Sometime this week, J and I will be welcoming our "bald puppy" into the world. He will be a first for both of us, and the first grandchild on my side, the second on J's. We nicknamed him Wee Loch Ness Monster as a tribute to our honeymoon in Scotland, as well as how awful he made me feel in the first trimester. Its been an interesting nine months, with the obvious physical changes (blessedly trouble free since I stopped vomiting at every chance), but also both of us having enormous changes at work, moving house, and all the usual ups and downs in our extended families. Now we're facing the most enormous change of all...
The dogs have been the constant throughout all of this. Many friends have asked how the dogs are coping and reacting to the pregnancy, and our answer has mostly been a slightly surprised, "fine!" There has possibly been a little bit more clinginess, but no more obvious changes in their behaviour. Its relatively common to see dogs reacting to hormones and pheromones, even before a woman might know she's pregnant, in a variety of ways, but our dogs have not changed in any clear way. They have adapted to changes in routine, changes in sleeping arrangements, changes in my ability to walk and work with them, without a lot of fuss.
Some time ago, I picked up a book in a vet's waiting room, called "Tell your dog you're pregnant." Written by a Melbourne vet, Dr Lewis Kirkham, it contains a variety of tips and strategies for expectant parents, interspersed with stories, about dogs who've reacted poorly to a new baby being introduced into the home. In each story, Dr Kirkham described the situation and problematic behaviour, the process of working out what had triggered the dog to do this and then how they'd tried to address the problem. In some cases, Dr Kirkham was able to find a way to help the dog owners, but in some sad cases, the dog had to be rehomed. Rehoming a dog that has proven unhappy with a baby or toddler in the house is very difficult, and some dogs end up being put down, because no suitable situation can be found for them. The common theme running through the whole book, was, of course, that preparing the dog for the disruptions of a new baby in advance of the baby's arrival, was the key to avoiding the problem.
So, we have put quite a bit of time and energy into having everything ready for the baby well in advance, to try and get the dogs ready for this big change. We moved their sleeping arrangements from our bedroom floor to the crates in the living room when we moved, back in October. We set up the baby's room, with a tall baby gate across the door way, in January. We put the Moses basket, and a second tall baby gate across the door way of our bedroom in February. All of these changes have been closely discussed - was it better to baby-gate the two rooms where the baby might be laid down, or was it better to baby-gate the whole hall way? We don't know yet if we've made the right choices, but its a starting point and then we can adjust as necessary.
We've also played baby crying noises. Without much more than an ear flick. I think this says more about responses to recorded and therefore compressed sounds than it does about responses to babies. Over the last few years, responses to videos of friends' litters of puppies have changed. The first time we played a video full of puppy noises, all four dogs came looking for a source. I think they've figured out the difference between a recording and the real thing, because now they barely stir. Too smart for our good? Maybe I'm just too addicted to videos of puppies learning to howl?
We've also planned the week of Wee Monster's arrival for the dogs as carefully as for us. They will be in their pens for long hours while we're both at the hospital, so we've enlisted family and friends to visit during the day. J will be coming home at night to keep their sleeping/breakfast routine the same. (Bringing home lots of baby smell on the way.) We will also be ensuring that when the baby comes home, all the dogs have been walked/run that day, to minimize their energy as much as possible. We're also working on a plan for them to see me first, after what the doctors tell me will be a relatively long hospital stay, before meeting Wee Monster. And that meeting will be tightly controlled.
In a dog pack, the pregnant female retreats to a private den to have her puppies. The other adults will be warned off and kept away while the puppies are at their most vulnerable - and tiny puppies, with their eyes closed, unable to walk, are undoubtedly hugely vulnerable. The risk of infanticide is not well understood in dogs, especially compared to big cats, partially due to human intervention & domestication. In some wild dog species in Africa, other females will baby sit, but many European species (such as wolves) have only been closely studied in captivity, after habitat limitation or after domestication and de sexing has changed pack dynamics. Dog breeders try to mimic the private den with a whelping box, and make sure that the other dogs in the pack are kept clear.
How dogs interact with human babies, is of course, a bit different. Most of our husky friends who've had kids have been quick to reassure us that their dogs were great when their babies came home. But we will be being pretty cautious. Don't expect to see videos or pictures of the dogs being allowed to meet the baby. Like with everything else, our dogs will be taught appropriate boundaries - no licking or sniffing the baby, no touching the baby, no growling at the baby. And when the time comes, our child will be taught appropriate boundaries for the dogs - no approaching eating dogs, no approaching dogs in their crates, no chasing dogs who are trying to gain some space from a small person. There have been cases in the husky community in the last 18 months of small children being nipped by huskies (fortunately, not in terms of physical damage) because a dog has felt unsafe and unprotected by the adults in the room. There seems to be two cases where this happens - where a visiting child comes into an unprepared dogs' space, and where a child is allowed to treat a dog like a toy for too long and eventually the dog warns the child off in an aggressive way. So we plan to introduce slowly, enforce strict boundaries to start with, and watch closely for signs of stress in the dogs.
Its been an amazing journey, and it is both strange and a relief to think that we're at the end now. And of course, this is just the beginning of a brand new journey. At this point there are no plans to rename the blog, but obviously, the pitter patter of little feet won't be just about paws any more.