I’ve been a dog person since my family adopted our first rescue dog in 1997. Dogs and I just get along, we understand each other. Every dog that came into our family would end up bonding with me the most, and we would inevitably become best buds. Fast forward to 2017, and you guessed it, I still have a dog. Her name is Ellie-Mae, and she is a rescue from the streets of Georgia, and we know nothing about her life there. She came into our lives three years before the twins were born and she had strongly bonded with me; when we found out I was pregnant, this made me nervous really fast.
I wouldn’t say that I treated Ellie like she was my child but she got a lot of my time, effort, love and attention; this made her very loyal and attached to me. One of my biggest concerns was Ellie’s history with children. She had never really liked them, in fact, she was often a bit skittish around them, and we were working hard with a trainer to deal with this. So naturally, I started wondering how babies and Ellie-Mae would even work out. I believe that when we bring pets into our lives, we make a commitment to them for life, so I hated the idea of even thinking of giving her up if she didn’t get along with the babies. So we began to work at it! My trainer had kids and would bring them out to socialise with her as much as possible. We also started having her interact with children on our block, and my nephew; which didn’t go over well the first time they met. After a while, she got better, and I got more confident in children coming over and petting her. I was still worried, after all, two babies were coming into my (and her) house. The question continued to come to my mind; what if she got aggressive with them?
We made it our job to do all we could, to research, learn and read all the ways we could make the transition easy for her. We explored techniques like bringing the babies blankets home for her to sniff when they were in the hospital. We talked to our vet, talked to other parents and our trainer.
Ellie-Mae and I were hardly apart in the past so during pregnancy my husband started spending more and more time with her. I was worried that she would get jealous of the kids and the attention they would need from me. During my pregnancy she would rest her head on my belly, and I would talk to her about the babies. She seemed to know something was different with me from the beginning of my pregnancy; dogs have a real intuition that way. Ever since I got her she has always been able to sense when something changed with me or when something was off, whether it was that I was sick, angry, lonely or sad. As time went by in my pregnancy she was adjusting to certain changes that we were making to help her transition, mostly my husband taking over some of her care-taking and walks at night. When I did walk her, I walked her with our stroller to try and get her used to it being there (and we did get some funny stares walking with a dog and an empty twin stroller!). By the end of my pregnancy it was getting more difficult for me to take her for walks and other activities and it fell solely on my husband out of necessity. I just had to hope we’d done everything we could to prepare her for their arrival, which was fast approaching.
The day arrived when I went into labour. I left the house to go to the hospital around 2 a.m., and I didn’t properly say my goodbyes to her before flying out the door. Three days later we were back at home with the twins, but I was not ready to introduce them. I was just so tired and exhausted; I wanted to deal with it in the morning. It was late at night, and I was tired and frankly overwhelmed. A mere 3 hours later I was back in the hospital with what turned out to be Preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome and my babies still at home. I wanted to be there to let Ellie-Mae know it was all going to be ok when she saw them. However, it was probably good that my husband was able to do the first introduction without me so I wouldn’t be nervous about it. I was five days in the hospital, while my husband and family slowly introduced the babies each day to them a minute here and there on a leash so if it was necessary she could be moved away from them quickly. She was out around their crib whenever they were in it also. This allowed her to be close to them while keeping her from jumping on them (which she has a bad track record of doing when excited). They mainly stayed on one floor of the house while she stayed on another and we would bring them down for social time with her. When I finally got home they were slowly introduced more and more. I think she could sense my care and love for them, and to my surprise, she was great with them. I have to admit that I was shocked. She responded in a way that was not what I was expecting, and I was so happy. Over time I got accustomed to her being close to them without being overly high energy and excited, and she started being nanny Ellie. I am so happy that Ellie accepted the new members of our family.
Regardless of my worries, she is very patient with them and very forgiving. Now that the twins are older things have evolved; now I spend as much time doing my best to protect Ellie from them as I am protecting the babies from her!! She sometimes takes some pokes to the eye, a grab that is too hard, or a pinch. The twins have been taught from a very young age that gentle equals petting and that is good. However, kids are kids, and they sometimes get excited when their dog is paying attention to them. They want attention from her, or they just don’t have the coordination to touch in a controlled manner. We’re now in the stage of setting boundaries with them regarding things like not sitting on or chasing the dog, along with petting softly and not pinching her rolls of skin. I do my best not to let this happen, but it happens even under my most watchful eye. A gentle pet can quickly become a grab. I try to praise Ellie every time a hand goes from petting to grabbing, and she doesn’t retaliate. Often she will warn them or get up and relocate. I tell them to be gentle then show them and have them mimic the right behaviour for interacting with a dog. It’s a work in progress, but I am a strong advocate that a dog is not a toy and should be treated with this awareness and respect. Kids clamouring on a dog, lying on them or sitting on them is not cute and is a recipe for disaster.
Sharing a house with a dog and two little ones has been a little stressful at times but we are getting accustomed to this new family dynamic, and so is Ellie-Mae.
I am in no way a trainer but these tips have helped us in our journey with Ellie-Mae.
Do you have any tips? How did your dog or pet adjust to life with a new baby?