How My Toddler is Like My Dog – Thinking Outside the Box (House)

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It still amazes me when I’m reading a parenting book…and the advice given is almost word for word the exact same advice as the last dog behavior book I read.  I’m actually not even sure why I still get a kick out of it – it happens so often.  Apparently – when it comes to psychology – toddlers and dogs aren’t so far apart.

(No, I’m not suggesting you crate train your kiddo.)

I just finished The Happiest Toddler on the Block.  The Happiest Baby on the Block is pretty much required reading for every new mom.  Seriously.  (And for good reason, too.  Dr. Karp’s advice is spot on – hence why I picked up the sequel to help me understand how to keep Sebastian happy.)

Dr. Karp advises parents to make sure that their toddlers go outside every day.IMG_3621  “Every” day – he is sure to remind his readers – is “EVERY” day.  Toddlers won’t die (or even catch cold) from going out for short amounts of time even if it is raining, cold, windy, snowing, hot, etc.  The psychological benefits are worth the bundling or being slightly uncomfortable.  We as a species have not primarily resided inside single-family, four-walled, covered structures for all that long.  If you look back at the history of humanity – the majority of it took place outside…or in a cave…it is in our nature to be more comfortable (happier???) outside.  (Think of that blissful moment when you office workers step out for lunch and feel the sun on your face.)  Dr. Karp explains your toddler might be unhappy simply because you are forcing him into an unnatural physical situation.

DOGS ARE THE SAME!

IMG_3546Maybe even more so!  Dogs were built to be outside.  They spent most of their evolutionary lives on the move.  They don’t like to go for walks….they NEED to go for walks.  They NEED to be outside.

Often pup parents try to over think it when their dogs start acting out (chewing, biting…any destructive behavior, really).  Nine times out of ten – they are just bored and/or frustrated.  You are forcing them into an unnatural physical situation.  Your dog wasn’t meant to be kept in a box!

Obviously, you cannot walk your dog for 8 hours a day to fulfill his nomadic tendencies.  Nor am I suggesting you take your sweet, spoiled pooch and suddenly decided she will primarily be an “outdoor dog.”  What I am advising (and I’m no doctor or vet…so no one has given me an authority to give advice) is that you go outside with your pup AND your kid EVERY day.  Even if it’s raining and you all have to towel everyone off when you come back inside.  Even if it’s only while you thumb through the junk mail.  Even if it’s only for 10 minutes!

If for no other reason that this: a tired dog/toddler is a happy dog/toddler!

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How My Baby Is Like My Dog – The Power of “Calm”

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Baby Boy Sebastian survived his first Thanksgiving last week.  Being the cutest kid to ever be born (I might be bias), everyone wanted to take a turn holding him.  As he was passed from relative to relative, I quietly watched his facial expressions change as he was safely deposited in each new set of arms.  (If only he would have screamed and cried for everyone equally, my job would have been much easier).  I soon realized, though, that there was a definite pattern to his mood swings.

Call it confidence, call it “calm, assertive energy” (if you are Cesar Millan)…call it what you will.  But babies and dogs alike can sense when someone is relaxed.  More accurately – they can sense when someone is tense.

Dogs and babies don’t really know what the heck we “grown ups” are doing most of the time.  The way we move and how we vocalize are virtual mysteries to them, but they both are acutely and instinctually aware when we are tense.  If you reach out to Sebastian like you’ve been raising babies your whole life, he will mirror your calm and go to you with a coo and a smile.  If you come at him with a secret fear that you are going to cause him a massive head injury (no matter how sweet and eager to hold him you are), he magically transforms into the screaming baby from hell.

Dogs are the EXACT same way.  If you approach a  pooch with body language that broadcasts how scared you are – they are going to be confused.  Not only are they NOT going to trust you…they are going to be on edge trying discover the source of your anxiety.  If you  walk up to that same pup like you are the dog whisperer himself, that dog will take a cue from you and know that he can chilax.

It am truly amazed at how often I find myself using similar parenting skills with Sebastian as I used with Buffy.

(I think being calm, cool, and collected helps when dealing with other “grown ups” too.)

People & Pups – Welcome Baby Boy, Sebastian!

On April 29 at 8:08 in the morning, this dog-lovin’ family welcomed its first baby of the human persuasion into the world.  Sebastian MacArthur changed our lives forever – and we couldn’t be happier.

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Sebastian!

Well…maybe we should ask Buffy & Amigo about that!

As a woman who considers herself somewhat of a dog expert, I thought I had a pretty good idea of how each of my pups would react when Sebastian came home to join our family.  I thought wrong.

Amigo – who I thought would have issues with jealousy and loud baby noises – was immediately curious and quite enthralled with our new bundle of joy.

Amigo keeping a close eye on his new brother

Amigo keeping a close eye on his new brother

Now, three weeks after Sebastian arrived on the scene, Amigo is still the first to react when the baby cries or makes any new baby noises.  (And by react I mean run to Sebastian to check on him…and then look to us to see if we are properly responding!)  Instead of trying to nudge Sebastian out of our laps to commandeer prime petting position, he seems to enjoy snuggling up next to him and snoozing side by side.  I don’t know if it’s mommy hormones or if I’m just a sucker for dogs and babies – but it is a sight that has reduced me to tears more than once.

Buffy – who I thought would instantly bond and feel protective over her new little brother – has not shared Amigo’s enthusiasm.  For the first few days, Buffy treated Sebastian like he was the scariest monster she had ever laid eyes on.  Rarely wanting to be in the same room, she would cautiously peek at the baby from behind a chair or behind a visiting family member.  My attempts to bring the baby closer to her so she would become familiar with that foreign “new baby” smell sent her (literally!) running for cover.  She looked positively offended the first night I took Sebastian out of his bassinet and brought him to the bed to nurse.  Anyone who thinks dogs cannot feel emotions should have looked into Buffy’s eyes at that moment.  I couldn’t have been more sure of what she was thinking if she had opened her mouth and told me herself!

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Buffy liked baby boy more when he was still in my tummy. (Note the dog-themed nursery!)

I am also glad that Sebastian is living with dogs from day one. Already he is completely unphased by dog barks.  (Let me tell you…some of those barks startle me!)  And while my mom things it boarders on bad parenting – I don’t see anything wrong with him getting a puppy kiss every now and then.  (From reading the above paragraphs, I bet you can guess who does the kissing!)  Logically, I know that Sebastian isn’t going to remember these first experiences with his canine siblings, but I can’t help but think that on some level it will make him feel more comfortable around dogs for the rest of his life.

Because what’s the point of having a baby if you aren’t going to raise him as a dog lover. 

Just found out you’re pregnant? Step #1: Get another dog…

…while it might sound crazy, that is exactly what my husband and I did.  Days after that positive pregnancy test, it was off to the Houston SPCA to pick up our four-legged bundle of joy, Amigo.

Sound crazy??  Well, just wait and listen to my logic –

Our first pup Buffy has never been an overly needy pet, but she had been an only child her entire life.  Inevitably, she got use to being the center of attention.  We weren’t constantly entertaining her by any means, but much of our time was spent playing with, talking too, loving on our sweet girl.

What is the first thing all the articles/books/literature tell you to do when you are trying to prepare your pets for a new baby?  Give them less attention.  Get them use to not being the center of your world.  Let them become more independent.  I can tell you right now, folks….this just wasn’t ever going to happen.  (And not just for Buffy’s sake either…I got a dog for selfish reasons.  I need that canine affection!)  So instead of attempting to ween Buffy off play and love….why not find someone else to play and love with her?  GENIUS!

Enter Amigo!  (Now do you see where we got his name?  We adopted him to be Buffy’s friend!)

We hurried to find Buffy’s companion before any drastic baby changes (nursery prep, changes in my schedule, etc) in an attempt to make his adjustmentIMG_1388 our top priority.   (Let me also state here – Pablo and I always knew we would be a multi-dog family.  Getting a second dog was something we had been considering for a long time – and was not a rushed decision.  Getting a pet – whether your first or your fifth – should NEVER be a decision you rush into or take lightly.)  Now, with our Baby Boy’s arrival almost exactly a month away, nothing makes me happier to see Buffy & Amigo off in their own little world.  Open the blinds – and they will sit side by side watching the neighborhood.  Let them out in the backyard – they will bark at birds or play chase until they drop.  Always interested in the same toy (typical siblings!) – they won’t fight over it, but instead will watch the other chew on it…and then switch.  I find such comfort in knowing that if I’m off taking care of Baby Boy in the other room…Buffy will not feel abandoned or neglected.

While Buffy has never been the kind of pup to get jealous (I think a lot of this has to do with me taking her to work with me.  She sees me loving on and playing with other dogs all the time, and never becomes possessive), I think Amigo has also helped her adjust to my husband and I being affectionate towards another living thing.  She has seen that we can introduce a new child to the house…and our love for her will not diminish.  She will still get tummy rubs and treats – she just doesn’t get ALL the tummy rubs and treats!

As I constantly mention in this blog and to my clients – Buffy is so go-with-the-flow, I’m not sure why I ever worried about her adjusting in the first place.

Now I just have to worry about how to prepare myself for the change!

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Amigo is quite taken with my GIANT belly!

Book Review: Child-Proofing Your Dog by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson

I am a firm believer in books.  What can’t be learned from a trip to a bookstore or library?!  While there are a multitude of pregnancy/baby books out there… and probably almost as many dog books…I was surprised to find very little published on preparing dogs for babies.  And when I say “very little”, I mean literally one book.

Childproofing Your DogSome Googling and a few searches on Goodreads and Barnes & Noble’s website led me to Child-Proofing your Dog: A Complete Guide to Preparing Your Dog for the Child in Your Life by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson.  The title sounded perfect!  This had to be exactly what I was looking for!

Overall, though, this book was a disappointment.  That’s not to say that I would recommend expectant parents to read it (only a short 88 pages, so you wouldn’t be wasting much of your time); it’s just that most of the information was more common sense than the expert advice I was expecting.  There were, however, a few very insightful hints and suggestions sprinkled in…along with a few points that I completely disagree with.

The underlying theme of the book was spot on – most of the problems that you have with your dog (baby or not) are simply a result of misunderstanding and miscommunication.   Kilcommons and Wilson do a wonderful job of explaining a growl.  “A growl is due largely to confusion…”  and does not mean your dog wants to harm your child.  It probably means that crazy kid is doing something that your dog hasn’t seen you do and can’t quite make sense of it.  It doesn’t necessarily mean you have a Cujo on your hands.

Another point that they repeat over and over, throughout the book, in almost every chapter (which I think is a point worth repeating!) is you should Dog and BabyNEVER leave a dog along with a baby/child.  It doesn’t matter how wonderfully fabulous your dog is or how angelic your perfect child is…things happen.  (Not necessarily bites!) Do not…even for 5 seconds…go in the other room and leave a baby and a dog alone.  Just don’t do it!  Just don’t!

Now, the biggest issue I have with this book is how it discusses getting rid of your dog (this topic is actually brought up multiple times) and euthanizing your dog if he or she is not getting along with your bundle of joy.  Do I believe that in the HISTORY of ALL dogs and babies there has NEVER been a dog so aggressive that they cannot live around children?  Of course I don’t!  But I DO believe that these instances are so unbelievably rare it is not worth mentioning (again, MULTIPLE TIMES) in an 88 page book for the general public.  The fact that putting a dog down is even touched upon is ludicrous.

That being said…there were some “Wow!  I never even though of that!” moments that I had while reading the book.  Once I read them, they seemed like such common sense, but I honestly hadn’t thought of them before.  Expectant parents too busy to read this whole book – consider this the Cliff’s Notes:

  • Never play aggressive games – Luckily, this has always been a rule in my house!  Never ever EVER play tug-of-war or wrestling games with a dog.  (In general, you never want them to think they can challenge you physically.)  When you need to take something out of a dog’s mouth, you don’t want them to pull at it and think you are trying to have fun.  (Anyone who has tried to retrieve a favorite sock out of their dog’s mouth can attest to that!)  You never want a dog to mistake a child’s hug or rough handling is an attempt to start a wrestling match.
  • Do not call the baby a nickname you have assigned your dog – I had honestly never thought of this one!  My husband and I have taken to calling Amigo “baby boy.”  “Oh, our little baby boy!” we will coo when he is doing something especially adorable.  Well, the book warns, don’t be surprised if you are cooing “My little baby boy!” over your new son and your dog jumps right in.  The pup thought you were calling him!
  • Watch the toys you buy – My husband and I recently cracked up when registering at Target – they had a baby toy that looks EXACTLY like the “Buffy ball”.  We of course realized that we wouldn’t be putting that toy on our wish list.  Kilcommons and Wilson also suggest a “which toy is yours?” game where you place dog and baby toys side by side on the floor…and give praise and treats when your pups brings you the correct toy when asked.  So simple…but genius!
  • Be a baby yourself – From what I hear, kids and babies are pretty loud and unpredictable.  I’m pretty sure they don’t even know the proper way to pet a dog!  Of course, teaching your toddler to be respectful and gentle with animals will be your responsibility, but until they understand all that your poor pooch (just like you!) is going to have to learn to live with some unpleasant feelings and sounds.  So, go ahead and practice pokes, ear pulls, hugs, loud noises, etc.  (of course without hurting the dog!  Remember, baby isn’t going to have much muscle behind all those motions.)  Always let your dog retreat (whether practicing or when baby is home.)  Never force interaction between 2-legged and 4-legged child…you don’t want your dog to ever feel trapped.

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Overall, Childproofing You Dog reminds us our dogs have the instincts of an animal…but the personalities of one of us crazy humans.  You’ve had 9 months to mentally prepare yourself, but their world is going to be turned upside down when you walk in with your new child.  Maybe Kilcommons and Wilson have the right idea about oversimplifying things and relying on common sense – all you really need to do is put yourself in their shoes paws.

If you have any other suggested reading on the subject of preparing dogs for the arrival of a new baby…please share!  

Wags & Whiskers Wednesday (#38) – Special Announcement!

Happy day before Valentine’s Day!

This is an exciting (and scary and a bit sad) time over here at Wags & Whiskers.  My husband and I will be welcoming a new addition to the family soon…and this time I don’t mean 4 legged.  I’m pregnant!  Obviously, it goes without saying this is this is a joyous time for me…just as I’m sure it is equally obvious as to why I am scared out of my mind.   I say it is a bit sad because (at least for a few months) I will be forced pull back from the business and essentially stop working.  Years ago, when working meant sitting in front of a computer, behind a desk, next to a constantly ringing phone…months off from work (even when that meant facing a screaming baby) would have seemed like a dream.  Now, work is something completely different.  Work is something I love.  Work is dogs.

Not to say that I shouldn’t put family first.  When Baby Boy arrives, I’m sure my perspective on work (heck, on life!) will change dramatically.  But I can’t imagine my life without caring for dogs.  Clients – daily walk service will be suspended as of March 31, 2013.  Pet sitting will continue as long as I am able (I am due at the beginning of May.)  Please contact me as early as possible to book pet sitting services.  Regular clients should have already received written notification, but please email me with any questions or concerns – jessica@wagsandwhiskershouston.com

And what of my own dogs?  Amigo is relatively new to the family – but as an attention hog and professional lap warmer, I think the adjustment might be a bit hard on him.  Then there is Buffy.  Buffy…my “first born”, my constant companion, my coworker.  Buffy seems forever adaptable. Both my husband and I are sure that our baby boy and Buffy will become the best of friends.  Buffy has been my savior through my pregnancy thus far – knowing when I need a shoulder to cry on, when to take her brother in the other room to play so I can get some alone time, and when to simply sit by my feet to let me know I’m not alone in this.  (Not to discount my amazing husband…but unfortunately he does have a job!)  The wonderful thing about love is we have an infinite amount to give – and I don’t think Baby Boy will diminish the love I have for my four-legged kids.  

For the next few months, you might see more blog posts on kids and dogs….and how to prepare everyone for such a life changing event.  I would truly welcome any personal advice, any books to read, or any articles/websites/resources to help me and my family. I have been able to find very little so far…but I know you, you fabulous blog reader you, have the knowledge and experience to guide me into this new phase of my life.

So today’s Wags & Whiskers pics are all courtesy of my own two pups.  I want to celebrate all they have done for me in the past….all they do to support me now…and all they will do for my family in the future.

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Buffy

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Amigo

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Sibling Love!

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Sorry, Mom & Dad, no room!