I am just home from a dog walk, which sounds wholesome, pleasant, relaxing even! Which might be the case IF I didn’t have a toddler added into the mix. These days walking our two dogs feels like an epic exercise which usually leaves me exhausted and all four of us a muddy tangled heap. I don’t often see many parents with dog/bebe combos, but I know there must be lots out there, so I thought I would blog about it.
Here’s some context-I grew up in an animal mad household, and from the age of ten we had a beloved family dog. After my husband and I had been living together for about a year, we decided to rescue a dog. It’s a funny story; I was looking at the dog rescue pages online, and discovered this three legged Yorkshire terrier. I called my Husband and told him all about this poor three legged dog which no one would want, and who had to come with his best friend. We weren’t looking for a small dog, we weren’t looking for two dogs, but he’s about as much of a softy as me, so before we knew it these two dogs were being driven up from Melbourne to meet us. A friend asked me how the Yorkie lost his leg-“oh I didn’t ask” I said. It didn’t really come up in conversation. Has it definitely got three legs they asked- “of course” I said, I had seen the photo-you could see the stump! I wan’t exactly going to ask how many legs each dog had. Anyhow when the dogs arrived, it turned out they both had four legs. Cue years of jokes at my expense.
Clearly only three legs-photoshop???
But it all worked out as we were able to re-home two lovely dogs, who we wouldn’t have looked at had we not thought one had three legs! And whilst we hadn’t considered getting a pair of dogs, it worked out so well, as they’re such social animals. They adjusted really well, and quickly became part of our family. Before getting the dogs, I had looked into costs and the process involved in moving them to the UK as I knew that is something which would probably happen within their lifetimes (if you’d like any info on transporting pets from Oz to UK contact me-I’m happy to share our experience). What I failed to give much thought to was managing dogs and a baby. Babies seemed a far distant prospect, and I guess seeing as my chilled hypothetical baby would sleep in a capsule under the table whilst we went out to dinner or lay happily on a mat whilst I ran on the treadmill (this is sarcasm, my daughter was the exact opposite of a chilled baby, the ANTI chill), I guess even if I had given it much thought, I would’ve dismissed it. So if you don’t have children yet, or you do but are thinking about getting a dog, I guess what I would really stress if try and picture fifteen years down the line. Sure you may think a dog will fit in easily now, but it’s a long term commitment. And whilst none of us can see into the future, I think i was a little naive.
Back to present day, the dogs are still very much part of our family, but it is undeniable, they are another responsibility, and at times they do make life more difficult. But at the same time they have a lovely relationship with Intrepid Bebe and provide great company, especially in those early weeks when I was trapped at home with someone who screamed at me all day.
Lots of people seem to get dogs prior to having children, a bit of a dummy run, or I often hear about people getting puppies whilst pregnant, which sounds like a hell of a lot of hard work to me. I have written up what i have found to be the pros and cons of combining human and fur-babies, and then a few tips which I’ve found aided a smooth transition of your new addition and generally to try and make life easier.
- Great company, when you are feeing pregnant and rotten, or over whelmed by a screaming baby, a pair of kind canine eyes can really make you feel better. Our little dog used to sleep on my belly whilst I was pregnant, and offered me more non judgmental support at times than any non hairy folk.
- They make starting solids so much less stressful, both from a clearing up aspect. I would “unleash the hounds” when she had finished, and they would hoover under her highchair. And also from a waste aspect. Whilst it’s galling your toddler rejecting your culinary efforts- there’s always going to be a hound who thinks you’re the next Heston.
- It gets you up, out the house, fresh air, gentle exercise and some form of social interaction. Whilst the need to walk them will certainly get on the Cons list, there are still, with hindsight, a lot of benefits to forcing myself out with the dogs for their daily walk, for my mental health as much as my physical. It also introduces your family to the outside world, nature, and the culture of incorporating exercise into ones daily life.
- There is a host of evidence to suggest that owning a pet encourages a child to develop skills such as empathy, responsibility, compassion, kindness, confidence, and even increase verbal skills (we think that the dogs names was one of Intrepid Bebe’s very first words!)
- Children with specific challenges such as PTSD, Autism, Anxiety, history of abuse, or illness can all reap benefit from having a pet.
- There is also increasing evidence that owning a dog as a child can improve immune system and reduce risk of allergies, asthma and eczema.
- I have read lots of stories over the years bout dogs saving children’s lives, be that barking because a child’s blood sugar had dropped dangerously low in their sleep, altering a parent to a newborn stoping breathing, or rescuing a baby from a fire I truly believe have evolved senses which we do not. Whilst I won’t be leave my pups to babysit, as a terrified first time parent, I did get comfort in having them there with me.
- Barking! Oh my goodness, the barking. They seemed to get worse after she was born, and when she wen through months of incredibly light sleeping, we ended up with a sign in our driveway to deter anyone coming near the house for fear they would bark and wake her.
- Hygiene- whilst I appreciate all the health benefits of dog ownership, they do also lick their own bums. When IB was crawling, I was forever trying to keep the carpet clean, or stop them licking her, it does add to your work. I used a lot of anti-bacterial, I kept the dogs up to date with worming and vaccination, and bought a Dyson. She never got sick from them, so i guess a lot of worry was unnecessary.
- Keeping them separate- we lived in a very open plan house, so besides shutting them outside (which i didn’t want to do as I thought they would get jealous/resentful/its just a bit mean) it was very tricky to separate them. I love and trust my dogs, but they are animals, and she is an unpredictable small person so I do not leave them unsupervised, which at time is a pain. They also snatch food off her if she waves it in their faces (unsurprisingly) which then results in a meltdown, again painful! These days I use a stair gate to shut them out the room when she’s eating her meals. I would also buy a playpen early on if I had our time again, so I could leave her somewhere safe in the rare case she let me put her down!
- The walking, buying food, generally more people to look after. It is also a household expense you cant cut back on, when your income may be half what it used to be. When you can’t washing your own hair, or eat a hot meal because your baby takes up so much of your time, additional responsibilities can feel exhausting! Things like bulk online shopping of their food, roping in relatives to dog walk, or even hiring a dog walker a couple of days a week can really take he pressure off.
- I found dog walking two dogs with a pram was never an easy feat. My dogs are not great on the lead, some are. One friend actually began training her dog to walk with her pram before the baby was born which is a great idea. The baby carrier (Ergo or Connecta are my favs) was brilliant for giving me my hands back and making the walk more manageable. Now she’s two, I find I struggle to keep her in the carrier for much of the walk, baby reigns mean i have three leads to worry about, lots of the walks near me are along rivers and waterways. All in all, it’s chaos, some days they don;t get a walk until my husband gets home, or he sets off before work which means that rare time he’s around in the morning, he is in fact not. We try and ensure they get really good walks at weekends to compensate. And getting out just me and the dogs actually feels like a real treat, and a throwback to the days before I was Mama.
- Toddler challenging behaviour- eg. hair pulling, tailing pulling, climbing on their and yelling ‘ye-ha’, trying to pick them up, stealing their treats, dressing them in hats (all these have happened). At times I feel like I have three kids, one dogs taken her toy, the others stolen her snack, then she’s over tired and playing up, pulling their tails. I haven’t cracked how to manage this yet. i try and stay calm, I try and separate them when it’s happening, and hope it’s a phase which passes asap!
A quick word on settling a non fur-baby into an existing fur family
We spent six weeks at hospital three hours from home, when IB was born, and didn’t see our dogs in that time. I was very concerned they would not take the new addition well when we eventually returned home. A nurse in Special Care suggested sending a blanket IB had been wrapped in back to them. So we did this and our friend caring for them put it in their basket. We will never know, but believe it really helped as they adopted her as part of our pack from day one, and have never behaved in a jealous way at all. I have heard of people playing baby crying recordings to their dogs before the baby arrives, and there;s something to be said to trying to expose them to younger children before one takes up permanent residence at their home.
My overriding pieces of advice would be, try and keep their routine as similar as possible. A baby is a huge life shift for the entire household, so if they are suddenly kicked out your room, walks are abandoned, they’re off the sofas, and ignored outdoors, chances are they won;t take it well. It can be stressful at time, but ultimately I believe dogs give so much more to a family than they take.