Married with Pugs: When surrogate kids meet actual kids

October 15, 2009 at 5:10 pm Leave a comment

PugMikkelOur two Pugs have long been like children to my husband and me. So what’s going to happen now that a real human child is on the way?

In November, a daughter will be joining our family – hopefully with fewer wrinkles and less shedding than our Pugs. And we’re taking this time to get our dogs ready for a new human family member. We want the transition to go well for them, and we want to make sure they have the right manners for interacting with a baby.

One thing we’re not doing is lavishing attention on the dogs pet during the weeks and days leading up to the birth of the baby. Whether it’s mothering hormones or just wanting to make up for the changes to come, too many parents-to-be make exactly that mistake.

And when the baby does show up, and not only the old routine but the new are out the window, it ends up making the dogs feel less secure. Instead, parents to be should give their pets the kind of attention that will be a happy “new normal” when the baby arrives.

I don’t love my dogs any less, but I’m starting to get them used to not always being on the sofa with us. I ask them to sit and wait to be invited, or let them get on a nearby chair instead. This both helps them get used to having some areas be “off limits,” as they no doubt will once the baby arrives, but prepares them to be comfortable even when they can’t be in our laps.

Although the Pugs were allowed to sleep in our bed for years, the more pregnant I got, the more I relished having extra space to accommodate restless pregnancy sleep – not to mention fitting the gigantic pregnancy pillow into our bed to support my growing belly and sore back. So, the Pugs were asked to sleep in a round, wool dog bed at the side of ours. They’re still right next to me, but in their own space.

To help the Pugs fill the time I’ll be devoting to the new baby, I’ve been giving them mind-stimulating things to do. Food bowls have been replaced with food puzzles that the dogs manipulate and work through in order to get the food out of the inside. Chew toys and rawhides are left around the house for them.

And sometimes, they get both; they love it when I put canned dog food inside a Kong toy, place a pencil rawhide chew through the middle, and then freeze the whole thing. Every time I pull a frozen Kong out of the freezer, the dogs do a spinning happy dance, making flying leaps through the air like circus dogs.

We’ve also been working on body space sensitivity. For example, when my black pug, Willy, went through a therapy dog certification program, we learned that having a good sense of appropriate body space was a vital quality in a therapy dog. That news made my family laugh, as Pugs are notorious for tromping over each other, other dogs and people like they were breathing pieces of furniture.

But an infant can’t handle a dog walking across her body the way an adult can, and we realized it was for the safety of our baby to teach our Pugs the idea of body space. If the Pugs jump up on the couch or in a lap without permission, they are given a prompt “off” cue and then are redirected to an area where they can settle down, such as their own bed.

Jumping up on people during greeting is another body space issue that has been difficult to control, especially with the rate it’s reinforced by the children living in our apartment complex. But since I don’t want my dogs knocking my daughter down when she gets to the toddling stage, I’m working on it.

When greeting the Pugs myself in the home, or when I take them out on walks around other people, I ask the Pugs to sit before being petted. If they jump up during the greeting, they are then ignored until they sit again, and then petting can resume.

Bruce and Willy both liked to alarm bark when strangers approached when we were on our walks. With the idea of stroller walks and wanting calm dogs to accompany us on walks, I began training them to be quiet when out on walks and to turn towards me when other people or dogs approach.

To do this, I had to condition them to look at me by throwing down treats each time a stranger or dog approached. After several trials, the dogs began anticipating the treats coming with an approaching person or animal and started turning towards me without the treats needing to be thrown down.

To keep their response of looking at me reliable, I treat them at random times when they look over at me when people or pets are near. Their barking has decreased 95 percent, with the 5 percent being handled by putting them in a modified time out on the walks when they are not quiet after being asked. I anticipate much quieter and easier stroller walks because of the walk preparation I’ve begun with them now.

One issue still worries me. My friend Katie had her 18 month old son, Jackson, over for a visit one day. He pulled a toy ball out of his mom’s diaper bag, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of the hat. Luckily I was right next to my ball-crazy fawn Pug, Bruce, when Jackson threw the ball, but I was barely able to grab him before he raced after the ball, averting a possible knock-down of little Jackson.

The most bothersome pregnancy pet peeve (literally) that I have encountered is other people seeing my close relationship with my Pugs, and them proceeding to tell me that when I have the baby the Pugs will not be nearly as important to me, and the baby will totally replace them. Without exaggeration, 90 percent of people, strangers, family and friends included, who see my pregnant belly accompanied by my two Velcro Pugs stuck to my side warn me of the change that will happen.

My parents and husband who are close enough to me understand my devotion to my Pug children encourage me that the arrival of a new baby will only strengthen family ties, Pugs included.

Although I haven’t had the baby yet and am not qualified to say for sure how life with my Pugs will change, I do believe that a new family member won’t take away love from anyone in the least, but rather will help expand my heart to love, both the new baby, my husband, and our cherished Pugs.

http://www.petconnection.com/blog/2009/10/…

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