One of our biggest concerns before our little boy Sonny was born was how our jack russell Mario would take to him. The dog has had our undivided attention for the past 9 years and has effectively been our child, but with a few simple adjustments to his lifestyle he seems to have accepted the newcomer to his home.
We rescued Mario from the wonderful Wood Green Animal Shelter in the summer of 2007, and despite some early problems he's grown into the pet we always hoped he would be. Loving, tremendous fun and an altogether wonderful companion. We absolutely adore him. But as soon as we discovered we were having a baby we had a few worries. Mario has had our complete focus and been the centre of attention in our house for so long that we were worried he would be jealous of Sonny. But by giving him a few boundaries and introducing some new elements into his daily routine, he's adapted brilliantly. I'm sure everyone's experience of doing this will be different, and of course all dogs have hugely varying personalities, but we found these techniques had instant results...
INTRODUCE THEM EARLY
The first thing we did when we brought Sonny home from hospital was introduce him to Mario. We did it very carefully and briefly, placing the car seat on the floor and letting the dog sniff his feet, then taking him away immediately. We gradually increased those interactions over the first two weeks, and the first time I watched Mario gently lick Sonny's foot then fall asleep next to him was an amazing feeling.
DON'T ALLOW THE DOG UPSTAIRS
Mario used to spend half of his life upstairs, often snoozing on our bed, but with a newborn baby we quickly realised that would be impossible. It took a few weeks to get the dog used to this (he initially snuck upstairs and hid under the bed quite a lot!) but by rewarding him for staying downstairs with treats and by giving him a second bed that we now keep in the living room, he's quickly become happy with his downstairs space. This means the upstairs is somewhere we can be completely be alone with the baby.
REWARD THE DOG WHEN THE BABY CRIES
Sonny cries a lot (!) and he demands a lot of our attention, and the look on Mario's face when we first brought the screaming sack of skin and bones home was one of complete puzzlement. I'd read before Sonny was born that whenever your baby cries, or whenever you're giving him lots of attention, it's beneficial to give your dog a treat. That way he associates you spending time with the baby with good things happening to him. This has worked brilliantly for us, with Mario calmly accepting the treat then carrying on as though nothing's happening.
DON'T NEGLECT THE DOG'S ROUTINE
I take my role as a dog owner seriously and I've always loved walking Mario every morning, evening and night. Undoubtedly it's become more difficult to motivate myself now that my life has become so much more chaotic and unpredictable, but I still see it as my responsibility. How could we blame the dog for reacting badly to the baby if after 9 years we suddenly changed his lifestyle? So every morning I walk the dog before work, then straight away when I get home, then last thing at night before he goes to sleep - just like I always did. He was here before the baby and I still enjoy spending time with him as much as I ever have done.
LET THEM INTERACT
This doesn't mean putting them together in a cot! I'm talking about activities that you can do as a family, such as taking the baby on your dog walks in a carrier or in the pram. This shows the dog that the baby is now part of his life too, and will mean your baby grows up used to the dog and the lifestyle that comes with it. I also try to play with the dog in front of Sonny as much as possible. He just sits there watching us in his bouncy chair with a dopey grin on his face. I really hope he associates the dog with fun and grows up to love animals as much as his parents do.
DON'T LEAVE THEM ALONE!
I do trust Mario, even though people tell me I shouldn't, but I would never leave him alone with the baby. Mario is an animal after all, and he's always had a jealous streak, so every interaction they've ever had has been carefully supervised. So far those interactions been great, with Mario largely ignoring Sonny and generally being more relaxed and content than I've ever seen him in the 9 years we've had him.
It's still early days of course and I'm sure things will become more difficult when Sonny can crawl, walk and grab tails, but so far we couldn't be happier with our baby-dog relationship.
You can follow our family adventures on my blog www.theoutdoordad.co.uk