This article also appears at: Only a Season
My husband and I brought home Hazel in 2012. For the first while, she kept us up all night and kept me busy all day getting into things and crying for attention. She has boundless energy and ruins all her toys, but she is clever and lovable at exactly the right moments. And boy, is she a ham for the camera!
No, Hazel is not a toddler. She is a 3 1/2 year old chocolate lab. Though Hazel has always loved children, we were nervous about introducing her to her baby brother when we found out that I was pregnant. Hazel has always been sweet and gentle, but we had heard and read stories of people having to make the difficult decision to re-home dogs when children arrive. It turns out we didn’t need to worry because in August she welcomed home her little brother, MB, with much excitement. (And even more wet doggy kisses.)
There have definitely been some challenges with being a mom to a dog and a newborn baby, but also some extremely sweet moments. I thought I would share the pros and cons of having a dog and a baby.
Con: They both need attention. (Often at the same time.) Hazel was used to being spoiled with attention and going on walks often to burn off her energy. Like any big sister, she had to learn to share her attention. At first Hazel started to whine or cry when the baby cried, and then began doing things she knew would get attention, such as jumping on the counter or destroying something. I used to run back and forth between them giving them attention. Hazel would bring me a toy while I was nursing her brother, but put it just out of my reach and whine so that I would get up and play with her. It has been almost 5 months now and it is improving. As the baby grows and begins to move, Hazel has become more interested in him and less resentful. We play fun games like holding the baby like an air plane and chasing the dog around the house. They are learning to co-exist.
Pro: When the naps align it is magical! This happens maybe once a week, but when it does it is the best. There is nothing better than having the baby fall asleep in your arms while the dog snoozes beside you. They just look so darn cute while they sleep. I start to wonder why I was stressed, with these two angels in my life. Then I think, nap time for momma! We have had some lovely naps together all snugly and warm. I have also had some lovely quiet time while they nap. Either way, win-win.
Con: The walks. Hazel is an energetic dog. She loves her walks. She cannot do without walks or she becomes crazy and destructive or whiny and irritable. I hear people say that they just wait for their partners to come home and walk the dog. This is great for them, but not an option for us. My husband takes her for walks on the weekends and sometimes after dinner, but he works long hours, so the dog care is mostly up to me. We are fortunate to be able to have a dog walker come in to take her out for morning walks, but we still walk between 2 and 5 kilometres a day, rain/snow or shine. Plus, it takes ages to get the baby ready, put him in the stroller or carrier, get myself ready and then get the dog leashed up and ready. In this winter, this is an epic undertaking. My dog loves the snow and cold too. I know other dogs who stay inside when it rains or snows. Not mine. She spent 20 minutes rolling in the snow during the coldest day of the year. We own a lot of waterproof outerwear.
Pro: The walks! The regular walking can be a positive too. I get outside everyday, which makes me feel better. And thanks to my dog, I almost always run into someone I know in the neighbourhood, which provides me with a dose of adult interaction. I also feel stronger, and fitter than I did during my horrible pregnancy. The walking has helped me lose my baby weight, and often leads to nap time for both the baby and the dog.
Con: Dog toys and baby toys are basically the same. I defy you to tell the difference. They both make noise, they are designed to be chewed on and they look like cute animals. Many a baby stuffed animal has gradually become a dog toy. Currently Hazel is fascinated with a musical octopus MB got for Christmas that says colour names when you squeeze it. We have to keep it up high or she steals it. Presumably to learn about colours.
Pro: They will be best friends. MB is becoming more aware and is starting to reach out to pet Hazel. She has always covered him in kisses, but now he laughs. The baby is endlessly entertained by the movements of the dog and she seems to enjoy sitting with him as he has tummy time. She also freaked out with joy when MB went in his jolly jumper for the first time. Now she brings him toys to play with and drops them in front of him. The minute he starts solid foods Hazel will never leave his side.
Con: The house is overrun with stuff. Baby toys litter the couch, and dog toys litter the floor. Or the dog toys are on the couch and the baby stuff is on the floor? Honestly, I’m not sure. They look the same. It’s safer to shuffle your feet across the floor here, rather than lifting them and potentially dropping them onto something painful. And this is just the beginning…
Pro: This may give me an idea of what it is like to have multiple children. (If only in a small way.) I learned a long time ago not to compare my dog to other people’s children. Especially if they are not dog people. I have put my foot in my mouth more than once doing this. However, dogs and babies have a lot in common. Everything goes in their mouths, they love squeaky toys, they both get into everything, they both nap at weird hours, make strange sounds and stare at me while I eat. Okay, so my dog is not a child. But I have learned the valuable skill of juggling multiple needs of my dependants. It is hard to not neglect your dog when your baby needs you, to get up and play with your dog when your baby naps and you are exhausted. It is tiring and guilt-inducing and it is hard to explain it to either one of them. It is also hard to explain to people who are not dog people. I talked about the challenges of balancing the needs of dog and baby by myself during the week at a post-natal class and the nurse politely dismissed me, saying: “If that is the worst thing that has happened to you with the baby, you are doing well.” Thanks…
I am also incredibly impressed by mothers with more than one child. When I see a mom at the mall with multiple children – or twins!- I want to stop what I am doing and give her a respectful slow clap. But when I see a mom with multiple kids and a dog (or two!), I want to run over to her and bring her baked goods in appreciation for all her hard work. (This is what I would like, as well, if anyone sees me out with my dog.)