I love my dog less than I used to before I had a baby. When I realized this, I felt so, so guilty about it. But now I don’t. Like many pet owners, I believe that my dog is a member of the family. He’s just not as high on the totem pole as he used to be. When I first said this out loud to my husband, Dan, he told me that he felt the same way. I thought, maybe we were both bad dog parents. Then we talked to several friends who also had new babies and it seemed to be a consensus. Everyone felt this way.
My husband grew up with dogs. I wanted a dog my whole life, but my mom didn’t like them. My dad used to say, “You can get a puppy, or you can keep your mom”. Keeping mom always won. Now that my brother and I both have dogs (and babies), she has learned to be around them. She has worked really hard at this and sometimes there’s a glimmer of fondness, but it’s rare.
I wanted a dog so badly that Dan and I got one as soon as we moved out of our one-bedroom apartment and into a house with a yard. Really. We moved in on a Friday. We got up at 6 am on Saturday to drive to Pennsylvania and pick up our puppy, Gander. I can’t say I would recommend that timing to anyone. It took forever to unpack and get settled because we were corralling a new puppy. Fumbling around in the dark trying to find the light switches in the new house only adds to the fun of getting up in the night to let the puppy go outside.
Gander is an Irish Red and White Setter. The breed is very affectionate, and super high energy which is exactly what I wanted. I was looking for a running partner and a snuggle bug. This was perfect before we had a baby, and it will be great again when my son is older. But right now, it’s a pain in the neck.
At the end of my pregnancy, Gander and I would spend at least two hours every day trying to “walk out the baby”. I was determined to have the baby a few days early. James took his time and arrived four days late. Now that we have a baby, some of Gander’s walks have to be shorter and that’s just the way it is. Gander was one day shy of 13 months old when James was born. He still has puppy energy in addition to his breed’s energy. We have to be very careful to keep Gander from channeling his energy and affection towards James.
The way that a dog greets you when you come home is wonderful. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been away on a business trip for three days or you spent 15 minutes at the market. A dog’s greeting says “I missed you so much! I’m so happy you’re home! I love you!” When we added a baby to this equation, our 50-pound dog greeting us with this level of enthusiasm became much less wonderful. We’ve spent a lot of time working on “four paws on the floor” greetings.
Gander tries to investigate the baby sometimes, but for the most part is very good. Even so, I had to develop strategies to manage the dog and the baby by myself while on maternity leave. Gander either goes outside or in his kennel when I have to feed James. Our back yard has a few more holes than we would like due to Gander being out there unsupervised. We like to say that he just disagrees with us on the landscaping scheme.
This weekend we were going to a nearby farmers’ market. Dan opened the trunk of our SUV and Gander hopped in. I was about to put James in the back seat when Gander tried to jump over the seatback. The head rests were raised and he couldn’t quite fit. He got stuck straddling the seatback. Dan and I both burst out laughing. Gander is just so dopey. It’s so endearing. Dan had to climb into the back and pull Gander out.
After meeting lots of new people, new dogs, and interesting smells at the farmers’ market, Gander came home exhausted. He’s so much easier to manage when he’s tired. As James gets older, we will need to play less defense. When James doesn’t want to be held as much, Gander will get some of his snuggle time back. It’s a transition for all of us.
James’ needs come first. I still love Gander. Maybe I don’t love him less in an absolute sense. Maybe I just love James so much more that it feels like I love Gander less. When I was pregnant, lots of people told me that I would love my baby more than I ever thought possible. They were absolutely right. I will never apologize for how much I love my son. So, if I love my dog a little bit less by comparison, that’s just fine with me.