Maybe It’s Not the Dog

What’s Harder?  The Dog or the Baby?

Several weeks ago, I read a pretty raw piece by a mom of three young children who focused all of her angst on how the dog was just another brick on the load.  You know…for doing things like just standing there or maybe shedding.

Her message: If you are going to have children, don’t have a dog.

But, here’s the thing — she really loved that dog.  Both she and her husband doted on the dog and enjoyed their pre-babies time together and the dog didn’t seem to have any challenging behavior issues.  So, what happened?

Is it really the dog  that’s the problem here?

I think that article could just as easily have been titled, “I Was  Happier When the Dog Was My Baby.”  It’s the chaos of babies/toddlers and no one seemingly helping that can make the dog into the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Be Part of the Solution

If you have a friend struggling to manage dog and small children, give some reassurance that things can get better. It won’t be like this forever.

See what you can do to help:

  • Walk the dog once a week
  • Come over on Friday nights and stuff Kongs for the freezer
  • Play with the kids for an hour so mom and dog can enjoy a peaceful walk together
  • Take the dog to class so mom only has to maintain the behaviors
  • Bring food over — everything is better with food
  • Fill a cute jar with already-cut-up dog treats and share how to do Kathy Sdao’s SMARTx50
  • Turn her on to the support through Family Paws Parent Education for some practical and compassionate guidance

I will be forever grateful to a friend who came every day for two weeks and walked both my dogs, whether I thought I needed it or not.  There were days I would have kissed her, except that she probably wouldn’t have come back.

A friend without kids even offered, “If you show me some stuff I can do with your kids, then you can call me on short notice and I will help you.” Another childless friend brought me a new dog book so I’d still feel up-to-date with my dog trainer friends. Friends with kids usually brought food.

What else?  If you are a mom or dad that worked through this stuff, what helped you? What do you think new parents should know to make things more manageable so they don’t make that permanent decision about their best friend during a transitory time of their life?

What if it IS the Dog That’s the Problem?

I’ll give that discussion its own post.  Stay tuned!

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  1. Yes! Thank you so much for posting this. We have a 4 month old daughter and a 4 year old furry son. Our dog has done an excellent job transitioning to life as a big brother, but we certainly worked very hard before our daughter was born to train him. We made the commitment to still walk our dog each day to give him “alone time”. So far, we have been able to keep that promise to him. When I think about those crazy first few weeks, and lets be honest, the craziness that is still our life, I have reflected that my dog and I, more so than my husband and our dog, are learning how to coexist again. Sometimes I need time without a baby, husband or dog needing something from me. That’s really hard for our dog to understand. And, that’s really not his fault. We have such a great dog who has come such a long way. Whenever I get frustrated with him because he wants to be involved in every single aspect of care for our daughter or when I get frustrated with him because I feel like I need a break and he just wants attention I try to keep in perspective that he didn’t ask to join our family. We adopted him. And, he’s adjusting to a new life as well, a new life he didn’t ask for but has accepted with a wag and a lick. What a good boy.

    This post also made me reflect on people whose children don’t treat our dog with respect in our home. It is our dogs home. Your child is a guest. I will not put him in the other room, similar to how I would never ask you to put your child in another room when I am at your house.

    Thank you for this! Great post.

    1. I could not disagree with you more on the idea of not locking up the dog around poorly behaved children. I think this might be in part because your baby is only four months old. So you have yet to experience the joys of a toddler 24/7. Toddlers do not listen. They do naughty things that they have been told over Andover not to do. It’s not bad parenting (well sometimes it is but that’s a different issue) it’s developmentally typical behavior. They simply are not able to fully follow directions and understand consequences. My oldest is five and I actually had a friendship damaged by this same situation. My friends dog was snappy. She would not lock her up when we came to visit. I can’t visit with you when I cannot take my eyes off a toddler. It’s like trying to have a conversation at the edge of a cliff or next to a freeway. I’m not listening to a word you’re saying and it’s beyond stressful. We stopped visiting her. She was super allergic to our cat so couldn’t come to our house (we would lock the cat in the basement but it still bothered her). That happened when the baby was about 18 months. She’s five now and I still see her very infrequently.

      Yes, it is your dogs home. But you invited this child it is now your responsibility to keep him or her safe (both ethically and legally). On the legal side if your dog bites the kid you can be sued by the parents for damages. Refusing to remove the dog when a child is miss behaving is like leaving a loaded gun unlocked. The parents should be watching the kid; but it’s your home, your pet, your guests. Your responsibility to make sure everyone is safe.

      I’m not suggesting you lock your dog out in the snow with no shelter; but get some good chew toys and a baby gate. Or meet friends with small kids at the park and leave the dog at home. You’re expecting far too much of babies and your dog.

      1. Kate, I am so sorry that the experience you had has caused you to be combative towards the choices someone else makes before seeking clarification. I don’t need to defend my family and our choices; however, I will clarify. I have been around children. I have nannied for years and helped families coexist with children. Moreover, we have many nephews who regularly visit our home. We are not, as you implied, flying blind.

        I agree completely that is our responsibility to keep our family and guests in our home safe and frankly, how dare you imply, to a complete stranger no less, that we would do anything less. Just because someone makes choices that are different than yours doesn’t mean they are wrong. Period.

        And for more clarification, we would NEVER have our dog with a child in a situation that I felt was unsafe for a child, or our dog for that matter. Similar to how, as you referenced, I would never let my child play close to a cliff. I wouldn’t let someone elses child do that nor would I let my dog do that. When I referenced not putting our dog in another room for someones comfort it was exactly that–comfort, NOT safety. I was referencing the fact that our dog is very friendly and likes to be involved in all that we do. As you pointed out, its our responsibility to protect our animals, and sometimes removing them from a situation is how to do that. A safety issue as you experienced with your friend is absolutely not the issue in my home with our dog. Again, I am so sorry you had such a strong reaction due to a negative experience in your past. Thank you for sharing.

        As parents, regardless of how stressful or inconvenient it may be, I do feel its our responsibility to watch our child (and our dog for that matter) like hawks when we are in someone elses space, particularly when animals are around. To me, that is safety and responsibility. I agree with you that if that can’t be accomplished in someones home, an alternate setting would be appropriate.

        1. Maggie, your response is so much nicer than mine would have been. You are obviously a very generous and considerate person.

          Kate, you do seem a bit reactive. You bring up some valid points. But, as to your comment: “I can’t visit with you when I cannot take my eyes off a toddler.”

          This tells me you can’t visit, period. When would you EVER take your eyes off a toddler in another person’s home??

          Especially one with dogs (i.e. extra dirt, toys, etc.) and potentially no children (i.e. not “child-proofed”).

          Taking your eyes off a toddler ANYWHERE sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. Dog or no dog.

  2. I ended up adopting my brother’s dog after he and his wife had two toddlers, and every word out of their mouths about the dog was negative. And, this was the sweetest and easiest dog I’ve known. I didn’t live close enough to do the day-to-day stuff that you suggest (those are great ideas that would have helped them immensely) but offering to adopt him was easy. It worked out well. We fell in love with him, and his original family could see him regularly.

    Now that their kids are older, they’ve adopted an adult dog, and it’s working out wonderfully.

  3. Your site is extremely interesting and an eye-opener! I would never have thought so much of time had to go into training both pets and kids. When I was a child, we had dogs and occasionally cats. Some of our dogs were unruly and some were remarkably gentle and well behaved. We always shared the responsibility of walking and caring for our pets. Our parents were also very firm about treating our pets with respect. Now, with a paucity of space, my daughter cannot enjoy the company of a dog. But her grandmother has introduced her to pet games where she can nurture a pet. Initially I found it strange that her pet was a virtual one, but she seems very devoted to it. She is very timely with feeding her pet and caring for it. What do you think of such games? Are they any good at all? Do they build empathy for pets?

  4. Just wanted to add that depression can play a huge part in feeling overwhelmed or like your dog can’t do anything right. It doesn’t have to be official postpartum depression. I’m a huge dog lover and I’ve learned that when I start to not love having my dogs and constantly feel impatient and put-upon with them it’s time for some self care and it almost always means I’m not getting nearly enough sleep to function. So all the regular stuff (help with cooking, cleaning and childcare) really does the trick and I can enjoy having dogs again.

    (This is an amazing website and excellent resource btw. Thank you so much for doing what you do! I’m a mom of a toddler and newborn and have 2 rescue dogs and 1 rescue cat, and only one of the dogs is good with kids 🙂

    1. Great insight! It’s a shame for moms to have to contemplate losing their dogs to keep their sanity. I talk about this a bit in my class because I can refer people to all the different postpartum support groups and at least get people thinking that there are ways friends and family can help – either when it gets to be too much or proactively. Over time, you may find that your dog that is “not good” with kids will develop his/her own relationship of trust with your children as they get older and they might become a great comfort to the dog.

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