The biggest surprise during TD’s first four weeks of life has undoubtedly been the behavior of our dog Stanley. Before TD was born, at least two family members told us we should just avoid any potential danger and get rid of Stanley1. Kathleen and I had a couple of very emotional talks, the kind that ended with us holding each other on the couch in a kind of intertwined team sobbing session. In the days leading up to birth, it was always in the back of my mind that I could be seeing Stanley for the last time.
In the hospital, I took a receiving blanket and a hat that TD had worn during her first night and sent them home with Nonie2, who was staying with us at the time. I hoped getting Stanley used to TD’s scent would mitigate any awkwardness during their first meeting. Nonie texted me that Stanley was laying on the receiving blanket, which we took as a good sign.
As we gathered our things for our first day home, my concerns came flooding back. What if he went after the baby in my arms? How long would we have to separate them before he would be comfortable with her? How many weeks would we give Stanley before we truly gave up on him and re-homed him?
We decided on an initial dog-baby introduction strategy. Nonie would come out onto the front porch and hold TD while Kathleen and I went in and greeted Stanley. He hadn’t seen us in several days, and I wanted him to burn off a bit of his excited energy before bringing the baby into a potentially volatile situation. After it was clear that Stanley had granted a satisfactory greeting, I went out to bring the baby in.
I stepped to the door. Paused. Took a deep breath. Secured TD in a solid hold. I opened the door, slid quietly back into the house, took a seat on the couch, and waited for Stanley to notice the strange new tiny thing in my arms. At first he didn’t take much notice. Then, after a minute or so, he walked over, pointed his nose in her general direction, took a few sniffs, and then… nothing. He just walked away.
Their first meeting was a success, but that didn’t mean I trusted my dog around my daughter. Caution is the word here. We had Stanley sleep in a guest bedroom with Kathleen’s sister. We didn’t allow Stanley to get closer than a foot or so to TD. But we noticed some strange behaviors with Stanley.
He seemed to be giving Kathleen and me a wider berth whenever we were holding TD. He didn’t jump up on the couch when Kathleen was feeding, and he didn’t follow us around when we moved the baby from room to room. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say our dog was deliberately giving us space from him while we had the baby.
A few days went by and Stanley began inching a little bit closer and a little bit closer. Once or twice a day, he would walk up with friendly and calm body language, give TD a sniff or two, and then walk away. Slowly, we became more comfortable allowing him to sniff her closer, until Stanley stuck his nose right up to TD’s head and nudged it just the slightest bit.
After about a week, we let Stanley sleep in our room again. We cordoned off TD’s bassinet with a gate, but Stanley didn’t seem to have any interest in dealing with her at night. He just went to his chair he sleeps on like he always had.
We also seem to have stumbled onto a solid routine to introduce him to new people. Stanley sits at the top of the stairs while our guests come in and sit on a chair near the front door with dog treats. A few stairs at a time, we bring Stanley down, stopping him every fourth or fifth step to allow him to calm down. At the bottom of the stairs, we have him sit and wait. Then well tell him to “Go say Hi!” and he wiggles up to the new people and takes his treat. No muzzle. No walking around the block in advance. This routine appears to signal to Stanley that these people are friendly.
Don’t get me wrong, Stanley is still a jerky dog. He is an absolute nightmare to walk on a leash, lunging and barking at just about anything with legs or wings or wheels or a hat. And we’re never going to leave Stanley in a room with TD unsupervised. But it looks like that Stanley actually likes TD. He acts a little protective around her. Best of all, he has not done anything for us to infer that he would do anything to intentionally harm the baby.
We’re happy today that our family gets to stay in tact with Stanley as an important member. Our problem dog, as it turns out, is not a problem.