Whoever said that it’s impossible to be even a little prepared for a baby, never had a dog. After being married for a couple of years, my husband and I started to get the itch to add to our family. We weren’t quite ready for a baby, but had both grown up with dogs and figured it would be a good transition. We decided to look for a puppy — something we could raise together and practice on before we really screwed up a human baby.
Everyone told us to enjoy our freedom while we had it. That getting a dog was taking on an exhaustive and expensive list of never-ending tasks. There’d be the whole house-breaking process, trips to the vet, added expenses, needing to be around to walk it during rainy days and blizzards, training the dog to make sure it didn’t eat our shoes and chew on our furniture, etc.
I recall my father telling me the week before we picked up our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy named Wally that it would be, “The biggest mistake of (our) lives.”
Fast-forward two years. We’ve managed to not only keep the dog alive, but also a 4-month-old human baby. Having survived the experience, I can conclude affirmatively that getting a dog was the best kind of practice for the real deal. Here’s why:
1. A dog prepares you for non-stop action and interrupted sleep.
I was overwhelmed in the beginning and wondered how people did anything other than take care of their dogs. It felt all-consuming and energy-zapping. The same feelings easily apply to the first three months of living with a baby. With the dog, there was a constant investigation into whether he was hungry, scared, in pain, needed to go to the bathroom, or had already gone to the bathroom in some mysterious corner of our home. With the baby, it was cracking the code on whether her crying meant she was hungry, gassy, tired, cold, in pain, or needed a diaper change. We learned the steps of deciphering a living creature’s distress call when delivered nonverbally. We also became familiar with functioning on very little sleep.
A puppy and a newborn almost guarantee that nobody in your household will sleep consistently for months. The dog makes you more at the ready for those late night feedings and stretches your capacity for patience beyond anything you ever dreamed imaginable.
2. Getting used to another life being dependent on you.
We spent our 20s and early 30s only being responsible for ourselves. Once we got a dog, our independent lives as we knew them were over. Being home more often and planning for the daily needs of another creature was a big change. The shift only got bigger when the baby came along. We went from last-minute travels and going out for dinner most nights to needing to be around for our dog and saving our travel budget for dog food and vet visits. Since we had already adjusted our lifestyle, it wasn’t such a huge shock to be home more often for a baby. We’ve curbed any frivolous spending habits and are content with being at home with our babies.
3. A dog forces you and your partner to team up.
A friend once told me that you’re not really married until you have children together. The same could be applied to a puppy. When it’s 4 AM, and you’ve already walked the darn pup twice because it has diarrhea and there’s a lightning storm outside and he’s whining to go out again, it’s a strong partnership that gets you through it. That partnership will be severely tested when a newborn baby enters the picture. You’ll be working on much less sleep, have an even higher fear of messing things up and your conversations will revolve solely around poop, feedings, and who got less sleep. If the basic responsibilities associated with sharing a dog put you at war with your partner, you may want to reconsider having a baby.
4. It takes a village.
Preparing to leave your new puppy with someone other than a relative or friend can seem impossible. Interviewing babysitters and nannies for a human baby is an exercise in paranoia. How do you trust that a complete stranger won’t kidnap your child and sell them in an underground baby market? How will the baby tell you if the caretaker is doing something wrong? Not paying enough attention to them? Despite reference checking and background checks, are you really supposed to just trust them with your helpless baby? Being able to leave the dog and see him return to us alive and happy has assisted greatly in entrusting a caretaker with our baby.
(When all else fails, a good glass of wine can REALLY help these situations as well.)
5. The panic of any remote ailments and constant calls to medical professionals.
We visited the vet every week for things like diarrhea, inexplicable crying, shots, and the dreaded neutering. I cried at almost every single visit. A handful of times, we’d roam our apartment to find a rogue poop sitting on our living room rug and Wally hiding in his crate. I freaked out on one particular occasion when we saw blood in his poop. A trip to the vet and a can of prescription dog food later and he was on the mend.
We visited the baby’s pediatrician multiple times in the first couple of weeks for things like diarrhea, rashes, and — oddly enough — the discovery of blood in her poop. I only mildly freaked out upon seeing this condition based on my experience with the dog. We learned our baby had a milk protein allergy and changed her diet to alleviate it. From dealing with Wally’s medical issues, we knew to freak out a little bit less, ask a lot of questions, and to stay off the Internet when seeking medical advice.
6. We learned how to make new friends.
After getting Wally, we started making “doggy” friends. It got to the point where Wally had more friends in our neighborhood than my husband and me combined. People would call and email us daily to make doggy dates in Central Park or to go for a walk in the neighborhood. He needed his own social calendar. I thought about getting him an email account.
After having a baby, new mommy friends popped up everywhere. I met people in line at Dunkin’ Donuts, my labor & delivery class at the hospital we delivered in, and sometimes while steering our stroller around the block. Friends put me in touch with their new parent friends. We formed a weekly group and rotated homes to talk all things baby while keeping our sanity. We suddenly had multiple invites to children’s birthday parties, park dates, and walks around the neighborhood. We haven’t been this social in years. We got a taste of this new social environment with the dog and were excited to embrace it with the arrival of our baby.
7. You’ll learn to deal with crap other than your own.
Picking up my puppy’s poop on the sidewalk has never been high on the list of why to get a dog, but soon enough you’ll start studying it, discussing it, and even feel pride when a solid version of it shows up. If you’re too good to discuss poop, you’ll never survive a baby. A dog teaches you to accept the numbers twos with the rest of the package and prepares you for the high volume of it you’ll encounter with an infant.
8. Practice makes perfect.
Our baby will have much calmer, prepared parents because we’ve practiced our parenting skills on a dog. Because we had a puppy, we know that those moments of exhaustion, frustration, and terror with a newborn baby are a fleeting phase. Those tender middle of the night feedings will gradually decrease and soon enough, she’ll be trying to jump into bed with us like Wally does. She will benefit from the lessons learned by us in raising and loving another living creature. If I can brush a dog’s teeth, remember to feed him every day, and give him a bath, I can certainly have more confidence in doing these things with a baby.
9. Improved negotiation skills.
From the dog, I’ve learned that the best way to get my husband to do something is to negotiate well. Take the dog out for his morning walk and I’ll get scrambled eggs made for me upon our return. Take the dog out for an evening walk and he’ll do the laundry. Now with the baby, the stakes are on the rise. I’ve learned that I’m willing to concede more for sleep and exercise. This resulted in my husband purchasing an extremely oversized, unnecessary television for our living room but I’ve been guaranteed naps and jogs for the next 6 months.
10. Unconditional love for all.
Wally’s turned me into a better multi-tasker, organizer, accountant, chef and nurse — all essential skills for being parents. I cooked my first sweet potato for him when the vet suggested it would help his digestive system. In return, we live with someone who is constantly in a good mood, wags his tail, and drowns us in licks every single day. When I see how the dog is with our baby, that’s when the decision to have a dog before the baby is clearest. He sniffs her feet and sprawls out next to her during tummy time. He dives head-first into the bottom of her stroller when we get ready to go out. He sits at my feet with her during the middle of the night feedings. One day soon, they will be best friends. The love that the dog has for my husband and me has already been extended to the baby. She has one more living being in her corner, cheering her on, and living for her happiness.
Get the dog first; it’s a no-brainer.