By Stephanie Ila Silver-Silberstein
I’ll never forget the day we brought him home. We took about…oh…a thousand pictures, friends and family came over to meet the cutie patootie and I could barely contain myself from smothering him with kisses and cuddles. Our baby’s name is Flanders, after the beloved character from The Simpsons. Seems an odd name for a baby, right? But you see, this baby is of the canine variety. And for almost 4 years now, he’s been our pride and joy, filling our days with unconditional love and happiness. But we’re about to welcome another baby into our home. Our (human) baby boy will arrive before we know it and needless to say, I’m stressed.
If Flanders were, say, a Labrador or Golden Retriever, I’d be a lot calmer. But Flanders is a mini-dachshund. When I insisted on getting a small city-friendly dog, my husband insisted on the mini-dachshund, despite the breed’s reputation for shall we say, not being the biggest fan of children. According to my husband, mini-dachshunds have “big-dog personalities”. He was right. In a nutshell, Flanders is like the boyfriend no one understands why you’re dating. You swear to your friends that he’s the most loving, loyal, affectionate, well-behaved, little mush ball when you’re alone together; but around visitors, he’s is like a stressed out Mr. Hyde with a Napoleon complex, barking to show that it’s his territory.
I’ll admit we’re partly to blame. Though we enrolled him in basic obedience class as a puppy, Flanders can still definitely be considered what you’d call ‘top dog’. In other words, we’re not what the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, would call ‘pack leaders’. It’s supposed to go Exercise, Discipline…then Affection. It’s definitely the other way around with us. Though I’m hoping Flanders will come to regard his little brother as a member of his family who he loves and protects, I can’t help but wonder if jealousy and resentment are on the horizon.
Rather than take the ‘wait and see’ approach, we decided to be as proactive as possible. We scheduled an appointment with our dog trainer, Wally of www.caninecompleteinc.com. After a few private lessons using leash and remote collar training, Flanders was considerably more obedient, calmer and more responsive to our commands. Admittedly, we still gave him tons of affection, but we did so on our terms, not his. Some people are horrified when they see the remote ‘shock’ collar (especially since it looks so big around our 8 lb pupster), but we rarely, if ever, have to use the shock feature. Simply wearing the collar calms Flanders down and reminds him that it’s time to listen to his mommy and daddy.
Another option is the use of a citronella collar. The scent of the spray, which is emitted in response to the dog’s bark, distracts or startles the dog so he stops barking (and stops any negative behavior that comes along with it). Depending on how your dog responds, this collar (which is totally safe and humane) could save you a lot of headaches, not to mention phone calls from complaining neighbors. There are many brands of such collars offered on www.amazon.com. You can also visit www.DogsandStorks.com for exercises on how to limit those annoying attention-seeking behaviors and for a bunch of tips on how to acclimate your baby to your…well, other baby!
We also brought in a ‘practice baby’. The 14″ You & Me Fuss ‘n Love Baby Doll from www.ToysRus.com moves its arms and legs, giggles and cries (sort of) like a real baby. Though I feared Flanders would destroy the doll with the same gusto he destroys his plush toys with, surprisingly, he was curious but gentle when I was pretending to breastfeed…yes, breastfeed…the doll. Sure, my husband and I felt ridiculous treating this doll as if it were a real baby (we even put baby powder on it), but hey, we’re desperate to make this work. We also took Flanders on many a’ walk attached to the stroller. Again, as stupid as we felt walking down the street with a fake baby in a stroller, this exercise helped us (as well as the dog) feel more prepared and in control.
Though I am nervous that Flanders will be jealous of his brother and the attention (not to mention stuffed animals and toys) he’ll receive, I’m still hopeful. A good tip I learned watching the DVD from www.dogsandstorks.com is to bring out toys and treats only when the baby is around. In turn, the dog will come to associate the baby with all things positive and fun. Scenting the dog’s toys with almond oil to designate which toys belong to whom is another measure you can take to avoid confusion.
Our trainer also suggested we give Flanders time each day to enjoy being separated from us in his crate. And rather than give him run of the house when we’re out, we keep him in the kitchen. Setting such boundaries now will help later – especially during the baby’s tummy time on the floormat and down the line when the baby starts crawling and then walking. Though I hope the need to separate them will exist only when we have other moms and their babies in the house, when it’s especially difficult to supervise adequately, again, I’d rather get Flanders used to such possible scenarios and err on the side of caution.
To ease my guilty conscience and help make Flanders feel safe and secure throughout all of this, I plugged in some Comfort Zone, a formula that mimics the calming pheromones that are secreted by canine mothers around their newborns. The liquid (which comes as a monthly plug-in or as a spray to use in rooms, crates or other enclosed areas) is natural and safe to use around you and your newborn (www.petcomfortzone.com).
Visit the www.DogsandStorks.com website for tips on what to do before and after bringing the baby home from the hospital. For instance, you might want to have your partner bring home one of the baby’s blankets before mommy gets home. Allow your dog to sniff the blanket and give him treats as he investigates, while reminding him of the expected behaviors you practiced ahead of time. Also, someone besides mommy should hold the baby when she first arrives home from the hospital and ideally, the dog would have gotten some playtime or exercise before this arrival.
As I watched a friend of mine breastfeeding her baby as her dog sat curled up right next to her, I found myself repeating like a mantra, “that’s going to be me, that’s going to be me’. And I sincerely hope and pray that it will be. I’m sure it’ll be a challenge and it’ll take a lot of discipline and dedication from my husband and me to create a safe environment for both baby and dog. But as anyone with a dog can attest, it simply cannot be any other way.