If you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you probably remember back when the family posts revolved around the furriest members of our household. I haven’t written as much about the dogs this past year, because, well let’s be honest – Cullen is a lot more fun to photograph and talk about!
But they are still very much a big part of our family, and so I thought I ‘d talk a little bit about how they have handled their new role as big brothers. For those who are new here, we have two dogs. Huey is a nine year old German Shorthaired Pointer. Casey had him when we met, and he eventually welcomed me in as his new mom.
Indy is a six year old German Shorthaired Pointer/Labrador Retriever mix. When Casey and I had been dating about six months, he said he wanted to get another dog. We found Indy on Craigslist, and he’s been attached to my side ever since.
I knew that both dogs were good around kids from experience out walking them in neighborhoods. They have always been great when kids ask to pet them, and neither of them has ever showed any aggression toward people (dogs, however, are another story).
I wasn’t necessarily nervous about the transition of bringing a baby home, but I didn’t really know what to expect. Neither of them liked Cullen at ALL at the beginning. They would jump off the couch if we’d sit down with him, or leave the room if he cried. It was really sad.
Indy has always been desperate for attention. And I assure you, it’s not because he doesn’t get enough. He’s just one of those dogs that wants to be permanently glued to a person – always touching and nosing for affection. So I knew his standoffishness wouldn’t last too long.
Slowly but surely, he started creeping closer and closer toward Cullen, until he’d let his little baby hands touch and stroke his ears. Cullen thought he was HILARIOUS from day one, and used to laugh like a maniac any time Indy came near.
For the first six months or so, Cullen wasn’t really mobile, so the dogs could choose their level of interaction with him. They would often sit a few feet away, so they were still near me but not close enough to get a tail pull.
Once Cullen started eating solid foods and snacks, Indy got a LOT more comfortable. Even though they never get table scraps or anything, both pups are such mooches that I have to gate them off if Cullen is in his high chair or having a snack. They try to steal all his food!
Huey was much, much slower to adjust. He’s kind of strange dog, and I mean that in the most loving way. He’s very independent and isn’t really into socializing. He likes to burrow under things and sleep under blankets.
He was very curious about Cullen when he first came home from the hospital, but once the newness wore off he had zero interest. In fact, he seemed afraid of him.
Before Cullen was born, if I’d had any reservations at all I would have said I was slightly nervous about Indy. He tends to show random aggression toward other dogs (usually on a leash), and has been known to growl and be dominant toward Huey. Huey, on the other hand, is afraid of his shadow.
So it was pretty unsettling when Cullen was about 7 months old, and he tugged Huey’s foot under a table – Huey whipped around and snarled at him. No one got hurt, but it definitely scared everyone. After that, I kept them separated for a long time, and made sure I never let Cullen touch him.
I should add here that even now, we always closely supervise Cullen with the dogs. Even if they are at their most comfortable, they are still animals by nature.
About a month after the first incident with Huey, the same thing happened again. Huey was hiding under the bed, and Cullen went over and grabbed his foot in the 0.2 seconds I had my back turned (I hadn’t realized Huey was under there). More snarling and growling, and another year off my life.
I’m only talking about this now because transitioning pets to coexist with children is a pretty common thing, and I think it’s important to show that it’s not always a smooth, easy process. If I had ever thought that Cullen was in real danger, I would have completely separated the two of them for good. In a worst case scenario, I would have found a new (fabulous) home for Huey, if needed.
But I wasn’t willing to give up too quickly, as I know he’s a very gentle and sweet dog at heart. Once Cullen was walking and up off the ground, I could tell Huey was warming up a bit. I never let Cullen touch him unsupervised, but gradually Huey started letting Cullen pet his ears or stroke his back. Side note: this is why there are zero pictures of Cullen and Huey together through his entire first year!
Somewhere right around Cullen’s first birthday, Huey seemed to understand that Cullen was a little kid, and no longer a confusing (apparently threatening) baby. Perhaps it helped that Cullen had new fun things for the dogs to steal.
It was a slow process, but these days both dogs are very comfortable with him. Casey and I both recognize that when Huey is underneath a table or bed, that’s his way of trying to hide or be alone, so we don’t let Cullen touch him when he’s clearly asking for space. I want to teach Cullen to respect the dogs and be gentle with them, and so far he’s done pretty well with it. Both pups love to hang out in his room, and under his crib is one of their favorite hiding spots. Those feet are so tempting to to tug though, right?
One of the ways we tried to get the dogs interested and comfortable with Cullen was simply extra love and praise – positive reinforcement. When Indy would let Cullen pull his ears or tail, I would give him ten minutes of belly rubs and praise him for being so good. Any interaction with Cullen was rewarded with a treat or a snuggle. We also made sure to pay individual attention to the dogs in the evenings when Cullen was asleep.
There are definitely days when my dogs drive me insane. They bark during naptime, trek mud in from the backyard, and the click click clack of their nails on our floors is the soundtrack of my nightmares. But they are still my first babies, and it’s so fun to see Cullen’s face light up whenever he sees one of them.
During the day, Indy is usually glued to my side. He has realized that his best source of constant attention is from the little one, so he lays in the middle of the floor begging Cullen to come tug on him. He is protective, loving, and honestly – it’s been a bit of a surprise.
Huey is usually searching for sunny spots (which are hard to find this time of year), hoping I will leave the pantry open when I go upstairs, or digging through my diaper bag in search of extra snacks.
At least once a day, sometimes twice if the weather is nice, I take all my boys out for a stroll through the neighborhood. Our dogs are crazy leash pullers (and yes, we’ve tried every leash/harness known to man), so when Cullen was first born I was too scared to walk them with him. They are pretty powerful when they work together. But now that I’ve got a bit more experience and confidence in this whole mom thing, I’ve got a good system rigged so I can walk all three of the boys together. We all love it!
Are they still running the household like they were before? Definitely not. But they are still very happy and get lots of love. Another perk is that they used to actually act somewhat independent of each other, but now they have totally joined forces. They are such a team, and I can’t even think about what it will be like when we only have one of them (which will, I guess, eventually happen).
Last but not least, I mentioned before that one of the best ways I’ve gotten the dogs to warm up to Cullen has been through positive reinforcement. FOOD is their biggest motivator, so after many months of work leading up to it – I finally taught Cullen to give them their daily treats.
We used to give them treats by just dropping them into the dogs mouths, which resulted in them leaping and trying to bite your fingers off (not on purpose, but ouch!). Our vet showed me a better way – put the treat in the palm of your hand, face up, with your hand closed. Let the dog sniff you hand, and then slowly open your fingers to reveal the treat. The dog will gently use a soft mouth to take the treat without any pinched fingers. Works every time!
I did this myself for months, getting them used to using soft mouths and being gentle with taking food. Eventually, I guided Cullen’s hand into the process. And now? Cullen gives the dogs their treats himself, and there has never been a single tear or hurt finger. And they associate Cullen with getting treats, which is their favorite thing EVER!
Here is a short video…
All families and dogs are so different. Our dogs have been moved to a new home every year of their lives, and they have transitioned from the midwest to the south, and from the east coast all the way to the west coast! They are very adaptable and loving pups. So I knew that even if bringing home a baby wasn’t an instant success, we would just need do a bit of extra work and give a lot of extra love until we were one big happy family.
After losing my inlaws’ dog a few weeks ago, it was a sickening reality check that my dogs are starting to get older. They have been through so many of the formative events in my adult life, and I hope they are here for many more! With that, I’m off to give a few extra kisses and snuggles before Cullen wakes up from his nap, and we all head out for our afternoon walk.