Post-baby, is the dog "just a dog?"
January 12, 2009 9:58 AM   Subscribe

Dog-loving parents: How did having a baby change your relationship with your dog? Does it get walked as much as it did before? Played with? Do you now see it as "just a dog?" Did things get better for it as your child got older?

My husband and I have two intelligent, energetic dogs who have been the center of our lives. We participate in dog sports with them, take them on long daily walks, make their food at home, etc. Now we are talking about having a baby, and I am wondering 1) if I will love the baby so much that my feeling for the dogs will pale in comparision and 2) more importantly, if I will have the time and energy to give them the attention and exercise they're used to getting. (Also, I have limited energy to begin with due to a health problem.) I would be a stay-at-home mom. Obviously this isn't the only consideration in having children, but it is one that is important to me.

I've heard lots of people talk about getting rid of a pet after they had a baby, but I have to assume these people weren't committed pet owners to begin with. That's why I'm interested in hearing from parents who are real dog lovers. What happened after you had your baby?
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
When my first child was born I had three aussie shepherds. I have been a dog lover all of my life and I did not realize how detached I would become after the birth and subsequent months of bonding. I would guiltily say that, yes, in my experience the dogs lost out on attention and lovin' for a while there. And I often felt overwhelmed by their needs for attention. But, things slowly returned to a new normal... I think if I had known to expect it I would have prepared for it by hiring a neighborhood kid to regularly come over and play with them.

I now have three children and I am actually more able to balance attention for the dogs than with the first child only. It's that first kid that can throw everything into upheaval and it takes some getting used to.

You are wise to ask about this- I think if you can plan ahead to make sure the dogs are getting attention and exercise for the first 6 months after birth- your dogs will be fine.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 10:18 AM on January 12, 2009

Our dog was our "baby" for 7 years prior to having a child. Our lives focused around this dog, and I was often judging people who abandoned the dog after they had human children. However, something strange happened to me when my son was born. I suddenly felt quite different about the dog. It was now a strange beast that could potentially be a threat to my child. The first time my dog growled at my son as he was learning to crawl, I had violent visions of what I would do if the dog had hurt him. I realized that it was time for us to find a new home for the dog, which we did.
Note: this transition from dog = baby to dog = irrelevant/threat was immediate and completely shocking. I know a few people who have had similar experiences, but I also know a couple people that had an easier transition.
Good luck.
posted by tom_g at 10:28 AM on January 12, 2009

Due to hormones, my wife actually became more loving (as if it were possible) to our dog during pregnancy. Although we no longer have a dog, I've noticed the same phenomenon while we expect our second child.

When our first child was born, our dog was actually present during the delivery! We were living in Japan and went to a traditional midwife, and our room looked out on the back garden of the place, where we tied up our dog for the night. When our son was born we opened up the curtains so the dog could take a look.

We still lavished attention on our dog. We took our dog for walks with the stroller, and, when our son was old enough, on hikes with the baby backpack.

One change that happened was that our dog stopped getting carsick. For the first couple of years we could not get our dog into the car. Any trip longer than a minute resulted in a slobbering, carsick dog that seemed to shed hair at will. It was a real shame, because I loved to go hiking, but could not handle the mess in the car.

By the time our son was ready to go for hikes in the baby backpack, our dog had gotten over her fear of cars, and we had lots of adventures.

As a husband and a father, however, I must say that, for the first six months or so, mothers are fixated on the newborn child. Everyone else, including the husband and the dogs, has to learn to live with that.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:31 AM on January 12, 2009

We have two wonderful dogs that we've had since before we had kids. The dogs absolutely do not get walked as much or snuggled as much as they did when they were the focus of our parental practice. For the walks, there simply is not as much time for them as there used to be. For the snuggles, it's not quite as desirable when you've got a kid plastered to your shoulderblades half the night. Especially the presents, we laugh about we used to buy presents for the dogs.

However, they've adjusted beautifully. They love the kids and vice versa. They're not just the dogs, they're still part of the family; but there is no question in their minds that the kids come first, as it should be.

If walks are the only exercise your dogs have regular access to, it will be a problem, especially at first. If you've got a yard they can run around in they'll be fine. Just be sure they understand that the kids come above them in the pack order.... encouraging the kids to throw down food from the high chair when you get to that point (which they will do anyway) is great for this.

So, to answer your questions:

1) no way, it just doesn't work that way for dog lovers. You will love your dogs as much as you always have; you just won't have time to make as much fuss over them.

2) they will never again get the attention and exercise that they're getting now. This is just a fact that they will adjust to. You can help by not going out with a bang of attention and excitement as the delivery approaches, but by gradually changing your habits now. Don't feel bad for them, it's their journey too.
posted by ulotrichous at 10:33 AM on January 12, 2009

Just wanted to add something else. I highly suggest that you start exposing your dogs to very small toddlers and children. Some dogs naturally have a difficult time dealing with such little creatures and will react with fear, etc. If there appears to be a problem with your dogs and kids, there are plenty of trainers who will come to your house and work directly with you. Even though we did this without much luck, there are people who swear by it.

Also, I just need to make question (without causing a debate) the "no way, it just doesn't work that way for dog lovers". I have seen this happen multiple times and I have experienced it myself. My dog was in my wedding, slept in our bed for years, and sat on our lap when we watched tv. We chose where we would live all around what would be best for taking care of our "baby" (the dog). We "divorced" good friends and relatives who had any problem with our dog, and we were quite outspoken about it ("I don't trust people who don't like dogs", etc).

I'm not saying that you will feel this way - I just think that it is possible, so anything you can do now to ease the transition would be helpful.
posted by tom_g at 10:52 AM on January 12, 2009

follow-up from the OP
In my original question, I made this statement out of ignorance: " . . . I have to assume these people weren't committed pet owners to begin with. That's why I'm interested in hearing from parents who are real dog lovers." Thank you to tom_g for answering my question candidly, and please, anyone else with his experience, don't let the judgmental tone of my statement dissuade you from telling your story. I didn't realize this could happen, and it's exactly the sort of thing I need to hear about. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn at 11:23 AM on January 12, 2009

Our dog always was well-behaved around kids and generally well-behaved. Since our baby was born (2 months ago), he has been needier. When people come over, he is all over them.

I find that I am more annoyed by the dog now, as if he was capable of understanding the situation or something... just the other day, he was whining to go out and I was changing a massive poopy diaper and I kept on saying to the dog things like "I know that you want to go out, but the baby needs a change." As others have said, your focus turns to the baby, no matter what.

On the plus side, one of us is always home now, so the dog is getting more human interaction than when we both were gone most of the day. We also take a walk every day now, so he is getting out a lot more.
posted by k8t at 11:25 AM on January 12, 2009

The first few months were rough all around and I barely remember the dog even being there, so I'm sure he felt left out. At three months, my kid let out her first laugh when the dog was trying to get our attention. He definitely succeeded at that and while giving me one of my favorite memories, reminded me that he's part of the family too. It does get easier as the kids get older, especially as they play more with the dog.

We also had a couple of cats, and I mention this because my pet love for one of them did wane for a while. The things I loved about her before delivery became annoying now that I had a baby, and as tom_g mentioned, the change in attitude happened so quickly. Fortunately for us, that feeling didn't last long and she never acted aggressively toward our baby so we weren't faced with a difficult decision.
posted by hoppytoad at 11:28 AM on January 12, 2009

My experience was exactly the same as tom g. Even same span of time. My dogs became dogs, still cared for and loved but the baby won. On every level.
posted by pearlybob at 11:34 AM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have an 8 month old. I also have two dogs. Not much has changed except I don't walk them as much. They still cuddle with us, snuggle with us and sleep in our bed (baby sleeps in her crib).

The only thing I don't like is there is not a lot of room for them in our car with the baby's car seat, and sometimes I worry that her screeching makes them nervous or anxious. But so far, there are no negative behaviors like biting, chewing or scratching. The dogs are pretty much themselves.

I do think that having dogs before kids is great practice because you not only have to care for a living thing, you have to make decisions about it with someone else. So good for you!
posted by FergieBelle at 12:15 PM on January 12, 2009

This is a fantastic book that really helped us.

We'd had a big pudding of a Rottie who was much adored for about seven years when our daughter came along. What the other posters said is all very true - you still love your dog dearly, but you don't have the time to indulge all that attention and affection on them. When the book suggested drastically cutting down the attention paid to the dog prior to the baby's birth, I couldn't imagine how I could lose that almost seamless quality time with our dog - but it happened. And I'd very very very strongly recommend that any training issues or problem behaviours be remedied before a baby comes along. What might be mildly irritating now will be that ball peen hammer on your last nerve down the road.

Physically, having a child is very draining, especially early on, and the sleep deprivation is something to be considered, nothing the limited energy reserves (and not considering any complications or health problems for either at the onset of birth). We were, simply put, tired and irritable (though very very happy!) for months; and it was a little extra hard too, because we live in a cold climate and in the winter the thoughts of long dog walks after a day of teething or rashes or growth spurts were unbearable due to fatigue and a bit of SAD. Add in a dog who wakes up the baby with barking when someone knocks at the door and, as I did, you will go chasing that Witness down the street with a crying baby in your arms because that nap was needed so badly that you scream "How many people do you really convert this way?!!" and make them run away from the crazy woman in the milk-stained top and in her husband's pajama bottoms .

But then, it got better, and life was very good again. And then, life with baby got busier - play dates the dog couldn't go to, park visits with no dogs allowed, doctor's appointments and errands and classes... So even though I was a stay-at-home, there still wasn't a lot of time for our dear furry friend, who used to go so many places with us. Having more than one dog helps with that, as the dog has company - but it's also more work for a busy mom and there is a pack behaviour mentality to be adjusted to include baby (as friends with multiple dogs found out). Dogs don't always want to be the boss - they just want to know who is and then the pecking order from there on in, right? So, more dogs, more to manage. Also, because I dogsat friends dogs - one dog with the stroller, not so hard. Two or three? Oy.

But then, our dog got sick. And decisions to treat her illness were affected by having to consider our daughter. Not just the thousands of dollars, when having a baby changed our finances - but the weeks of recovery from surgery and her physical pain from that, on top of discomfort of an aging dog we'd been experiencing. We had to picture what her life would be like - never going upstairs again, never sleeping on a couch or bed again, and having to carry her up and down stairs just to go outside to pee or poo a few times a day for six weeks while she healed (remember - 90 lb Rottie) after the surgery (that might not work, and was $6000). Then, the thought of a dog in pain who might snap if an unsteady toddler fell on her, or hurt her was no life for our dog. When we decided to euthanize (our daughter was one and a half at the time), I wondered what decision I'd have made otherwise. And then, I felt I couldn't really mourn her properly, because I couldn't scare our daughter with my great and terrible grief.

We waited some time before getting another dog - and maybe it's the breed (a Basset this time), maybe we're still in mourning for the best dog we ever had - but now it seems, she's "just the dog". We love her, we care for her, but we are not ga-ga over her. She gets good care, but thankfully, she was an almost two-year old trained and raised with children adoptee, and is a little aloof (and a lot lazy) anyway. However, the dog walks, as an opportunity to escape a chaotic household, talk with other friendly dog owners and recharge my battery, are invaluable. The extra work of chewed up toys and the accompanying tears, slobber and hairs everywhere are a trade off for a dog who sleeps on a trundled mattress under our little girl's bed, so she says she never has to be afraid of the dark.

In the last stages of pregnancy and in the early days, a poop-scooping service for the back yard and the occasional employment of a dog walker helped tremendously. And whenever anyone came over, to visit the new baby, and asked what they could do to help, I'd say, "Walk the dog for me, please?". Formerly I made our dog's special diet from scratch - I switched to a packaged version of it post-birth. With the current dog, well - she eats the best quality food I can buy conveniently and easily (I do usually go for human-grade ingredients!), but when we inherited a bag of the cheap stuff after my FIL's dog died, she ate that too. And she was fine - just like my kid eats McFood once in a while, because perfection is the enemy of good enough.

I think committed pet owners understand when they can't give their pets a good life with children in the mix, if that's what they desire more, that giving up a pet to a better situation isn't horrible if it's done well. Sometimes, giving up them is kind, if it's done with much thought and care - though it can't be easy. We worked hard before we had our daughter to train our old dog even better, and afterward, we worked hard to keep things copacetic. Our current dog was let go because her former family recognized their fallibility and I would say that though she's not pampered beyond belief, she's loved and cared for and her life in no way sucks. It's better than it was, for sure. We corresponded for weeks, and talked personalities and temperaments and living arrangements and schedules and exchanged photos and they would have taken her back if it didn't work out. There are breed rescues and specialists in re-homing and there must be trainers who will work to help you have a happy life with kid and dog. Dogs, in my experience, are easier to train than kids.

Good luck! You've asked wise question, as another poster said. The only thing I'd add is that it's not just the first six months to consider - it's figuring out where aging dogs or health problems and the courses of human events would fall in. One of the reasons we considered a two year-old Basset with a four year old girl is that, well, she's not going to go off to college and leave us with her heartbroken dog.
posted by peagood at 12:24 PM on January 12, 2009 [4 favorites]

You know, I was really too heavy with the "No way..." statement, and I didn't intend it that way, I was more trying to reassure that having kids does not instantly turn a dog lover into a dog loather. If the dogs are a real nuisance or a perceived threat to the baby, especially at the beginning when things are so hard, that can change your feelings quickly.

I actually remembered after reading tom_g's post (which I missed before posting) a brief moment of "Jessie, your place in this house is in jeopardy," when the first baby came home. But they settled down quickly enough. They didn't even really notice the second one.

I was more responding to "will I love the baby so much that there is none left over for the dogs?" I don't think that (absent the fear of harm to the baby) dogs are inherently loved less once the baby comes home. It is true that the love for the baby puts the love for the dogs into a new perspective, but I would not say that our love for our dogs pales in comparison to our love for our kids. You just realize after reproducing that loving your pets and loving your kids are completely different kinds of love, even though the petlove felt so much like parenting at the time. I think that change, especially when the dogs are having trouble adjusting to the change, is what makes what would have been unthinkable months ago become the best decision for everyone. I'm glad I haven't had to make that choice.
posted by ulotrichous at 12:33 PM on January 12, 2009

Oh boy.

I'm a crazy dog person and our dog was an integral part of our lives before the baby.

Put it this way: she has a blog.

Our daughter is six months old and things are settling into new normal. I've found the dog is happiest if I'm clear about boundaries -- if she kisses the baby too much she has to get down off the bed, and she hates that. She seems more secure all the time, but when we first brought the baby home from the hospital--oh, boy--Mr. Llama said, 'If a dog could cry, she looks like she would.'

I get weepy thinking about it.

But anyway, we're pulling it back together, but I can't say it's been easy. I'm incredibly stubborn, so we have maintained our morning walk in the woods through the entire pregnancy and even now, when baby llama weighs eighteen pounds or so and I have to strap her to me and tromp through twelve inches of snow in the morning, and I have an hour long commute to work after, and still we do it every single day. Mr. Llama takes her out in the evening. These are the rituals she expects, and I made a commitment to her and a certain lifestyle when I adopted her and I plan on honoring it.

A lot of things went wrong with the after-pregnancy stuff. I had a c-section. I didn't breastfeed. We didn't co-sleep. All of these things that I had 100% planned on went out the window. Some of these things ultimately made it easier for our dog -- since we didn't co-sleep, her place on the bed wasn't usurped. Baby llama is still in the room, but in her crib (after the c section I was so messed up I was scared to sleep with her).

One thing I've come to understand is that the very worst, most anxiety causing thing for her, is to not understand rules and roles. She just wants to know where she is in the pack hierarchy, and she needs ritual, schedule, predictability.

Fortunately I'm a control freak, so it all works out.

She still feels like she ranks about the cat, so sometimes she just knocks kitty over for a little ego boost.

One thing I've found is important is trying not to feel sorry for her. For a while I felt terrible about how much attention the baby took, how demanding she was, and how frankly she wasn't even all that pleasant with all that pooping and crying. Mr. Llama said our dog must feel like the old toy, when the new awesome one showed up. I've had to be very careful about those feelings and allowing those attitudes to creep in, because the thing about pitying someone is that they ultimately feel pitiable, so I try to be conscious of how our demeanor might be communicating attitudes that aren't helpful.

Anyway -- bottom line -- hard, takes conscious work, gets better. And she would never be "just a dog." She's our best friend.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:35 PM on January 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Actually, now that I think of this...some of what I'm mentioning here, the focus on walks and being outside and so on, are part of our value system as a family. We like exercise and being outside and nature, our dog likes exercise and being outside and nature, and we expect our baby will like exercise and being outside and nature -- so there's a continuity there, in us as a family that includes everyone and isn't just about me walking outside in the snow because I have to or because I said I would. I think it's actually deeper than that -- it's a reflection of how I want to live. I mean, sure, we could skip the morning walk so I could have extra time for the commute and to get ready and all that, but seriously -- is that how I want to live my life? Looking for extra time for work instead of being outside with my dog and my baby?

So I think it's useful to think about values and messages and beliefs and so on, even if it feels a little silly, because these are fundamental ideas when you're starting a family.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:52 PM on January 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

A while ago there was an article in Time about this subject here.
posted by mjcon at 2:23 PM on January 12, 2009

I don't have children myself, but this has come up in conversation with a close friend who does. She has three dogs, and felt very strongly about not letting her feelings for her dog change too much. Then she had the baby, and wham, she does feel differently about the dogs.

They have a much less important role in her life, and she feels guilty about it frequently but just doesn't know what to do about it. One specific thing she has mentioned is that she gets angry or snaps at the dogs if she thinks the way they're interacting with the baby could be threatening - but then gets mad at herself because she knows she hasn't put in the training time to teach them appropriate interactions with kids, taking them for works so they work out their energy and don't tear around the house, etc. She just can't bring herself to spend the time when she's already working full-time and parenting a special-needs child.

We've been talking about this for a couple years, and the situation doesn't seem to be changing anytime soon. Her priorities are different now and she hates it but can't see a way out of it. She has considered giving away the younger, needier dog but doesn't think it's responsible. But she probably will not get more dogs when these ones pass away, until her child is much older, contrary to her previous belief that she would always have dogs.
posted by Stacey at 3:49 PM on January 12, 2009

Not a parent. Dog person. I have seen a number of women have a better relationshop with the dogs after they had real live children and let the dogs just be dogs. Everybody wins!

Like Stacey says, some women "dump" their dogs when they have a baby. Never seen this happen with someone who has invested the time to train dogs for sports - and certainly can't imagine someone who worked with their dogs despite limited engery going that way.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:21 PM on January 12, 2009

I'll throw this in the mix, even though when my daughter was born was only had a cat not a dog:

We were so busy with the baby and so exhausted that we essentially ignored the cat (aside from meeting its basic needs of course.) When the baby was old enough to actually pay attention to the cat, around 2 years old or so... they bonded almost instantly. The poor cat was so starved for the kind of constant attention it had received as a lap cat of two not-so-busy people in the past, that when the baby gave it that level of attention again they became the best of friends.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 8:21 AM on January 13, 2009

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