Four dogs and a baby - coming home from hospital.

I can't believe it's already five - nearly six! - weeks since our little boy was born - maybe it's the sleep deprivation talking, but already it's hard to imagine life without him.  

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For medical reasons, Wee Monster was born by planned Caesarian section, ten days before his due date, and we stayed in hospital a full five days. While I wasn't thrilled about the CS and I was pretty shattered by the long hospital stay, the result is the best possible outcome - a thriving little guy and healthy (if exhausted!) parents. (Shared rooms in hospitals with a high turn over of beds are probably the worst possible places to recover from a birth!)

Just minutes old, our first family portrait! 

Just minutes old, our first family portrait! 

For the week the baby and I were in hospital, we tried to keep the dogs' routine as normal as possible. Unfortunately, with both of us away all day, the dogs were facing long hours in their pens - something they hadn't done since we moved house six months earlier. J slept at home every night, spending precious time with the dogs in the morning and evening. We employed a dog walker from Time 4 Dogs to come and visit for an hour every day, giving the puppies some contact, company and mental stimulation. This was a huge weight off our minds, especially when the weather turned unexpectedly hot and the dog walker got the paddling pools out for the sibes. And my brother and his girlfriend visited in the evenings playing fetch and having cuddles in front of the tv, while J was visiting at the hospital on his way home from work. They say it takes a village to raise a child - I'd say it takes a village to raise a pack, and we are very grateful to our village for all their help with the fur kids and the bald puppy.

One thing that I was quite anxious about was how we introduce the baby to the dogs. You may have seen a video on Youtube where a husky meets the new addition to the pack? A husky who gently sniffs at the baby is indeed very cute, but we were conscious that our dogs can be rough and tumble, and we needed to establish very early on that they could NOT touch the baby. We needed to insist on calm behaviour and to establish clear boundaries. In a normal pack, the mother dog won't even allow close relatives near her unweaned puppies.

No other dogs are allowed near puppies until the puppies are old enough to be integrated into pack life - the mom letting the puppies have contact with other dogs is a statement that the puppies are now allowed to be dominated and corrected. Every dog on earth knows this instinctively. Source

Here is how we introduced the baby and the dogs:

Firstly, before we came home, J brought home some baby clothes to introduce the baby smell. We had heard of a dog who was given a baby blanket in his crate, which he then ripped to shreds, and we thought this was a bad first interaction - the dogs had to understand that the baby and the baby's things were NOT dog toys. So J introduced the new smells without allowing much contact - they were left on the coffee table for a little while, and then put in the baby's basket in our room behind the baby gate. The dogs paid little attention to all this.

Secondly, we recruited some help - our dog walker arrived a little while before we did, and played with the dogs in the backyard for a while. It was a relief to have another pair of hands available.

Thirdly, we knew the dogs would be excited to see me after five days in hospital, so we settled the baby in his basket inside and I went outside to see the dogs. I was very tired, a bit hormonal/emotional, and sore after my surgery and the new experience of breastfeeding, so I wasn't able to get too carried away, rolling around with them. But I made sure everyone got some pats and snuggles, and everyone got to sniff me. Maybe this was contrary to the whole idea of mimicking their instinctive pack behaviour, but we didn't want them to be jealous or anxious if I changed my treatment of them too much.

Finally, J stood, holding the baby in the lounge room, while we let each dog come in to "meet" the baby. This turned out to be an enormous anticlimax. The presence of their dog walker play mate, the excitement of seeing me after my absence, the anticipation/tension rolling off me (and J to a lesser extent), meant that each dog rushed into the house, looked briefly at J and then turned around and looked at me as if to say "now what?" J may as well have been holding an inanimate object as a precious new member of the pack.


This changed when Wee Monster started making noise for the first time. His cries suddenly alerted the dogs to the fact that there was a new living thing in the house. Their responses were all different -  

Frankie decided that the baby was a bit scary. He keeps his distance and retreats to his crate whenever he feels necessary. When offered a chance to sniff the baby, he has been timid, and we have respected that, allowing him to keep a large distance between him and the baby. 

Czar has shown respectful interest. He tends to sniff the baby on my lap from a sit a foot or so away, and then retreats to his preferred spot by the door. When I'm not holding the baby, he is keen to come and get pats and cuddles, and when we've gone to the park, has rubbed up against the legs of every person present like a cat, ignoring the dogs. 

Ishka has an ability to ignore the baby, until he starts to cry - then she rushes over with her brow wrinkled like a concerned matron. She listens well when told to Leave or Back Off. Interestingly, after three years of treating me like an interloper, she is showing more affection towards me. J will always be her alpha, but I'm no longer having to be dominant and pushy to get her to listen to me.

Bolo is, as always, our problem child. He alone was interested in the baby from the first meeting and that interest has been maintained. He cries at the dog gates when I'm in the baby's room. He stands alert under the window. He tries to sniff EVERYTHING baby related, ALL THE TIME. When the baby is quietly sleeping, he plants himself ON my feet.

"What? Do you need this foot more than I do?" 

"What? Do you need this foot more than I do?" 

When I try to feed on the couch instead of behind the gates, he barks. Not howls, which the baby ignores but barks, sudden, sharp, piercingly loud, only a foot away from where I'm sitting. This behaviour makes the baby grizzle, so we're quick to tell him off. Unfortunately this has become a game - he will play bow and dance around, enjoying the attention, despite the fact that we are cross. He will not desist until I lift the baby and stagger up to shut him in his crate. Consequently Bolo is now back to  being banished to his crate or the backyard before I feed the baby. Watch this space for our efforts to manage Bolo's behaviour.

"But WHY can't I come in and help with the baby?" 

"But WHY can't I come in and help with the baby?"