Trainer Annie Grossman of School for the Dogs, one of NYC’s most respected dog training centers, has plenty of wisdom to share with dog people. She covers common dog behavior questions and training tips in her weekly podcast. We’ll be sharing some of those responses right here in a regular feature.
Have a training question of your own? Check out Annie’s blog and click on “Ask Annie.”
We are having our first baby in August and currently, my biggest concern is feeling sad that I won’t be able to give my dog as much love and attention when the baby comes.
So many people tell me that we won’t love Gary as much once the baby comes and I can’t imagine that’s true! He’s a very affectionate Golden Retriever so I know he will still want to be around us, but how do I balance still wanting to give him special attention and the demands of a newborn?
Having recently had a baby myself, I can totally relate to your situation. I have some concrete suggestions for how to show love to Gary after the baby arrives, but first I want to take off my dog trainer hat and tell you two things that I’ve learned about love and life.
First, your life won’t be the same after you have a baby, but your life also won’t be the same tomorrow as it is today. Our experiences and environments are constantly changing us, even if those changes are usually imperceptible.
My favorite quote by T.S. Eliot captures this so well: “We die to each other daily. What we know of other people is only our memory of the moments during which we knew them. And they have changed since then. To pretend that they and we are the same is a useful and convenient social convention which must sometimes be broken. We must also remember that at every meeting we are meeting a stranger.”
The way you feel about your dog will certainly be different after the baby, but your feelings about your dog will change with or without a baby because both you and Gary are changing and growing every day. Do you see what I’m saying?
Secondly, love doesn’t fit into a measuring cup. I love my baby in a massive way, but I didn’t have to borrow that love from elsewhere to give it to her. In my experience, life-changing events like the birth or death of people I love make me love my dog even more than I did before. It’s as if the finite nature of life comes into focus, and I’m more grateful that my dog and I get to share a brief period of time together on Earth.
All of that said, there are only so many hours in the day to spend with adorable creatures you love. And of course, you’ll want to do what you can to help your dog feel good about his new “sibling” sooner rather than later. So here are some ways you can work to be an awesome mom to your new baby and Gary.
Create good associations with the baby before they’re born
Your dog’s physical environment is going to be altered when the baby is born, thanks to all the equipment that babies require. Rather than trying to introduce the baby and all the gear to the dog at once, keep items like the crib and the stroller out in the open long before the baby arrives. This will make these objects less foreign. You can even try to acclimate Gary to walking with the stroller by walking him with the stroller before the baby comes.
Another idea, which comes from trainer Jessica Jacobson (who I recently interviewed on my podcast) is to pick a scent you like (lavender, eucalyptus, etc.) and spray it on things your dog likes before the baby’s arrival. When he or she comes, you can then spray it on the baby’s booties and swaddle blankets.
This will help Gary associate the baby’s belongings with things he likes.
Incorporate your dog into routines that involve your baby
Parenthood can be unpredictable, but it isn’t hard to guess the kinds of activities that will occupy the first few months of your time as a new parent. You’ll be feeding your baby, changing diapers, doing laundry, etc. I’ve found it’s helpful to purposefully find ways to interact with my dog when I’m doing things to care for the baby.
Feeding: It’s hard to do much with my hands when there’s a baby on my boob, or when I’m giving her a bottle, but I can push a button. So, I put dry food in my dog’s Treat and Train, a remote-controlled feeder, and I push the button on the remote to train him to do fun things while I’m nursing. For instance, I’ll put his bed on one side of the room and the device on the other side, and then I’ll dispense the treats whenever he lies on the bed.
Pumping: One of the best purchases I made was a Willow breast pump, which is a completely hands-free, wireless breast pump. It’s pricey, but worth it if only because I can wear it and take my dog for a walk at the same time.
Changing diapers: My daughter doesn’t enjoy getting her diaper changed, but my dog is certainly interested in the process. To keep his nose out of her behind, and to keep her entertained, I often put peanut butter on her feet while I’m changing her. Foot licking keeps them both occupied, and lets me indulge my dog and engage him during a time when he otherwise wouldn’t be getting attention.
Ask for help
When you have a baby, people are generally willing to help you, so ask them to help out by giving your dog some affection and attention. As I said, love doesn’t have a limit, and accepting care and attention from someone else isn’t going to make your dog any less excited about you.
So, don’t be ashamed to ask someone to take your dog for an extra-long walk for you, or to play a game of fetch with him. Your dog is part of your family, and anyone who cares about you should understand that loving him is an extra special way to show their love for you and your newborn.
For some extra inspiration, read our story about a couple who adopted a puppy just months before having their first child.