Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Post About Pups

I actually thought about writing a post like this after Anna was born, and you know what...maybe I did. Who knows. I can't really remember what all I did this morning let alone what I wrote about two years ago...I figure there are bound to be some repeats at some point. But this topic came up on our beach trip and I thought it would be worth some typing time to talk about this.

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As you all know, we have a dog named Captain Kingsley. He is a Pomeranian-American Eskimo Spitz mix and we adopted him several years before Anna was born. He was a good dog at home but holy freaking hell, he was energetic as a puppy - when I lived in an apartment with him, it was a regular post-work routine to take him for a super long walk or to go spend two hours at the dog park. He also destroyed pretty much everything in the apartment worth more than $50 (at least he had good taste?).

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The other major (and more relevant to this blog) fundamental flaw with poor Captain K was that he was horrific around children. If we went to the park and a child ran up to try to pet him, he would lunge and literally try to attack them. We realized that he was just trying to protect us from these pint-sized assailants, but that didn't change the fact that we knew he was not afraid to bite and not good around children. He had lived with a very elderly couple before his time with us, and he was most definitely NOT used to children. He has mellowed significantly as the years have gone on, but he has never relaxed his stance on kids.

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Well, then we got pregnant with Anna. And I started panicking. How could we have this dog, who we loved very very much, in the house with a baby? I did hours of internet research on how to acclimate a dog to a baby. I consulted with our vet. I consulted with our PetSmart dog trainer. And honestly, I steeled myself to the idea of having to find him a new home, without children. We practiced walking with the stroller, we let him see the crib and the pack 'n play and all of the other baby equipment. We let him explore the nursery. I let him cuddle on my lap and next to my pregnant belly. We played Youtube videos of babies crying, at max volume.

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Miraculously, and so so so very much to my relief, we brought Anna home, and Kingsley was okay. We let him smell her. We let him sniff her blankets. We introduced her to him. We assured him that Anna was a friend. And he adopted her as "his" baby. We were dumbfounded. He never even went so far as to bark at her crying, and he became fiercely protective of her almost instantly. I was so very thankful and relieved!! I know that not all dogs are able to adjust to babies and I was so very happy that Kingsley seemed to be okay.

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That being said, we are always 110% aware of his limitations and his personality. We never ever EVER leave him out when there are other children at the house, even the bigger kids who beg to pet the doggy. We never leave the girls on the floor unsupervised with him, and we especially never let them walk around with dog-appealing food if he is in the room. We always make sure that he gets his annual vet check-up and we keep a close eye on him to make sure he is in good health and up to date on all of his medications and vaccinations. We teach the girls to be gentle and how to best play with him, and we make sure to keep squeaky baby toys in the play room. And although we let the girls pet him and give him treats, we also promptly separate them the second they start getting grabby. Kingsley also still gets plenty of exercise in our fenced backyard and through walks, and we are even teaching Anna how to throw the tennis ball for him!

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I also have to confess that although I would always proclaim that Kingsley was like my child before I had babies, there have been distinct times in our course of babyhood that he drove/drives me effing crazy. His breed mix and his degree of protectiveness makes him very bark-prone, and when he goes nuts during nap time or anytime the doorbell rings, I seriously want to rip his yappy head off. I threaten to send him to the sausage factory on a regular basis and not a single kid birthday party goes by without me joking that maybe they want a dog for a present. At times when I am overwhelmed, I get frustrated that there is yet another living creature in the house demanding my energy and attention, because as a new mother, I was/am pretty tapped out mentally and physically. And before everyone jumps down my throat about this, I am definitely not alone in these feelings. I don't know a single new mother who doesn't ever think one negative thing about their pet - new mothers are just pushed to their limits and life is a little more chaotic for a while. I can attest to the fact that these feelings absolutely get better - the older the girls get, the more emotional energy I have for my dog again, and I am happy that we have all adjusted to life together.

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Anyway, very long story short, I am so very thankful and appreciative that despite his general noise levels, Kingsley has embraced our girls with all of his loving doggy heart. He is such a loyal, affectionate little guy and we have loved having him as part of the family. I absolutely adore seeing how sweet he is with the girls, and tolerating their clumsy toddler pats and Anna's dress-up games. And I do appreciate how he ramps up his protectiveness during the afternoon when all "his" girls are laying down for a nap, although I really wish he could learn to differentiate between a porch-climbing psychopath and a UPS delivery driver. And I was so touched when I came home from my beach trip and Kingsley immediately ran over to greet me, and then spent the rest of his evening curled up by my side.

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Dogs are such an enriching part of a family, and I am thankful that my girls get to experience life with this little guy. And I am also retrospectively thankful that Kingsley stayed so loyal and loving during my very distinct periods of dog-icidal thoughts.

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I encourage all parents-to-be to be fully aware and researched about their dog's breeds and personalities. Know their limitations and be aware of their inclinations. Address obvious behavior issues well before introducing a baby. Don't hesitate to consult professionals and to ask their advice. Acclimate them as best you can to the changing household and avoid teaching them to be afraid of the baby. Every single dog is different, just like every baby is different, and nobody is going to know your dog better than YOU. Keep them happy and healthy and keep them exercised, even if it means dropping them off at doggy day care once or twice a week. Accept the fact that you will need to focus on your baby more for a while, but know that it gets better for your dog. And most importantly, just remember that they are part of your family too! We love you, Captain K!

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3 comments:

Kirby Lynn said...

Great advice!

Allyson said...

Thank you so much for this post. I have felt so guilty since Daniel was born about not being as attentive to my dogs as I used to be. We used to get multiple walks a day and lots of attention and frankly, I don't have the mental or physical energy to do it all with a baby in the mix. I was terrified too about how my dogs would react to Daniel, but I was relieved when both of the pups were gentle and tolerant of his crying and playing. I'm glad that I'm not the only one with doggy mommy guilt!

Sarah Morgan said...

I'm so glad you wrote this. Great post. I have faith it will get better for us...I tried to tell myself that as I cleaned up pee all over the house after a long day of work. Ugh : ) at least Harper gave me a big hug to make it better.