Dogs have always been a love of mine. My earliest memories include our family dog, a Springer Spaniel named Molly. I followed her around constantly and absolutely loved her. In fact, at the age of four, I received my first stitches trying to help her when she was tangled in a wire fence. As I grew up, we had to say goodbye to Molly and then we welcomed sweet Maggie into our life. Maggie, also a Springer Spaniel, and I had a bond from age nine to age twenty-four, and I cried for two weeks when she crossed the Rainbow Bridge. Most of our family’s holiday memories would feel empty if we removed her from them. One time she jumped on the table and ate half of our Thanksgiving turkey. In another food-related incident, she devoured my mom’s divinity candy without leaving a hint of a crumb behind. One year, she even managed to carry an entire (stolen) egg custard from the kitchen to the living room because she was a social eater and wanted to include us in her triumphant devouring of the dessert. Not all of the stories are centered around her stealing food, but it was her one vice we never broke her of. I assure you we look back on those memories with great laughter, even if they weren’t funny at the time.
Shortly after we married, my husband and I welcomed the cutest puppy I have ever laid eyes on into our family. She was a six-week-old Springer Spaniel puppy, and we named her Rigby after a beloved Beatles tune. Like most Springer Spaniel puppies, she was eager to please us, easy to house train, quick to learn commands and tricks, and possessed an insatiable appetite. No dog is perfect, after all. When we learned we were pregnant with our son, I was appalled at the amount of “Well, there goes Rigby’s status” and “She’ll be living outside in no time” comments I received. After all, this precious puppy was practically our firstborn! I eagerly reached out to several friends who had children and a family dog to ask if what I was hearing was true. I wanted to do whatever I could to have our experience be different, and for Rigby to be a part of our child’s life just like Molly and Maggie were a part of mine.
Love at First Sight
After Gabe was born, we spent four weeks in the NICU. Our homecoming two days before Christmas was joyful for many reasons, but one of them was the sweet meeting our son had with our dog. Rigby immediately walked up to his carseat and gently sniffed him head to toe. She looked up at us several times, almost asking for our blessing and to ensure she was not about to be in trouble. She loved Gabe from the moment she met him. In fact, here’s their first night together:
We did many things in the beginning to help Rigby understand her new role in our family. Some may even sound silly to you, but it really worked! We included Rigby in every baby activity. If we changed a diaper, she came with us and we talked to her while we changed Gabe. For middle of the night feedings, she joined me on the couch and napped beside us. If Gabe was upset, we encouraged her with some treats, her love language, to come close and be gentle and quiet. When Gabe spit up or projectile vomited (because as we all well know there is a difference) we gave her the “crate” command and she learned to steer clear of these situations until we cleaned up. At bath time, Rigby compassionately stood by as Gabe endured her most hated experience, which he happened to love.
Including her in all of those activities helped Rigby understand we were all a family unit, and also that she could not come first. In fact, I use that phrase with her all the time — “Brother comes first” — so she knows she needs to wait for a fresh bowl of water or a trip outside to the yard. We also told her every item that was Gabe’s by saying “This is Brother’s” so she knew her boundaries. We may have still lost a few bottles we left out and his first chocolate Easter bunny to her appetite, but it was a small price to pay for all that we gained.
Was it always fun to include Rigby in our activities? Not exactly. She hated all things with wheels, so basically every baby device. But looking back, it was so worth it. Now, she eagerly greets Gabe every afternoon with a howl and a kiss. She even knows the command “Kiss Brother,” which our son absolutely loves! When we go on walks together, Rigby protectively positions herself between Gabe and extremely threatening situations, such as a branch in a neighbor’s yard or a suspicious looking trash bag. Once the threat has been neutralized, she gives Gabe a reassuring lick on his hand.
Our son has lots of therapy exercises, and we’ve incorporated Rigby into them, like rolling toward Rigby to pet her soft fur or vocalizing a noise to call her to him. I recently caught Rigby napping in Gabe’s bed with him on a Saturday morning. Her joyful barks make Gabe laugh. In the afternoons at pickup, I ask Gabe, “Want to go home and see Sister?” and he smiles. She is his protector and he is hers to protect. I am so thankful for their sweet bond and for the happiness she brings him. She has not been booted from the house, and I can confirm we love her so much more for how she loves her brother.
Do you have a dog that you love and a baby on the way? Don’t despair! I know all situations are different, but with a few of these ideas you can transition into life with a dog and baby, and no one will have to sleep outside. Bringing home baby doesn’t have to be the end of the good life for your furry family members.
Do you already have a beloved dog in your family that loves your kids? Show us your pictures and tell us your stories! There is nothing better than puppies and babies.