Telling the family you’re pregnant often invites a lot of emotional responses, but I distinctively remember when telling my brother we were pregnant, his honest-to-God first question was, “What about the dog?!”
It wasn’t the first thing on my mind I admit, but he was right – what about him? Our dog Rio is half pug/half Jack Russell and has been my trusting, albeit crazy companion for a little under 4 years. He’s lovely in every way: loves pretty much all humans, plays nicely with children and is very attached to my partner and I. He still howls nearly every time one of us leaves the house. So how would a newborn baby shake up his happy, nappy-less home? Annoyingly, my brother was right to be concerned.
The reason I found out I was pregnant in the first place was because of Rio. He became obsessed with smelling me, particularly my boobs, and wouldn’t sit with me as much. I was beginning to feel really rejected by him (imagine that – rejected by your own dog!) Turns out, it was actually my hormones that had me smelling a bit off (to him at least), hence the excessive smelling and uncertainty about being around me.
I recognised that Rio, like all dogs was triggered by smells, so I made a point to have him smell all the new baby furniture and clothes that came into the house before our daughter was born. It was especially important for him to recognise the new things were not for him, and were not even for us actually. It was a pretty confusing time for him, especially with all the lovely soft toys coming in – we had to lock a few of those away in the end… (Gross!)
Our baby girl arrived into the world 4 weeks early, and with combination of mandatory premature checks and a mild case of jaundice, we found ourselves in hospital for a week after her birth. Rio meanwhile was being well taken care of by family, as they went back and forth from checking on him to checking on the 3 of us. Naturally, the smell of the hospital and our new baby would float in and out of the house, which in turn made him more anxious. We were told he spent a lot of time either moping on our bed or looking longingly at the front door.
After what felt like forever, we were finally discharged from the hospital with our daughter. I carried her in the car seat when we arrived home and we were greeted by Rio’s excessive sniffing before I had even put the key in the front door. I had missed Rio dearly, but my main focus was to have him positively acknowledge, react and smell our new baby. I walked in calmly, ignoring Rio excitedly jumping up on my leg, and placed the car seat with baby on the floor- sounds crazy, I know! But in doing so, I had eliminated the ideology of this new baby being a mystery to him and someone he couldn’t go near, as it would only invite more curiosity and intimidation. Consequently, Rio sniffed our baby’s blanket intently and licked her feet and trotted off to greet my partner.
Fast forward nearly 8 months and Rio and my daughter’s relationship has the foundation to be really special. It’s still pretty early days: she hasn’t quite mastered the game of fetch yet, but the way her face lights up when we say “Rio” or she hears his little paws come into a room is just magical. On the other hand, Rio still gets a little nervous around her. I think mainly because she hasn’t grasped the gentle way to stroke him yet, but also, he’s aware of just how important she is to us. He has in turn become super protective of her, alerting us (often before the monitor) when she cries and generally acts as her bodyguard when she plays with her toys or has a bit of tummy time.
I can now see the impact my dog will have on my daughter in the years to come; teaching her patience, empathy and how to be loving in ways that only pets can. After all, he was her very first friend.