BY Isobel & Victoria from Pooches & Prams
When it comes to having a dog and children living under one roof there seems to be two camps that people fall into: either you wait until you've had your children and then introduce a dog into the family OR you have a dog before you have your children and the dog starts your family off.
There are of course pros and cons to both ways round, we (Isobel and Victoria) both had dogs before we had babies, our dogs were our first 'babies' in many ways. Don't get us wrong, we sometimes wonder if it would have been easier to wait until the children were a bit older before we got a dog but we really think there are swings and round about's to both. We personally LOVE the fact that our kids are growing up with a dog, teaching them kindness, empathy and love for a living creature is really important to us.
We wanted to share our journey and our experience so far of having a dog before children with you. We have gone through some big changes from baby to toddler and we know there is a lot more to come and for us to learn but our main goal since the babies were born is to try and create a united family unit where everyone is involved and feels loved. Dogs shouldn't be pushed out just because babies have come along.
We know we will make mistakes along the way (we have done already!), we wanted to share what worked for us and where we are now with the three key stages.
Stage 1: PREGNANCY
Preparing for motherhood
We both felt that having a dog for a couple of years before we had babies prepared us in many ways for being a mother. Having to curb the selfish ways of life as 20 odd year old and take responsibility for something else puts you in good stead. No longer being able to go out for hours after work for drinks because you need get home to give your dog dinner, not being able to spontaneously go out for the day without checking first that the place is dog friendly, not being able to lazy around all weekend, but instead get out and about into the great outdoors. For any parent reading this, there are a lot of similarities when you have kids right?! To sum up getting a dog forces you to become less selfish, which is something that every parent goes through too, we just started that process a bit earlier.
Helping with the new baby anxieties
There are of course those anxieties when you are pregnant and have a dog, we both remember worrying about how the dog will cope when baby comes along, how will we get out for dog walks every day when we have newborns. There are lots of things to consider but what we tried to do is involve our dogs in our pregnancy as much possible.
Here are a few of the things we did;
- Let them smell the new baby items that came into the house
- Let them rest and snuggle up to our bumps to try and start that bonding process
- Let them sit in the nursery so it wasn't a 'banned' space (although we are aware that lots of people don't agree with this, and think that dogs shouldn't be allowed in the nursery, this is just the decision we both made).
- Slightly tweak their routine - we both walked and walked until the end of our pregnancies, but what we did try and do is mix up where we went for a walk and at what times of the day etc. Knowing that when baby came along we wouldn't always be able to walk them at the same time every day, this helped them prepare for these changes without it being a big shock once baby arrives.
Stage 2: NEW BABY
This is whole new level of juggling as suddenly you have two living things to look after who often have different needs.
Again we've learnt a lot along the way but here's our key tips for surviving with a newborn and a dog:
It's hard at the beginning when you can barely walk. In the early days it's unrealistic to think you will be able to go off on massive dog walks when your baby is a couple of weeks old. So get help. Victoria had a dog walker once a week for a couple of months so she knew Rupert had at least one good walk in the week and then the rest she took slowly, still making sure Rupert got out every day even if only for a short walk and then hubby would take again when home. Isobel asked family members when they came to visit whether they could take Frank for a walk before they left or watch the baby whilst she did otherwise hubby would get out in the mornings or evenings with him. We both fudged it slightly for the first few weeks but what we did do is try and keep the dogs involved as much as we could, we made sure they got out in some way every single day and then made up for it at weekends. These first few weeks are tricky and we both felt lots of mum guilt (baby mum guilt for getting the babies out in the cold and dog mum guilt for giving the dogs short walks on some days) but it doesn't last forever and it really is just about survival mode at the beginning.
The other thing we both did was have a stash of new dog bones and dog treats so when you are sat there feeding, the dogs have new exciting things to play with keeping their brain stimulated. Of course just making time for them when the baby is asleep by giving them cuddles and playing with them helped them feel like they were still getting some of our attention.
Out and About
We both found getting a good baby sling was a blessing, we both use baby bjorns but there are lots out there. It just means you can still do a good muddy walk and usually the baby will fall asleep in the sling so win win!
Stage 3: DOG Vs TODDLER!
So you've got through the baby stage and then it becomes about managing the energy between a toddler and a dog! aka play buddies.
When at home we find teaching our toddlers to give treats to the dogs helps to calm things down when playtime becomes a bit too frantic for them both. It's a great way to get the kids focused and also stimulates the dogs brains by teaching them fun tricks like 'paw' or 'high five'.
And then there is getting outdoors, which is the KEY. No matter what the weather, no matter how much you don't want to go out in the cold, our one piece of advice is do it because 100% everyone will feel better afterwards. The fresh air, playing with balls, running through the mud finding sticks burns off that much needed energy. Even if on some days it's only for 15 minutes, those 15 minutes more often than not will make the rest of the day go smoother.
There are of course days where we stick to our local park but we also really try hard to find new and exciting places to go that involve the toddlers and the dogs. There are so many National Trust places with fabulous walks, coastal towns where the dogs are allowed on the beach off season, and fun family activities such as The Stick Man or Gruffalo trail. The dogs get their walk, and the kids have a fun day out and no one has to be left behind. We've learnt along the way to always have a quick google for places nearby that are dog friendly, pubs, cafes etc, just so we know that if we need to grab some food for the kids or have a toilet break we know where to go that will let us all in.
A Helping Hand - Our Top Tips
We mentioned that a good sling when the babies are little can really help, there are also some other products that can give you that helping hand. One of our favourites is hands-free dog leads which you can wrap around your body. We love the Hiro & Wolf one because its reasonably priced and has some gorgeous prints. This means you have more hands free to deal with toddlers/babies and picking up poo...lucky you!
Every winter we both always invest in good wellies and good puddle suits for the toddlers, we couldn't live without them! Regatta do some lovely prints that are really reasonably priced.
Packing the Changing Bag:
Keep poo bags on a poo bag holder on the lead and a tin of treats in your pocket this means it's easily accessible when you need it quickly.
We like to split our baby changing bags into 3 mini bags; one for the toddler, one for baby and one for dog, carrying all their essentials and meaning we aren't faffing around trying to find things.
So that's it! We are sure lots of the above will change as the toddlers start to grow up and as mums we will adapt along the way. There have been tough times for sure but there have by far been more moments when we've witnessed the bond between our kids and dogs sparkle. As we say we're pretty sure that getting a dog once the kids are older would be slightly 'easier' but having a furry best buddy when you're two years old, is pretty cool :)