Parenting Perspective: Baby's Best Friend

October 8, 2009

Plenty of people advised us to have Rocco bring home something with the baby's scent before we all came home from the hospital. We knew not to leave the dog alone with the baby. And we anticipated that the baby would be unfazed by Jax's regular barking, since he'd heard it daily for nine months in utero.

But I suspect that if Jax could speak, he'd ask that favorite question of older siblings: "Can we take him back to the hospital?" The dog no longer sleeps in the bed, since we're trying to keep it fur-free and quiet for baby. His morning walk is no longer first priority of the day for two sleep-deprived parents. And his constant snuggling and play time has been cut dramatically. Instead his barking at the mailman, tossing his bone on the hard wood floors and attempts to lay across us on the coach are met by the usual chorus of "Jax, no!"

It's to the point that when the baby cries, Jax goes into his crate and turns his face away, looking completely depressed. What to do---especially since we have a fraction of the time, patience and energy?

Lorraine McEneany is a dog trainer and owner of Mutt Maven, the service that walks Jax a few times a week. And her explanation of what is going on makes sense: "You see him as a dog, but he doesn't see you as people. He sees you as his pack. And now he doesn't know how to process the baby, and it all makes him feel outside the pack." She says the looking away isn't a sign of disgust. It's avoidance---he chooses to not look at a situation he can't understand and that upsets him. Lo advises this could be the sign of other out-of-sorts-behavior to come: nipping, barking, scratching, etc.

Here's what's she's advised us to do: Give Jax commands on how to be around the baby. As one person sits on the couch with the infant, the other brings the dog over and has him sit. They point at the baby, insisting Jax see and acknowledge him. Then they reemphasis the command, "Sit." Ultimately, the standing person sits on the couch too, reinforcing the sense of a pack and Jax's place in it, close and in the circle, but calm and sitting.

Lo suggests trying the same thing when the baby is on one of his swings. Have Jax come over and lay down next to the baby. It's not enough to say "Come" or "Stop" if the dog is antsy or avoidant. He needs a job, which is to sit next to the baby and near us.

It will probably take a while for all this to normalize. And we are adding in more play outside for Jax so he can let off steam (He's been known to stand outside the bedroom door and howl in synch with the baby's 2am screams, proving that the anxiety, exhaustion and intensity of a new baby can extend far beyond just the humans.) My guess is Jax will take to the little guy a lot more over time, especially as he gets big enough to drop food on the floor, throw a ball and sneak his puppy pal into his bed.

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