My family has a honey-colored mini labradoodle, 24 pounds of pure, curly delight. Holly was our first baby, stumbling over the stairs, making messes, and reveling in our total adoration. But a couple of years later, our daughter Sophie’s homecoming changed everything. Our formerly exuberant Holly was miserable, and I began to experience an emotion I never knew existed: dog mom guilt.
When Baby Met Puppy
Before our baby Sophie was born, we praised Holly effusively, held her often, and brought her everywhere. I dressed her in Christmas sweaters, and sang to her, a theme song all her own. At night, she burrowed between us on the couch and dreamed peacefully, wanting nothing.
Suddenly, a tiny, bellowing human upended the stability and routine she relied on. We tried to follow the experts’ advice on how to introduce a new baby into the household; we brought a cap of Sophie’s home from the hospital so Holly could adjust to the baby’s scent, and we carefully thought through the mechanics of how we would have puppy meet baby.
It seemed to be for naught. While we had a plan for their initial meeting, we had forgotten about all of the daily disruptions Holly would experience, and how they might adversely affect her.
While I fed Sophie, Holly waited in vain for cuddles on the couch. Her bedtime became meaningless as Sophie wailed throughout the night. In the morning, she glared at us resentfully, refusing food. When she did eat, she couldn’t digest her food properly. The vet’s diagnosis: anxiety, and maybe depression. My dog mom guilt grew.
A New Normal
Eventually, Holly adjusted to a new routine. We modified her diet, and hired a dog walker to make sure she was getting enough exercise. We remembered to give Holly affection and time to play while Sophie was awake, and after Sophie’s bedtime, we resumed our nightly doggy cuddles. And in the meantime, Holly found a new friend in her little “sister.”
As Sophie’s world came into focus, she fell in love, just as we had, with our puppy. She shared her toys and her food, one bite for herself, one for Holly. She climbed onto the couch alongside Holly to look out the window for neighborhood dogs, and giggled when Holly barked. Unsurprisingly, “dog” was one of her first words. And somehow, she charmed our reluctant Holly.
Now, at two years old, our daughter throws her arms around Holly to say goodnight, skin touching fur, a ritual. In answer, Holly waits at Sophie’s crib in the morning, poking her tiny nose between the slats, ready with kisses to greet the day. They’re a merry pair, one barking, the other chortling with pleasure as they run together in the backyard. Theirs is a clumsy love, but it is love nonetheless.
This growing bond is a gift, an unintentional one, that brings us joy too, and gratitude. It relieves some of the dog mom guilt that rises and subsides by the day or circumstance.
I hope Holly knows how much she is loved. These days, I make sure to match her enthusiasm when I see her, hugging her and praising her often. I sing her special song when we’re together, and she wags her tail in response.
After all, she’ll always be our first.
Tips for Dog Moms: How to Adjust to Life with Baby
- Try to maintain a semblance of stability: Your routine will change drastically, but try to keep your dog on as predictable a schedule as possible. If there are changes you anticipate ahead of time that you can incorporate into your routine, you may want to consider implementing them before the big day arrives.
- Consider hiring a dog walker to help out if needed or try doggy daycare to keep your pup engaged in routine physical activity.
- Allot a period of time each day to devote to your dog, and make sure to continue showing affection while baby is present as well.
- Do doggy and baby activities together to foster a bond between the two. When you feed your baby, give your dog a meal or treat. Take walks together.
- Schedule grooming appointments regularly and in advance to make sure they’re on the calendar. It may be easy to forget when you’re taking care of a baby.
- Be sensitive to the changes your dog may be experiencing, including loud noises like crying.