ENERGETIC TODDLER vs NERVOUS DOG: They Can Both Win

Before my son joined our family my husband and I brought two furbabies into our household.  It was a decision that we fought about a lot.  Me pushing for puppies the moment we moved in together, him understanding the reality of the work a puppy takes and hesitating.  We moved in together into a brand new one bedroom apartment that had a dog park in the complex that practically screamed for me to get a puppy.  We moved in together after less than a year of dating-and I’m not sure he knew what he was getting into.  Anyone who has ever lived with me can vouch that I have a problem with clothes, my closet is never big enough and this results in piles of clothes laying around at almost all times.  Not a great setup for a puppy…. you might see where I’m going here.  It took no time at all for me to start begging him for a puppy, despite the many real reasons I wasn’t ready.  There was a dog park IN the complex for god’s sake, it was just waiting for us.  My husband tried to fight it as long as he could but I wore him thin-it didn’t take me long to get him to agree to it.  But he had one condition, a specific breed that at the time was pretty hard to find.  I think in his mind this was a last-ditch effort to stop me before he gave in.  And that day I brought home our little Puggle (Pug + Beagle), and my man learned an important lesson about challenging me.

Daisy our Puggle came first.  She was silly and just the sweetest thing in the world, but man is she stupid.  She eats so fast she chokes, even though her food has never been in danger of being taken.  She eats ANYTHING, I’m talking muffin wrappers, foil from candy, weeds, sticks, plastic play peanuts-these are examples of things she has actually eaten just this year.  Daisy is by far the dumber of our two dogs but her biggest redeeming quality is her huge heart.  She loves everyone and everything.  You pet her once and you will have a best friend for life.  She did amazing with other dogs in the dog park, even more aggressive dogs would succumb to her sweetness and play with her.  When our son came along Daisy was two years old and been with us since she was a few months old.  It was almost like the second I got pregnant Daisy knew, and decided she loved her new brother before she even met him.  She would cuddle with my bump ever chance she got, and was by my side at almost all times watching over us.  When we brought my son home it was love at first site for her.  Daisy loved my husband and I, but I truly believe every dog has ‘their person’ in life and when our son came along Daisy had decided he was hers.  She sat at my feet as a nursed him when he was an infant, she laid by his side during tummy time as a baby, she runs by his side as a toddler.   She plays chase, lets our son use her as a pillow, as a walker, as a stepstool, as a horse, you name it! Daisy is the most loving, calm and tolerant dog with our son and the transition of introducing children was flawless for her.  Sadly, this is not the usual reaction of dogs when their owners bring home a baby-and wasn’t the reaction of our other dog, Max.

Now before you write me off as being a terrible dog owner hear that we DID NOT get rid of Max and we are working, and succeeding in, improving the relationship between our nervous dog and energetic toddler.  We got Max about a year after we got Daisy.  We were still in our little one bedroom apartment but I decided Daisy needed a buddy to play with and started considering getting a puppy.  Max came to us from a craigslist post.  We picked him up from a dirty, dark kitchen in a sketchy area of town-I remember wanting to take all the tiny sad puppies.  The puppies were borderline too young to be taken from their mother.  Max was very tiny and I remember him instantly curling up on my chest beneath my chin on the way home and falling asleep.  He felt safe with me and in the moment, I became Max’s ‘person’.  Still to this day it is hard for me to walk Max because he is fiercely protective of me specifically.  His Shiba Inu breed makes him extremely smart and loyal-but he has always been unsure and skittish of things that are loud of move quickly.  This is something we knew would be a struggle when we decided to have children.  Max had been around kids before and the reaction was not encouraging.  When I got pregnant Max had the opposite reaction of Daisy and distanced himself from me right away.  He was uninterested in my bump and in fact some days I’d say he was giving me the cold shoulder.  When we brought the baby home he was instantly thrown off and clearly upset that there was something else that was taking all my attention.  He heard one cry and his tail shot between his legs with his ears went back letting out a deep growl.  In that moment, my husband and I both knew we would need to watch this carefully in order to protect both of the things we loved.

Before bringing our son home we talked about the possibility of Max being unsure about his arrival.  We were both strong in saying that we had to prioritize our son’s safety, and if that meant rehoming Max we would make that very hard choice.   But even before our son got here my husband and I started researching ways to help Max.  We wanted him to be able to stay in our family.  The last thing we wanted to do was get rid of our dog because he was nervous around children, something I honestly don’t blame him for!  There was tons of advice on how to introduce your dog and baby on the internet-how to introduce the scent, suggestions to create a relationship between baby and dog, even though the baby is a squealy raisin who can’t love or pet the dog in any way yet.   In case you didn’t pick up on my sarcasm some suggestions seemed more useful than others to me.  After trying all sorts of techniques, everything from bringing home the baby blankets to introduce the smell, to rewarding Max with treats when he showed interest in Karson.  But none of it worked and the more my son grew, the more mobile he became, the louder he was, the more he needed my attention, the more Max was put off.

It was at this point that my husband and I made a choice that is going to sound strange to some of you but It’s what worked for us.  We decided it wasn’t important for Max to love our son, we decided we didn’t care if Max didn’t want to join in on the game of chase with Daisy and him.  We don’t need them to love each other, we just need them to BOTH understand how to live together.  They are BOTH members of our family, and I still have confidence that one day when our son can play fetch, or take Max for a walk, they will bond-but for now they are best just learning to tolerate each other.  We teach our son that Max is shy, just like he can be sometimes.  Our two-year-old is more than capable of understanding that loud noises and crazy behavior could scare an animal.  This new understanding that came with age changed the way he approaches Max, and has helped Max become more open to a relationship.  We no longer try to force Max into being in the same space as our son.  In the end, we want to protect both of the things we love.  This involves providing Max with a safe place away from the action.  AS well as teaching and creating healthy habits with animal safety in our son.  While the relationship between Daisy and our son is something all dog lovers dream of when they bring home their baby-it was Max who taught us more.  Not only did it teach my husband and I empathy and patience in dealing with the problem-rather than making the rash choice of getting rid of our nervous dog many people make.  I find that Kason is learning a lot from his relationship with Max too.  He learns empathy and respect for others feelings by learning to respect the pets living in his home.  Think twice before you rehome your nervous dog.

 

In the end, the biggest advice I have to give is give it time.  There is no reason your nervous dog needs to be best friends with your baby.  It’s okay for your dog to be nervous when you bring something home that changes their entire world.  Try to empathize and prioritize finding a peace between the animal and baby rather than abandoning your pet because of completely natural behaviors and feelings.

 

WE chose to let our nervous dog lead the way.  If he shows interest in our son, wonderful……if he doesn’t, we no longer force it.  Be patient and chances are over time they will accept the new pack order and the new pack member.  You don’t have to choose between your energetic toddler and your nervous dog.  They can both feel loved and safe.

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