On Babies and Dogs

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I saw this article on MotherMag today — it’s got perhaps the cutest dog/baby photo ever to draw you in — and it reminded me that I’ve been meaning to share a few tips on babies and dogs.

Our Bernese Mountain Dog, Mudslide, is without question, my first baby. When I was pregnant for the first time, parents kept telling me that I had “no idea how much I’d love my baby.” In my head I was always thinking, yeah, I think I do have an idea… I love that dog! Aside from being a wonderful, nearly perfect dog (yes, spoken like a true pet owner), getting him was an important step for my husband and I. All my anxieties about having kids of my own — whether I could handle it, whether my husband could handle it, whether we’d work together as a team — were all assuaged by our new puppy. One night of getting up to take him out and clean his crate (and bathe him at 2am because he was a total mess) and I immediately understood that when it’s your baby, who you undoubtably love to the moon and back, all the hardships of parenting don’t matter.

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For his first year, Muddy and I spent every day together. He came to work and sat at my feet, we went on countless adventures together, and there were decadently long cuddle sessions. All of that changed when my son was born and dealing with my “dog guilt” was in fact one of the greater challenges of being a new parent.

If you’re preparing to introduce a new baby to your dog, you’ve probably read to bring a blanket home from the hospital for the dog to sniff. We did that and it made for some cute video to watch while I was recovering. The best advice I got however was this: have someone else carry the baby into the house. Depending on your type of delivery, you’ve been away for a least a couple of nights and I’m guessing your dog, like mine, is always very excited to see you when you walk in the door. Having your hands free to greet your dog and give them your full attention may be a small thing but it’s a nice way to start things off on the right foot/paw. So much better than (what will soon be the norm) of having your hands full carrying the heavy carseat + baby and your bags and trying to make your way down the hall while the dog energetically follows and bumps into you.

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Curious Mudslide checking out the new arrival.

Another friend told me to let the dog lick the baby all over.  My first though was that’s crazy but I later recognized the value in that sentiment. With both our kids, we gave Muddy a chance to sniff (and lick a little) when the baby first arrived. Highly supervised of course but not actively restraining him while it happened. (You need to take your dog into consideration and obviously if you have any concerns about your dog around kids this may not be the right approach for you.) Dogs can be surprisingly sensitive. We were cautious with Muddy for the first several months as we and he learned how things were going to work but he was always very delicate around the babies (as long as he wasn’t super distracted and excited).

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Muddy gets a first sniff of baby Chester.

One thing every parent, much less dog owner, should know are the warning signs of a distressed dog. I stumbled across a dog/kid website early on and was surprised to discover that I didn’t know half of them. Did you know that yawning is a sign of discomfort? Or licking the lips? This website has a great list but a quick google search will turn up more information too. Even if your dog is the sweetest kid-friendly pup out there, you should take a look. I trust Muddy and don’t believe he would ever bite a kid. Perhaps that’s foolish but he’s a patient dog from a sweet natured family breed. That said, I try hard to pay attention and not let the kids terrorize him. Even if he’s unlikely to hurt them, it’s simply not fair to him or their relationship. And it’s a bad standard to set for your kids. The last thing I want is my kids “assaulting” someone else’s dog at the park.

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What not to do! Perfect example of how subtle an anxious dog look might be. Look in Muddy’s eyes — he’s clearly asking for help but you have to be paying attention to him and not that cute chubby baby.

When we’re out and about, I’m often surprised at how few dog owners understand these warning signs. Knowing what to look for and being conservative about interactions — such as pulling your kids away when the dog turns away — is a good way to keep your kids safe from other dogs too. I never trust a dog owner when they say their dogs are “kid friendly.” Dog owners love their dogs more than they should.

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Another bad mom moment: Muddy is licking his lips, a sign that he doesn’t like what’s going on.

That goes for me too! So, please, do your own research. I don’t mean for my words here to be a rule for you and your family. Every dog is different and what’s worked for Muddy isn’t necessarily the best choice for your dog. If you’re not sure about your dog, you might ask friends and family to be honest with you about their perception. Others are often a lot less forgiving about a dog’s shortcomings than their owners would be. 

What’s your experience been with dogs? Do you agree with what I’ve said? Have different ideas?

What are your best tips for mixing kids and dogs?

And here are a few more dog-baby pictures in case you haven’t yet had your fill.

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Another great do/don’t example. Muddy is happy on the left, not happy on the right. If you’re not familiar with dog expressions you might think he was just ruining the photo! And yes, those are both my boys, at almost the same age, in identical outfits, two years apart.

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Guard dog duty. Muddy was a very proud “big brother” and loved to keep an eye on the babies.

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I find Muddy is the most playful with the kids when we’re outdoors and he’s off leash. He’s happy to be running around and has the freedom to escape any uncomfortable situations.

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And sometimes he’s perfectly happy to have a kid all over him!

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