Dog meets Baby: tips for new mother dog owners (nmdos)

© Emily Jenkinson
© Emily Jenkinson

As any new mother will tell you, life with a baby is hard. The simplest acts – leaving the house, doing some shopping, going out for lunch – ones that you used to take for granted, now become infinitely challenging, thwarted by exploding nappies, wind, sick, nap times, meal times, bed times and an awful lot of stuff. Add a small, rather hairy Border Terrier to the mix and things start to get really fun, especially if you live in a top floor maisonette with no lift.

Scrabble, known fondly (pre-baby) as the “Border Terrorist”, was a 30th birthday present from my mother three years ago. Very much my first baby, my husband and I worried about how she would react when Martha appeared on the scene this May. Not well, as it turned out. Morphing from a happy, playful little soul, into a suffocatingly clingy creature, she would lie mournfully on my feet as I breast-fed, sneak in to lie beside my side of the bed at night and stare at me all day with an agonised look in her eyes that said “HOW COULD YOU BETRAY ME?!”

No sooner had we settled our human baby than our doggy one would start up.

Terrorised by Martha’s colicky cries, she took to barking intermittently throughout the night. In fact, no sooner had we settled our human baby than our doggy one would start up. We may as well have had twins. While most new mothers spend hours Googling “how to get your baby to sleep through the night” or “when does breast-feeding stop hurting?” (as I did), much of my time was also spent looking up “dog gone crazy with new baby – what to do?”.

Scrabble and Martha enjoying the sun at around 6 weeks

The general advice was to give constant reassurance, feed the baby first and (rather aptly for a Gina Ford mother) stick to your dog’s normal routine.  And so, in the mornings, while other new mothers sensibly stayed in their pyjamas until lunch, I would charge about the house, hurling on clothes in between the puking, feeding, poo-ing, crying etc, before navigating the stairs down to the car, tying Scrabble to a railing, strapping Martha in the car seat, hauling out the buggy,  getting Martha out of the car seat and into the pram, locking the car and scooping up Scrabble, all for the sake of her usual morning walk.

It turns out, newborns sleep very well in buggies, and, as a new mother, getting dressed and out of the house first thing was a bit of a sanity saver. As time went on, walks coincided nicely with nap times and increased both in frequency and length for Scrabble. Sensing something positive happening amid the chaos of her new life, she stopped barking at night and started lying on her usual chair instead of my foot. Next came weaning and the penny finally dropped: not only did this demanding new addition mean more walks, it also meant more food. She took up position underneath the high chair (no mess mats needed) and started taking a more protective attitude to Martha, the source of these good things.

 Always feed your baby first.

Six months on and my mother calls Scrabble “The Hairy Nanny”.  In our local coffee shop, we are known collectively (and rather generously for at least two of us) as “The Three Graces”.  Meanwhile, Martha squeals with delight at her close friend the “woof-woof”, Scrabble is back to her joyful old self and I am getting some sleep.

As for the top floor maisonette? We’re moving.

Top Tips for NMDO’s (New Mother Dog Owners)

1. Stick to your dog’s routine. When a new baby arrives on the scene, it can be very confusing for the dog, who, unlike you, hasn’t had nine months to get used to the idea. By sticking to its usual walk times, feed times and bed-time routine, you will reassure him/her that things may have changed a bit, but not too much.

2. Reassure your dog. With a newborn to think about, it’s easy to forget about your first baby, the dog. Make sure to reassure it that you still love him/her, that you still have time for it and that he/she hasn’t been replaced.

3. Involve your dog. Much as you would introduce an older brother or sister to a new baby and help them to feel included, do the same with your dog. If it is curious, let him/her approach your baby in a controlled and gentle way.

4. Set boundaries. Be gently but firmly clear on what is and isn’t allowed and make sure that your dog knows that she/he comes below baby in the pecking order. For example, sniffing gently is okay. Licking (a sign of dominance) is not. Always feed your baby first.

5. Be patient. It can take time for your dog to adjust to a new person in the family. Keep following the above tips and it will eventually get there. Before long, your baby and dog will be firm friends.

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