and rivers of pee before he was finally housebroken, took him to obedience classes, and generally did everything you’d expect people to do when they’re trying to raise a dog right. I figured it would just be a bit more of the same with a kid.
It turns out I really didn’t know it all, because once my nephew, Owen, was born, I quickly came to see that there were a lot of differences between raising a dog and raising a child. Colleen claims she always knew better. Suffice it to say, though, both of us discovered that there were lessons to be learned, and things that people would never really understand until they had a dog and a baby at the same time. Wonderful four-legged Sasha and wonderful two-legged Owen coexist perfectly, but it would be a very different household if it was just one of them.
So, here we go. These are the 13 things you’ll learn if you have both a dog and a baby.
I always figured that with Janice and Leroy, I’d probably picked up enough poo to make a ski hill. But you wouldn’t believe how much a baby produces! I did the favor of babysitting Owen one weekend when Colleen and Max wanted to get away for a much-deserved weekend, and believe me, he made my dogs look like rank amateurs. And you can’t just pick it up kid poo in a plastic bag and then toss it.
The other thing was, if I wanted to go out for much needed wine groceries, I couldn’t just put Owen in a crate and leave. I actually had to take him with me! Imagine.
Then there was the need to serve as the entertainment committee. I mean, Janice and Leroy are happy with a trip to the dog park or a game of catch, and then they just want to sleep for the rest of the day. A toddler is a whole different thing. Colleen and Max weren’t even reasonable on how I should approach the weekend – they took a “No crate, no sedate, and no debate” approach, so unless Owen was ready for his five-second nap, I had to keep him amused. And apparently that meant more than just telling him “Go play with your blocks, in the closet, in the other room, in the house across the street” or playing “cops and robbers” where he’d be the robber and I’d put him in the crate and tell him he was doing 25 to life.
Colleen and Max can be so unreasonable.
I can take anything away from Janice and Leroy, and also from Sasha. This is because they were all trained to the “Leave it” command at a very early age. It’s practically impossible to teach a kid this simple command. Everything goes in the kids’ mouth. Forget the three-second rule – if it hits the floor, no matter how long it sits there, it’s going to end up in the kid’s mouth.
Dog toys are also going to end up in the kid’s mouth. After being in the dog’s mouth. Another thing that you’ll learn if you have a baby and a dog at the same time is that this really isn’t all that big a deal. Or at least that you’d better not make it a big deal, because it’s inevitable. You can try to substitute a pacifier (which is probably going to end up being dropped on the floor, and then end up in the dog’s mouth), but you’re never going to stop dogs and kids from sharing toys, and at some point, you’ll likely realize that there’s no point in even trying.
So why isn’t it a big deal? Because kids put a lot of horrible things in their mouths, and they don’t die from it. In fact, I’ve even heard it said that the average kid will ingest five pounds of dirt before he reaches adolescence. I don’t know if that figure is accurate, but what I do know is that there’s not much in the way of illness that a kid can get from a dog. Probably best to make sure that the dog is wormed regularly, though.
I honestly don’t know why people feel the need to do this – maybe they genuinely mean well, or maybe they’re just into control, or for some reason they don’t like dogs, but you can bet that if you have a baby and a dog together, someone is going to suggest that you get rid of the dog. Especially if the dog is of a large breed.
When Colleen first got pregnant, her mother-in-law insisted that Sasha had to go. It didn’t matter how well-trained and well-behaved Sasha was, anything could happen, and it just wasn’t worth taking the chance.
Colleen is a better person than I am. Instead of going up one side of her mother-in-law and down the other, like I would have, she politely thanked her for her advice, and then informed her that she would be careful and not leave Sasha alone with the baby.
I might point out that you should never leave a dog of any breed or size alone with a child, ever. That said, though, there’s no reason why you can’t have both a baby and a dog.
Owen knows how to treat Sasha gently, and I don’t foresee any problems between the two of them. You’ll learn to ignore unsolicited advice about your dog the same way you ignore all the other unsolicited advice from people who think they know more about parenting than you do.
What do you post to your Facebook? I’m thinking it’s cute pictures of your kid snuggling with your dog, the two of them playing together, sharing a wading pool, or napping on the floor. You probably don’t exactly whip out your iPhone to take a shot when your baby pulls on the dog’s ear and gets snapped at for his trouble. You also probably don’t let people know when you’ve finally got the baby to sleep after 47 hours of singing and rocking, and then your dog barks because a leaf falls and wakes the baby. And you likely don’t Instagram pics of you sand-blasting bathing the baby because he’s discovered where the dog likes to go potty and thinks he’s discovered the next best thing after Play-Doh.
So, if you think that it’s all going to be Hallmark moments, think again. You’ll learn that there are a lot of “downs” to having a baby and a dog together. I think, though, that the “ups” will far outweigh the “downs.”
“Honey, did you feed the dog last night?”
“Um… I though you did it.”
You’d never forget to feed your dog, right? Trust me, when you have a baby, you will forget. You’ll never forget to feed the kid, because if you do, he will remind you by screaming a lung up. Your dog will most likely just wait patiently, as he always does.
Look, you’re human. You’ve got a lot going on and chances are that at some point, you will forget to feed the dog. You might also, in the havoc that can develop when you’re dealing with a baby, forget to put the dog out and find an unwanted deposit or two on your floor.
I only see this as a problem if it becomes habit. I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you want to make having a baby and a dog together work. So you’re not likely, six months down the road, to discover the starved, feces-encrusted corpse of your dog in the mudroom because you haven’t fed him or let him out in forever. If you slip up, make a fuss over your dog, give him treats and cuddles, and tell him how much you love him. Then forgive yourself, and move on. You’ve learned to be more vigilant.
When you have a baby, sometimes it seems like all you ever talk about is poo. Your conversations with your partner have gone well beyond “How was your day?” and “What would you like for dinner?” and “Should we find something to watch on Netflix while we relax with a glass of wine?”
Now it’s all “Did you change the baby?” and “When was the last time the baby pooed?” and “I think the baby just pooed.” And of course there’s always “I think the dog needs to poo, so could you take him out while I deal with the baby’s poo?” Sometimes you just want to go to the bathroom and have a good poo yourself, rather than dealing with everyone else’s.
You become totally immune to the offensiveness of poo. You could probably sit down next to it and eat. Vomit doesn’t bother you much either. When you have a baby and a dog in the same household, you learn that nasty things are going to be delivered by both of them, at both ends. “Oh, look,” you say, “the baby pooed in the dog barf.” Then you clean it up and go about your day.
You’ve got everyone nicely posed for the Christmas card photo. Then the baby spits up or the dog starts licking his ‘nads. Then you decide to try one with the dog, and once with the kid. The dog decides to photo-bomb, knocks the kids over, and you have to start from scratch. You might as well just go with what you can get, because you’ll quickly learn that it’s never going to be perfect.
So, you think you’ve found the perfect babysitter? She loves kids, and dogs too, she says. Here’s the thing – babysitters want to make money. That’s why they agree to look after your kid. Now granted, most people aren’t going to babysit if they don’t like kids, but you can’t take it on faith that they really like dogs as well.
Colleen found this out the hard way. When Owen was two, Colleen and Max scheduled a “date night” – dinner and a movie. They thought they had a good sitter, and for at least one part of the equation, they did. When they got home, Owen was bathed, and sound asleep in his crib. Sasha, however, was crying frantically at the door because she hadn’t been let out all night. Her water dish was empty, too.
Needless to say, Colleen and Max didn’t use that sitter again. On a positive note, Max’s mom now looks after babysitting when needed, and thanks to Colleen’s gentle, non-confrontational approach, Mom has gotten to know Sasha a bit better, and no longer sees her as a possible threat to Owen.
I still babysit too, sometimes. But Colleen prefers her mother-in-law, because Mom doesn’t suggest that Owen go play in the street. Not that I do that [whistling nonchalantly, kicking at an imaginary piece of dirt, and looking skyward with a “Who, me?” expression on my face].
When you introduce baby and dog, lots of things can happen. Your dog might ignore the baby, or might react with hostility because he’s always been your baby, and now he feels as though he’s being replaced. Don’t assume that bad things will never happen, because they will. The dog and the baby could end up in a dispute over a toy, in which case, you’re going to have to take quick action to let the dog know that no matter what, he defers to the baby.
Or, the baby could accidentally hurt the dog – you know how it is; kids flail around a lot, and maybe the dog ends up being poked in the eye. Be vigilant. Most dogs will be very patient with babies, but it’s normal to react to pain, and again, this is why you never leave your baby and your dog together unsupervised.
Try not to overreact, though. Don’t separate them, no matter what well-meaning people have suggested. You want them to learn to live together and love each other, and they will. You’ll learn the signals that let you know there’s something wrong in the relationship, and be able to act on them.
Colleen says that she broke down and cried the day that Sasha growled softly at her as she was lifting Owen out of his crib. She knew just what Sasha was doing. It wasn’t aggression of any kind – it was Sasha’s way of saying “Please be careful with my baby.”
You’ll have a moment like that too. Maybe it will be when your dog licks your baby’s toes, and the baby giggles. Or when the dog brings the baby his favorite toy, as a gift. Or when your kid snuggles up in the dog bed with his best friend.
You’ll probably have lots of those moments over the time you have with your dog and baby together. But you’ll always remember the first one – the one that made you sit back and say to yourself, “There is just so much love in this room, and it couldn’t possibly be any better.”
Of course there has to be a dark spot on the horizon when you raise a dog and a baby together. People will tell you about “teachable moments”, but teachable moments can be very hard to deliver when your heart is breaking.
Sasha, being a Boxer, will probably live to about age nine. When she passes, Owen will be just six years old. He will always have had Sasha in his life. Colleen and Max will have to deal with their own grief, at the same time that they need to explain it to Owen.
I talked about this in Explaining a Dog’s Death to Your Child. And I asked Colleen how she planned on handling it when the time came, as it inevitably would. She expects that the whole family will cry. She’ll tell Owen that it’s okay to cry, because it’s a way of honoring the dog he loved. Then she’ll tell him that he should be happy, too, because he was a very lucky boy to have had such a wonderful dog.
I guess you can’t do much better than that.
You’ve already learned this. Your dog loves you completely and without reservation. But growing up can be tough, and I’m a big believer in the idea that babies who grow up with dogs are beyond fortunate. No matter what goes on at daycare or school, they’ll always know that they can come home to the one living creature that accepts them exactly as they are. Even when you’re upset with your kid, because he hasn’t cleaned his room, won’t eat his vegetables, or is talking back to you, none of that matters to the dog. To the dog, the kid is perfect.
As your baby grows up, he will talk to the dog, play games with him, and love him – maybe love him in ways that even you don’t. Would you like to know what Owen’s first word was? It wasn’t “Mama” or “Dada.” It was “Sasha.” And I have to say that even my cold, little, pea-size heart swells when I see Owen and Sasha rolling on the grass, or snuggling up together for a nap. Maybe I’ll even re-think putting Owen in the crate next time I babysit.
When you watch your baby and your dog together, if you don’t smile, you’re not even human. Kids are fun. Dogs are fun. When you put them together, it’s double the fun.
So, kids and babies together? Hell, yeah! I’ve never been much of a kid person, but I think I’m warming up to Owen. And when I see him with Sasha, I just know that there’s nothing better than babies and dogs growing up together.
Last week, Sasha turned four, so I bought her a birthday present – the GUND Spunky Dog Baby Sound Toy Stuffed Animal. It’s a stuffed dog, made for both dogs and kids, so I figured it would be perfect, since Owen and Sasha are always together. I’m not sure what breed it’s supposed to represent – it’s just kind of a cute, cuddly, white, floppy-eared dog that squeaks when you squeeze it. You can get it in other colors like blue and pink, too.
Sasha tosses it around a bit, and then mouths it and makes it squeak, and Owen giggles. Then they snuggle up together and go to sleep with this great toy that they share. The retail price is $14.00, but you can save a bit when you buy it from Amazon for $12.44.
It’s a cool toy. Sasha is an amazing dog. And I’m learning to tolerate love Owen, too!
Over and out for now from the FKIA; see you next week!