Advice for pregnant dog owners always centres around the day baby comes home – letting Fido sniff a blanket, showing him the baby and ensuring he still gets some quality moments in between feeds, nappy changes and the 101 other things involved in caring for newborns. Whilst these suggestions all have their place – they may be mistaken in their assumption that Fido wasn’t already expecting the arrival of your little bundle of joy.
For born-to-be dog owners, our dogs are our soulmates – our confidants, our shoulders to cry on, our protectors and our best friends. In short, most pooches know their owners better than they know themselves. They know when we’re happy, sad, sick or angry… when we’re planning a holiday … and in my case, as soon as (or before?) I was pregnant.
My Border Collie was an incredible dog. She could obey a whispered command at twenty paces, fetch buckets of horse-feed without spilling it, read the mind of any species and round up anything on four legs.
Her only fault was she hated children. I don’t know if it was because in her early years she encountered so few of them, or because something unpleasant involving a child occurred during her first 11 months before I met her – she never said. Either way, nothing was going to change Kimberley’s opinion of all humans under four feet tall.
In her younger days, she simply avoided them, fleeing any attempt by a child to make friends. But as she aged and her arthritis made any exercise other than playing fetch (which she continued vigorously) seem pointless, she ceased to bother to run away. She found a new solution. If a child came too close, she bit it. No hysterics, no hype… just “2 feet is your limit kid – SNAP – bugger off!” And, so long as the child took the desired step backwards, Kim returned peaceably to whatever she was doing: usually watching the cat.
Fortunately, by that stage, she had no teeth left, so the child in question was often oblivious to the assault, and merely deterred by the unmistakable flash in her cloudy old eyes.
So when my husband and I became engaged, and began planning having children, I wondered what Kimmy’s reaction would be to the permanent addition of a little person to her household. I shouldn’t have asked. The engagement occurred in October, the wedding was arranged for March, and we decided to start trying to conceive around Christmas. Clearly, having taken stock of this schedule and weighed up her options, 12 year old Kimberley died, quite abruptly, in early December.
Five months later, and nearly five months pregnant (I like schedules), I still miss her terribly, and wish she was going to be around to show her my little one – as much as I’m sure she would have loathed him or her.
Incidentally, the 14 year old cat Kim had adored (the feeling was not mutual, but he did share her views on children), also departed this world suddenly, two months later, once my pregnancy was publicly confirmed.
I guess you just can’t predict your family’s reaction to things until they happen.
Fortunately, not all pets possess such a negative view of human reproduction.
My big Dobermann, Fergal, worships children, of every size and personality. His awareness of my pregnancy was evident within days of conception when his generally clingy, over-anxious, super-protective attitude towards me went into overdrive… and he has continued to pace increasingly agitated circles about me ever since. Don’t get me wrong, he seems – as far as one can tell – delighted about the prospect of a baby; it’s just he worries …a lot… about every inch of life itself … and by my 19th week had to start taking anti-anxiety medication just to get himself through each day without sucking his own foot off (the Dobermann version of nail-biting).
Still … not a negative view of pregnancy … really.
Seamus, younger Dobermann and all-round baby of the family (for now), had quite a different reaction. He has mixed feelings about kids… on the one hand, he enjoys the arrival of any new hominid prepared to devote hours to stroking his luxuriant ears… and will happily provide gentle kisses in return. On the other hand, he does prefer a peaceful life, and when he leans back on the couch, chin on chest, with a patently pained expression in his wide, hound-dog eyes… one gets the distinct impression he is more than ready for my rowdy little nephews to please go home.
But, at two years old with the emotional equivalence of a teenager, he took an extra week or two to notice the change in my status. He was too busy, doing his quiet, destructive things with bits of wood, clothing and the occasional dustpan brush – to be bothered with the boring task of keeping an eye on mum. That was Fergal’s job.
The moment he did notice was marked, however, as one morning he approached me unexpectedly in the bathroom, gave me a good sniff, stared at me for a moment with great seriousness and perhaps a hint of disapproval… and stalked out again with a humph.
A few weeks followed of such serious and at times, resentful glances – albeit without the bathroom component – whilst clearly he contemplated the potential changes on his horizon.
Then, to my surprise, his calculations must have come up trumps, and my independent teenager became a doting son… leaving his beloved father’s side and focusing much more of his famously soppy attention on me, with soft nuzzles and kisses and staunch but stress-free companionship throughout the activities of my day. Unlike his uptight big brother, Seamus still allowed himself time for his hobbies, but suddenly ensured every evening was spent with his chin resting on my growing belly… and more strangely, that my every trip to the bathroom was accompanied by his careful supervision – perhaps lest I should lose concentration and the baby should fall out.
I’m sure if they allowed dogs into maternity wards, Seamus would be on it – but alas, as it took ample hullaballoo for husbands to gain entry, I doubt that will be happening anytime soon.
But, I’m curious – when my baby does arrive… will the boys continue to focus their concerns on me? Or will they switch, and live to guard the child? Or will they divide their time between the two of us… or perhaps, one focus on the baby, and one on mum?
Who knows. Either way, knowing my pets… it’s sure to be interesting, and potentially unexpected.
Meanwhile, my husband’s dogs, Bella and Oliver, have remained unperturbed throughout this process. Perhaps because we have shared a household for little more than a year, they are less attuned to my changes – or perhaps, just less “invested”, as they say. Or perhaps, aged 10 and 12 respectively, and totally unfazed by the presence or absence of kids, they have a “been there, done that” approach to life with an “if dad’s ok, we’re ok” rider. Let’s face it, generally they only care about what time their dinner turns up.
Clearly your dog’s level of attachment to you will govern his observation of and subsequent reaction to pregnancy. Just like how secure your dog is in your relationship coupled with how you allow that relationship to change upon arrival of a baby will influence his attitude to that baby. If you allow the dog inside less and yell at him more once baby comes home: sure, he’s not going to look on baby as a joyous addition to the household. So best work out what behaviours will need to change long before that day comes, and use the time of pregnancy to retrain your dog – and if necessary, yourself – so that any new routines are firmly in place well before baby is around to take the blame.
As for the next chapter… watch this space.