I always thought of myself as a classic dog mom. Human babies never really interested me much. Sure, they were cute, and my brothers had babies which was exciting, but I was never that person desperate to get married and have lots of kids.
However, somewhere down the line, around my 30th birthday, I found myself in the park watching families with children and dogs bouncing around together. For some reason, my brain was like this is a fantastic idea.
Fast forward past the details, and I found myself pregnant, with a small business and two rescue dogs to deal with. Around the time when I could hardly move from my bed for spewing, the dogs were harassing me for walks, and Danny ran the shop alone, I thought that maybe I had made a huge mistake. (Spoiler — I hadn’t, and I was just really, really nauseated.)
Now surely, dogs and babies have gone hand in hand since the beginning of time, haven’t they? Everyone on TV has 2.4 children and a puppy in tow, with no problem in sight, right?
In reality, owning dogs and having a baby isn’t as easy as it looks, but there are some ways you can help yourself out. Let’s dig into the dos, don’ts, and stuff no one wants to talk about.
The Mary Poppins phase
Let me rewind back in time to when Danny and I first met whilst working in a dog’s home. Around 30% of everyone that came in either had very young children or were actually pregnant themselves, looking to add a furry friend to their growing family. I was bamboozled even then before I’d considered having kids myself, why on earth you would want a new dog on top of the chaos of children?
More often than not, those families would leave without a dog. Once you got into the details of what it would mean to get a rescue dog, and what the settling-in period would entail (which can last well over a year), most people would go away to have “another think.”
Fast forward to pregnant me, and it turns out there may be a partial explanation for expecting families to want a new dog. Around the five-month mark, while I was cruising through the glorious second trimester and was no longer permanently hanging over the toilet, I started to feel like Mary Poppins — I wanted to love every small, cute thing there was.
This phenomenon ends up with some people strolling into a dog rescue. Instead, I adopted two unwanted rats. Sirius and Scabbers are now living it large in the DAB house, on a diet that’s highly supplemented with baby food.
Dogs and babies don’t mix
Let’s get serious for a moment. I’m sure we’re all aware that dog attacks are rife in the media — attacks on children even more so.
Therefore, it goes without saying that mixing dogs and children isn’t something to be done on a whim. In fact, it’s one of the most challenging things I deal with on a daily basis.
So, when I discovered I was pregnant, we decided that changes had to be made, and the dogs would have to ride along with those changes.
Dogs can adapt, but they do need some time to adjust. You can’t bring a baby home and expect your beloved pup to immediately understand exactly how to act or why everything’s suddenly different. For that reason, change needs to be gradual — and the sooner it happens, the better.
How to make big changes
One of the first changes we put into motion was shorter walks. It might sound counter-productive, but I promise you that your dog will prefer a regular routine rather than one that chops and changes depending on your mood. So, early on we lowered our dogs’ expectations of walks: fewer big, long adventures, and more shorter yet enriching walks, where both dogs can unwind and enjoy some alone time.
Next, we worked on things around the house. We incorporated new zones around the home for the dogs to relax in, and established areas that were out of bounds. The baby gates were put up very early, for the baby’s room and the stairs.
While the dogs once had free reign of the whole house, this was gradually reduced. The baby’s room was the first no-go zone — an easy one to convert, as it was the spare room before which neither dog took any interest in.
Converting upstairs to an out-of-bounds area was much more difficult, as both our dogs had originally slept in our room. Fortunately, Ada had already made the transition to sleeping in her crate downstairs (her snoring can be unbearable, so this was an act of saving our sanity). She took to it instantly and seemed to enjoy her own space in which she could snore away to her heart's content.
However, Axl enjoyed pottering between our room and the couch. It took a little while to encourage him to sleep downstairs. But, when the baby came and was crying upstairs, Axl stopped being interested in sleeping upstairs anyway.
Before we even began making changes around the home, we both decided that we weren’t going to restrict the dogs downstairs. Instead, we were going to restrict the baby. He didn’t have expectations of where he could explore or an established routine, and crucially, didn’t care where he was, as long as we were there with him. A large portion of our living room is now a baby plan pen, where they’re restricted within the boundaries of his safe space. The dogs don’t have to concern themselves with the whereabouts of a tiny human. The dogs can carry on roaming around and have only lost a small portion of the living room to the baby’s pen.
Even before the baby came along, we took the pram on walks with dogs, until Axl and Ada just assumed it was a new walking buddy. Ada even discovered the underneath of the pram made a perfect Ada carriage for when she was done walking.
Instagram versus reality
We’ve all seen the glorious “Marley and Me” type videos, where mum and dad return home with a new bundle of joy, the dogs get to meet them for the first time, and it’s beautiful and romantic.
However, trust me when I say that when you get home from the hospital with baby crotch, or (in my case) your insides rearranged so the baby can emerge through the sunroof, the last thing on your mind is filming the picture-perfect moment.
In our opinion, it’s not a good idea. As I’ve said before, dogs can handle change, but slowly. Just because you know there’s a baby on the way doesn’t mean your dog does. They don’t necessarily have the foresight to know that an extra heartbeat in your belly will result in a new being in the world — and in their home.
It took around two weeks for Axl to approach Mikey of his own accord, and it took Ada even longer. We didn’t over-encourage them, call them over, or take any pictures. We simply let the dogs decide when they were ready and curious enough to safely introduce themselves, whilst we were sat with the baby.
Bringing a new baby home to your furry friends isn’t easy. Making changes before the baby arrives so your pups can settle into a new routine can help the transition go more smoothly. Take things slowly, go at your dog's pace, and you're set for success.