Morgan: The question for this week, Mike: Is it OK to give my dog a last hurrah before the baby comes?
Mike: Well, no, actually [laughter]. It’s one of the big mistakes that people make.
It’s funny, I laughed because I was actually having this conversation with somebody last night, with whom I was consulting about this stuff. It’s one of the things I warn people about.
In fact, it was precisely this issue that caused me to write this book 20 years ago, in the first place.
Morgan: Oh, wow.
Preparing For Your Life To Turn Upside Down
Mike: I had a young couple – they were 21, 22 – and they had this little Jack Russell they’d had for a decent amount of time.
And then that’s exactly what they did: they both went on leave from their jobs, so they were both home for about three weeks before the due date. And, of course, they indulged the dog like crazy.
They were already indulging the dog, but they figured they knew they weren’t going to have that kind of time for the dog once the baby came.
It was getting 2-3 outings to the park a day, sleeping in bed – everything was about the dog, because all their kind of parental and maternal impulses were completely activated already, because of the pregnancy. And they poured all that into the dog.
Morgan: Right, because they were pregnant.
Mike: Exactly. So, they poured it all into the dog – and then, of course, the baby came, and the dog freaked out. It got so bad that, when the mom would turn to the baby to change the diaper, the dog would just start peeing on things to get her attention.
It would run around, it would tear at things – it would just do, just like a kid, any kind of attention-grabbing behaviors.
And, again, she had had a C-section, so she wasn’t feeling well, and she was so stressed out with everything – and then the dog going crazy.
And it was about two and a half months in that they got rid of the dog. It was exactly what I warned them about, and they didn’t follow any of my advice.
And that’s when I realized: “Wow, there’s just really very little information out and about, about this stuff.” And that’s what prompted me to write the first version of this book.
‘The Answer’s Obvious – The Answer’s No’
So, you know, the answer’s obvious: the answer’s no. You want to taper down.
I tell people: “What you want to do is: think about what your life going to look like, on a granular level, day-to-day? 7am, 8am, 9am – what is that going to look like with a new baby on the ground?
“And then, whatever that’s going to mean for your dog, in terms of the amount of attention your dog is going to get.” Think about it, and implement that scenario a month or six weeks beforehand.
So, if you’re going to have to get the dog out of the bed, there’s going to be less walks to the park, or whatever it is – you start implementing that way beforehand, so the dog has no way to associate those changes with the arrival of the baby, and create a super-jealous dynamic. Because it will – it will and it does.
Nurture Togetherness, Not Separation
So, a last big hurrah is a terrible idea. And then, what you want to do is: you want to do it the other way around. You want to create scenarios where attention to the child means attention to the dog.
So, I help people set up scenarios where, if the mom’s got to nurse or change diapers, the dog – who might have been on his own a little bit when the baby was down for a nap – now gets to come and participate, by hanging out, maybe lying in a little bed next to wherever the changing station is, or wherever the nursing is happening.
But the dog can start to learn that the presence of the child means good things for it, and family interaction, and togetherness, and all that – not separation. People usually do it the other way around.
Mike: You know, they’ll put the dog away when the baby needs changing, or when the baby needs feeding, and when the baby goes down for a nap they’ll go play with the dog. The dog’s not stupid – they notice that. It’s a zero-sum game.
Morgan: And does this happen often?
Mike: Yes, all the time. Sometimes I do these short interviews, and people ask: “What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give?”
It’s on this point, I say: “Whatever changes you have to make in the life of your dog when that baby comes, make those changes plenty of time in advance, so your dog can’t associate them with the arrival of the baby.”
That’s the single biggest piece of advice – and people blow it all the time. People blow it all the time.
“My dog would never,” you know? “My dog’s going to love my kid – he loves kids.” Whatever, you know?
This IS A Big Deal
And that’s when I usually turn on the fear tactics, and say: “Well, here’s the statistics.” We’ve gone through the statistics before, in our various podcasts in the past, and also in articles I’ve written, which is: dog bites on children are the second major health threat to welfare of children after teen substance abuse. You know, it’s not a small thing.
Mike: We’re looking at 4.5 million dog bites a year – 80% of them are on children under 5, 80% are in the face.
Morgan: That’s crazy.
Mike: Yes, so this is often a big contributor to that type of scenario.
Morgan: Jealous dogs.
Mike: Jealous dogs – and jealous dogs get rehomed. Or they end up biting the kid.
Especially if the tension builds until the kid becomes mobile at 8 months.
Because before 8 months, the dog has limited access to the baby, right? The baby’s not really mobile – it’s in a crib, it’s in a sling.
But once they become mobile, and turn into little pre-toddlers and then toddlers, all that pent-up resentment and rage then can get unleashed when the kid starts encroaching – crawling, grabbing, and doing kid stuff. The dog’s just like: “I’m so done with this.” [Laughter].
Morgan: [Laughter] Totally. But yes, there’s something you said previously that made me think why people might blow this, independent of your advice – and it’s implicit in what you said.
All those parenting and nurturing instincts have kicked in, and so it’s a kind of hormonal override that’s happening there.
Actually, people are probably just like: “I want to love on my dog.” And it’s an outlet, and they’re just like: “Oh, what could be the harm?”
So I guess at first, I was like: “Wow, are people just blind to this?” But actually, yes – it seems like there’s a good reason for it.
Mike: Yes, exactly, it’s hormonal override – I like the way you put it, that’s a good one.
Morgan: Yes, it makes sense. Do you tell people that?
Mike: Yes, it’s the first thing. Always, whenever people call me up and they want a consultation with me because they’re pregnant – some of them found out about my book, and they say: “Oh yeah, this must be the guy to talk to” – always, on the first visit, before we go into any details about their life, and about their dog and its behavior issues, this is the top thing that I always push, right up front.
Because it’s such a big deal. And you know, earlier this week I was talking to somebody about this. She was like: “Oh, we don’t really want the dog out of our bed.” And I get it – my dog’s in my bed every night, he’s a little guy.
And I just said: “Well, are you going to have the baby in bed with you at times?” And she said: “Well, we don’t know yet.”
I said: “Look, get the dog out of the bed for now, in case you need to. Then if the time comes, and you get into the right groove with your baby, and you figure everything out, then you can maybe reintroduce some of these things – who knows?”
But what you want to do is just give yourself space and options, and not paint yourself into any kind of corner that your dog is ultimately going to pay the price for.
Your Dog’s Cheeky Behavior May Be Cute Now, But Wait Till Baby Comes…
Morgan: Totally. Yes, I guess like anything – and this goes for all of your advice and training tips, I think, for pre-baby preparations – it’s always hard to imagine something before it happens, right? Before the baby’s here.
And so naturally, a lot of people think, like you said: “Oh, not my dog,” or: “We can handle whatever it is.”
You know, I certainly didn’t know, before our baby arrived, just how things were going to compound – particularly in relationship to sleep deprivation, and the care, and just the constant interruption to any sort of normalcy in your schedule that comes with having a baby, and then a toddler.
It’s just insanity. And especially when you insert the ingredients of sleep deprivation, your capacities and inner resources to manage all that are extremely limited.
And yes, you’re a mess, basically – that’s how I felt. And I wasn’t even doing the heavy lifting, you know? And I felt like I was a mess.
So, it makes sense to me, what you’re saying. You probably can’t reiterate this enough to get people to do it. And then, they’re either going to do it or they’re not.
Mike: Yes, it’s true. A lot of the people that I deal with – and usually, demographically, they’re in their late 20s… I rarely get people, anymore, that are 19 or 21 and are in this situation.
But still, when you’re in your late 20s, you have a ton of energy.
So I’m always shocked when I talk to people, and they’re having their first baby – when I bring up the sleep deprivation, it’s almost like it hadn’t occurred to them. They kind of chuckle and laugh, like it’s a small thing – it’s not a small thing.
Mike: It’s not a small thing – as you know, and as anybody who has been through it knows. It’s not you’re losing sleep because you partied too much in college – it’s not like that, right?
For a woman, often, it’s a year, a year and a half, of not getting a good night’s sleep.
That adds up, and it makes you cranky, irritable. It just makes your bandwidth or tolerance for a dog who’s now acting up that much less.
I try to impress this on people, it’s like: “All your maternal instincts are flowing to this dog, you can’t imagine how you’d ever want to get rid of the dog – that’s all going to change. Because all those maternal juices, the second that little baby pops out, they’re all going to go there.
“Because nature’s wired it that way – and like it or not, that’s how it’s going to be.
“And suddenly, that sweet little dog that you loved so much – that you still love – you’re going to find him to be a big pain in the butt if he starts doing all these annoying things and you’re cranky and sleep-deprived, and you have a screaming kid over there and the dog something stupid on the other hand.”
Day after day after day, and you’re going on two hours of sleep.
Morgan: Totally, yes.
Mike: And people, the young kids, they chuckle at it. I say: “You’re not going to be chuckling in about 8 months from now” [laughter].
This Is Going To Be Intense
Morgan: Right – two quick facts come to mind. First, of course we’ve said this before, but what’s one of the main tactics used in any form of prolonged torture? Sleep deprivation.
Mike: That’s right.
Morgan: That’s how you wear someone down. And then, conversely – and obviously I’m kind of giving it away, here, by juxtaposing it in this way – but I read this the other night: guess how long Einstein slept every night?
Mike: 12 hours.
Morgan: 10 hours a night.
Mike: 10 hours a night, that’s what kept his brain functioning?
Morgan: Yeah! Think about it, it’s hard to get 10 hours a night. I don’t get 10 hours a night – I get 7 hours a night, and I’m happy.
Mike: Yes, ditto.
Morgan: Sometimes 8.
Mike: 6-7 is probably the average for most people – a lot of people are functioning on 5-6.
Morgan: I’ve been trying, since we got out of the ashram, as it were – and that’s a whole history we won’t go into for everyone right now – but I definitely sleep more.
Mike: Yes, and you also know what sleep deprivation does. I think when you’re young and you’re so full of energy, still, and you haven’t really been through anything like that, you just can’t imagine, pre-baby, what sleep deprivation is going to cost you.
And then, if you’ve got a dog that’s driving you nuts, your tolerance will drop by 90% [laughter]. Because you need to keep your you-know-what together for your baby’s sake.
Morgan: Yes – your BS-tolerance is just non-existent.
Mike: So yes, I mean, it’s a lot coming out of a small question: do you give your dog a last hurrah? No!
No, you wean your dog off the things that you think he’s going to feel deprived of when the baby arrives.
You’re going to wean your dog off all those things – and then, maybe 6 months after the baby arrives, you’ll be in a position to reevaluate.
You’ve absorbed the shock of having a baby, and of the disruption to your life that that’s produced. You’re in your groove, and then you can start to re-evaluate what you should be doing with your dog and your child.
Morgan: Totally. Before we wrap this up, Mike, are there any final points you want to make about it?
Mike: No, I think we covered it. As with everything else, take it seriously.
Anybody who’s listening to this and rolling their eyes: take it seriously. Because I get to see the unfortunate results of when people don’t do that.
Then they call me – and we’ve talked about this before – they call me: now the kid’s 8 months old, and now they’re having issues with the dog and the kid.
And now they want to suddenly pay a lot of attention, and they think just spending a ton of money is going to solve it. And often, my job is to tell them: “No – you’ve got to get rid of the dog.”
Morgan: Yes, totally.
Mike: And that stinks for everybody.
Morgan: Yup, absolutely.
Mike: Just take it seriously.
Morgan: Yes, take it seriously.