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Managing My Beasties
Handling a houseful of love
Wren (left) with stuffed pal and Stella.

I knew I was going to be on my own navigating the new parenting world with a dog already in the house when more than once I came across the following advice: reduce the attention you give your dog by at least fifty percent. The logic: I would have less time to devote to my dog, so she should get used to it early. Say what? Stop petting the dog? Less toys for the dog? No more lavishing love on this beloved beast I *chose* to bring into my home, the one I committed to for life? No can do, parenting experts!

Still, when my son Wren came along, I needed to make changes. I've got a 60-pound Pit Bull-type dog in the house with me, and Stella can be something of a tornado when she gets excited. She skids and scrambles around on the wood floors, wedges herself between the object of my attention and me and seeks out high fives precisely at toddler-eye level when things are going her way. Here are a few of the things I've learned. It's not to say I've applied these strategies flawlessly, but it's the structure of these boundaries that have kept our household—and ALL the members in it—happy and secure.

1. Dogs + Babies Alone = No

We trust Stella. She's a good girl and can be left on the couch alone with a plate of food without eating it. That is to say, she's got great impulse control. But for both the baby's safety and for hers, we simply never leave them in the room alone together. Too much could go wrong—a yanked dog ear, a stomped baby hand, a dog tail to the eyeball.

2. Toy Management

This is a tricky one. As I wrote in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of The Bark, we did tons of training in advance to help Stella recognize her toys from Wren's. She's got this down now, and leaves his well enough alone. Wren has been a whole different issue. He makes a beeline straight for Stella when she's playing wth things, and likewise when she is eating. Despite Stella's tolerance of this (not all dogs are so gracious, nor should they be expected to be), I still protect her from Wren's prying hands by redirecting him with his own toys. He doesn't always appreciate this—so if he can't be redirected, I put a baby gate between them so Stella can play or eat in peace.

3. Breathing Room

That brings me to the next point. Sometimes, both baby and dog need space away from the constant attention of the other. This applies especially to old dogs or those with sore spots. Wren has reached a stage now where he finds Stella absolutely fascinating. He crawls behind her like the wake behind a boat. And while I find it charming, Stella sometimes may just want to sail around on her own. And that's fair enough. Baby gates, the Pack 'n Play or crib—all these serve as fine barriers between your beasties.

What are your trade secrets to happy cohabitation? Was your dog jealous when the kid(s) came along? I'd love to hear about your experiences.

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Elizabeth Kennedy is a freelance writer and editor in the San Francisco Bay Area. elizabethkennedy.org

Photograph by Kira Stackhouse

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Submitted by r suarez | February 17 2012 |

My already timid rescue dog lost an eye with each of my pregnancies so she is now blind. It was one thing when she had 1 "blind side" with a new baby but now anything can be a potential shock. Our toddler needs daily reminders to be cautious with toys which are a landmine for a blind dog but that would have been the case with any animal. I use gates and playpens for our littlest one and sometimes to the dog's dismay make her stay in her own space. One great outcome of this will be that my kids will learn about overcoming handicaps and that every one is equal.

Submitted by Lindsay | February 17 2012 |

When I found out I was pregnant, we already had a 6yr old Aussie and were in the process of looking for a puppy - timing was key or the puppy would have to wait! Luckily our breeder had a litter and we took our little guy home when I was 5mos. I figured I would have enough to time to housebreak, and reasonably train some basic behaviors before the baby came, and at that point he'd be hitting his "terrible two's" (6 mos) and would be spending a bit more time crated between training anyways. The dogs spent 2 weeks with my parents while we settled in with our daughter, the second week they started daily visits while my mom came to help me out but she took them back with her at night. It was a nice way to transition them and they were able to get out and exercise with my parents so they were calm during visits making it a pleasant experience. My daughter is now 3.5 mos and the dogs have been great with her. My older one is my constant shadow, always has been, and she now includes the baby into her shadow repertiore. The puppy is starting to become more attached, but for the most part ignores her because she can't throw a toy so in his eyes she's not a playmate yet. He does however sleep beside her crib at night (we gate the hallway allowing access between our room and the baby's room as he transitions from being crated at night). I too supervise them at all times with her because as much as I trust my dogs, I love them and want to keep them safe as much as I want to keep my daughter safe. Now if I can only find time to get back to classes with both of them!

Submitted by Judy Stove-Wilson | February 17 2012 |

Great article, very sensible. When our first son was a baby, we were amazed at the reaction of our neighbour's elderly Great Dane (a rescued dog) - he basically moved in to our place, and would take up position near the pram or bassinet. We think he wanted to protect young children, and his own family's children had grown up long ago. He was a noble dog, the model to us of what a dog should be.

Submitted by Anonymous | February 18 2012 |

Thank you for this post! As a mom-to-be with two boxers, I get anxiety when I hear my friends with kids and dogs talk about how little attention their dogs get now. And I hate when I see signs offering a dog for adoption because the home now has human children. I would never do that, but I do worry about how I will be able to give adequate attention to both dogs and my child. You offer solid, clear advice, and I would love to hear what other readers have to say.

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