Wednesday, August 13, 2008


J and I aren't really childless, since for the past nine years we have treated our dogs like children, as many childless couples do and most infertile couples do. Our adoption social worker tells us that she is actually concerned to meet potential adoptive parents who don't have animals they treat like babies, because it is so rare! This post is devoted to my dogs and how they will interact with Clio.

Here are my "babies" as they are right as I'm typing this. First, Apollo:

This is typical Apollo, taking up as much of the couch as he can. We call him affectionately our "lazy old beagle." We adopted him from the Capital Area Humane Society in Columbus, Ohio (we lived there as newlyweds) when he was about three years old, making him about 12 years old now. He has a benign growth on his side that you can see in this picture, and arthritis that we treat with pain medication daily. His favorite things are stealing human food, sleeping in the sun and patrolling the backyard for rabbits, cats and squirrels. He has behavior issues after having been neglected/abused by previous owners, and I credit him with having made me a more patient, forgiving person, which will come in handy as a mother. :) He is very smart, and we have lots of stories about his mischief; our favorite is the time he ate an entire roast after J was cooling it too close to the edge of the counter. Apollo loves kids, if they can pet him, but he steers clear of babies who want to pull his ears and tail. We're not worried about his interaction with Clio, but I am dreading the fact that he has never met a blanket he didn't want to curl up in, so I'm going to have to be careful or all of Clio's blankets will be covered in his wiry white belly hairs.

This is Phoebe:
We adopted Phoebe from the same shelter in Ohio, about a year after we got Apollo. (At the time we thought Apollo's behavior issues might be helped by having a companion...nope.) We adopted her as a 6-week-old puppy and she was too cute:

This picture is from her first week home with us, weighing 6 pounds. Now she weighs 50 pounds and is 8 years old. Phoebe is a mutt. We don't know for sure, but we believe she is black lab (you can see it in her coat color and in her face/head and she lives to fetch), basset hound (shows in her body shape, barrel chest and short legs) and border collie (shows in her curly tail, white chest and foot markings and her herding instincts). She is the type of dog who needs a "job" and our greatest failing as doggy parents has been that we didn't do a great job harnessing that energy when she was younger. Because we didn't give her jobs, she chose her own. They are: fetching things, barking at the doorbell and keeping an eye on everyone. When there is one person in the house, she is always in the same room and when there are multiple people she positions herself to have most of them in view at any one time. Her fetching days have slowed down with developing arthritis, but she is still relatively healthy.

I've called Phoebe my "baby girl" for the past 8 years and it will be interesting to see if I stop doing that after Clio comes home. Probably not. We tried very hard to socialize her as a puppy, but her temperament tends toward "scaredycat" and her list of phobias includes: lightening/thunder, fireworks, garbage trucks, vacuum cleaners, drawers (if they are opened near her), baby gates (one fell on her as a puppy) and babies. She freaks out when they lunge at her, which they inevitably do, and then she growls or barks, all of the adults freak out, and that makes her even more scared. She had never bitten anyone, but we are still worried about how she will react/adapt to Clio.

When my 12-month-old nephew was here for a week in June, she had a couple of run-ins with him on the first couple of days (just as described above) but then spent the rest of the week keeping her body between him and the front door, protecting him. This would have been great, except that my nephew has a dog at home that looks a lot like Phoebe and he spent the entire time trying to get to her so that he could play with her. It was exhausting keeping them apart, and I hope that is not my everyday reality 12 months from now.

I empathize with Phoebe, though, because she hasn't lived with a baby before and isn't used to them, and baby pinches hurt! The best case scenario is that Phoebe will gradually adapt to having a baby in the house and by the time Clio is old enough to crawl to her, she will not be as scared and sensitive. I do realize, however, that since she is an older dog and older female dogs have a tendency to be grumpy anyhow, I'll need to be there to supervise interactions and make sure Clio doesn't have an opportunity to do the typical grab and squeeze. Even though Phoebe's never bitten anyone, I don't want to find out if she ever will.

Even if Phoebe adapts well to Clio, another concern is about how she and Apollo compete for food. We don't give them food from the table, but they will sometimes push each other around or growl/bark at each other if someone is giving treats. On a few occasions, Phoebe has gotten frantic that Apollo is getting a treat and that treat should be hers! and she has lunged for it. J and I have had our fingers nipped in that situation; not enough to draw blood, but enough to hurt. Because of that, we try not to give treats unless we're throwing popcorn for them to catch, giving them each a treat at the exact same time, or putting a treat in their bowls with their food. The problem is that all babies and children instinctively know that it is fun to drop food from their (high)chairs to the dogs below. As soon as we start Clio on solids, she is going to be the dogs' favorite family member. Sigh. I can accurately predict what would happen the first time Clio reached her sticky hand down over the edge of the high chair with a Cheerio between her fingers and both dogs were there waiting...and I'm not going to let that happen.

One option is to shut the dogs in another room while I'm feeding Clio, but that would be a pain. I'm leaning toward doing a refresher course on obedience with the dogs, so that I can tell them to sit and stay in a place away from the table during meals and then reward them with a few Cheerios (or whatever) from my hands afterward.

Our dogs both went through obedience school, but we haven't done the work involved to make them truly obedient. Most of the problem comes in the duration of the requested behavior. Both dogs know "sit," "stay" (they think this means a couple of seconds), "lie down," "off" (as in get off the sofa), "out" (as in get out of this area/room, but they don't necessarily stay out if there is something fun happening in that room), "heel" (which lasts for a minute tops) and "no" (which they interpret to mean that we are mad, which is usually true). Phoebe is very eager to please us and is quite trainable, so it should be fairly easy to train her to stay away from the table during mealtimes. I'm crossing my fingers here. Apollo is hard to train because he only wants to perform if there's something in it for him (especially food). If you have food in your hand, he even knows how to "shake."

Sorry this is such a long post; it's an issue I've been mulling over since March. With Lucy, we brought home a blanket from the hospital that she'd been swaddled in for several hours, and let the dogs sniff it. They didn't seem to care, but we'd read that it would help them identify Lucy as a family member when we brought her home. We'll do the same with Clio, and also take the advice that when they first meet her she should be swaddled, to protect her hands and feet, and that we shouldn't expose her face to them at first, in case they think she is a new chew toy we've brought home for them (some dogs do, apparently).

Any sage advice?


  1. OK...if you don't have pages for your dogs on dogster ( you really must create them! My fur babies are on there and it's a fun way to meet other extreme pet lovers! :)

    Here's Ditto's Page: and here's Dinah's page: Check them out if you have time!

    As for the obedience issues, you sound a lot like me with the training and what you have and haven't done/tried. I think you raise a lot of interesting points for those of us who have animals and will have babies. In our case, the very best training tool/advice we have ever used is a spray bottle filled with water. This was at the suggestion of our obedience trainer and it works like no other technique I've ever used. We used it to discourage Dinah's puppy chewing, and also to try to help Ditto learn when to and when not to bark. I've even heard of some people using a bottle with lemon juice for really serious obedience issues, but in our case we found water to be more then sufficient for correcting unwanted behavior. As with any issue regarding obedience, I think consistency is key. If you pick a plan/tactic and stick to it you should have success. I love the idea you have of bringing the blanket home for the scent factor, and I will most likely do that too when the time comes.

    Sorry this post is so got me thinking for sure! GOOD LUCK and keep us posted on how it all goes. :)


  2. Well, I think I watch too much dog whisperer but I wouldn't bring the baby blanket home for them to smell. I would take ownership of the baby from the begining, not let the dogs into her room and not let them sniff/interact with her till they are asked. I would also start now with the no puppies in the kitchen rule. Then you won't have to try and teach it to them when she starts eating and dropping food.

    Good luck! We love having our dog with our kids, but it does take a lot of work and dilegance.

  3. Oh, your dogs are adorable!

    We have one cat and she literally owns us. We (especially my husband) worship the ground she walks on. She is our first baby girl (that's what I call her).

    As for getting used to the baby...I wish I could give advice like the others did, but I'm pretty much of the school of thought that we'll cross that bridge when we get there. Obviously there are things you can do now (I liked the idea of keeping them out of her room to establish boundaries...doesn't mena forever, just at first) but know that just like any other parenting decision (for animals or humans) you can plan and plan and still nto be prepared!

    Wishing you luck, and glad you love animals! I like your caseworker's thinking on people without animals...funny!

  4. I have heard from several people that the blanket-sniffing is a good idea because the baby will seem a little more familiar when she comes home. Another sort of weird thing I read was that, when it comes to giving treats, you should first put baby slobber on them. Then, let the dogs sniff the treats and smell that the baby has "claimed" the treats first. Then, you give them to the dogs to eat. Somehow this is supposed to establish the baby as higher rank.

    Jake and I are considering hiring a trainer to come over to the house and give us her advice. There's a really good one here that we used back when we first got Sami, and she was having all her aggression issues. With the trainer's tips, we were able to nip a lot of her problem behavior in the bud and she's a much more agreeable dog now. So, we're thinking the trainer could be a big help giving us tips for agreeable baby adjustment. I would suggest looking into this option for your doggies, if you can search around and find someone in your area who does home visits. (We found our trainer by asking around.)

  5. Sorry I haven't gotten back with you- it seems like my days are flying by (spending hours sewing makes the time pass!). This week has been stressful- it sounds like next week will be too as I have to work again and we start our new kindermusik class... I am hoping we can get together week after next and drink some of that great juice you have and relax!! What did you decide about the names?? I'm anxious to hear.


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