Pregnant friends often ask me for advice on how to introduce their furbaby to their new baby because we’ve been relatively successful with Savs and Lola. I wish I could say it was a seamless transition but to be honest, this duo has gone through various states of love and hate in their two years together.
In the beginning, Lola was smitten with Savs. She immediately assumed the role of guardian and usually positioned herself within a few feet of wherever Savannah was laying. It also helped that I was on maternity leave for 4 1/2 months followed quickly by a telecommuting schedule that kept me in the house 2-3 days per week. Even though I always had my hands full and rarely had time to focus solely on cuddle time with Lola, having me nearby seemed to satiate her need for attention quite a bit.
And then things changed.
I went back to working in an office full time right about the time that Savannah started walking. Suddenly, there was this mobile little person on Lola’s level and I think it freaked her out a little. Okay, maybe a lot! And Savannah was so loud! As soon as she got comfortable on her feet her favorite pastime changed from cooing quietly on a play mat to chasing Lola around the house with her baby doll stroller while screaming at the top of her lungs. As you can imagine, Lola was visibly stressed out.
Lola started to develop some minor aggression – mainly a possessiveness around certain chew toys. It was nothing too major to me and Mike but enough to concern the two grandmas. We debated recruiting a dog trainer to help us over the hurdle but ultimately decided to work on their relationship ourselves. First obstacle we tackled: the chew toys. Lola only gets to enjoy her “special” toys in a supervised setting. The rest of the time, they are removed and kept on the mantle. Likewise, Savannah has learned never to bother Lola when she’s playing. To be honest, both are actually really good at leaving the other’s toys alone – with the exception of Savs’ stuffed animals. Lola will chew the hell out of any teddy bear eyeball she can get her paws on!
A few things we did right:
1. From day 1 we ensured Lola had a safe and “baby free” place to eat. Savannah has been very good at giving Lola her privacy during mealtimes and although we never suspected any food aggression we wanted to be sure we avoided bad habits from the get go.
2. We didn’t kick Lola out of our bed when the new baby came along. We tried really hard to keep her from associating a disruption in her lifestyle with the arrival of the new baby and I think it helped that she maintained her place in our family bed. As a result, she was always really respectful of Savannah’s space whether it was in the co-sleeper or, as she got older, in between me and Mike.
3. We involved Savs in all of Lola’s positive reinforcements. For instance, Savannah now doles out Lola’s treats and Lola has grown very accustomed to following Savs’ commands to “sit” and “stay” in order to be rewarded. She also partakes in Lola’s walks and play time.
A couple of things I’d do differently:
1. We should’ve introduced a safe place for Lola to retreat to earlier in the process. Probably the only good thing to come from Lola’s recent surgery is that we had to bring a kennel into the household which we’d never had before. She now has her very own space where she can feel secure when Savs’ energy becomes too much for her.
2. Just like kids, pets need individual attention from their owners. Prior to Savannah’s birth, Lola was our dog but my baby without a doubt. After Savannah, her bond to Mike deepened but I think she felt a bit rejected by me. I tried my best but I wish I’d done a better job carving out one on one time with her from the beginning. I think we would’ve both benefited from having me take the lead on her walks, mealtime and cuddle time on occasion and I think it would’ve helped her from feeling any resentment toward Savs.
All in all, the two of them are in a really good place right now. Savannah loves her Lola more than anything and treats her just like a member of the family. She kisses her goodbye everyday and goodnight every evening. I frequently walk in and find her squatting in front of Lola carrying on a full, one-sided conversation and my heart melts. Likewise, Lola has grown to accept Savannah’s role in the household and as Savannah becomes more independent our free time to spend loving on Lola has returned.
I know that relationships to pets change with the arrival of children but ours really didn’t. Lola is still very much our baby and I’m really proud of us for not relegating her to “just the dog” now that we have a little human to love. It hasn’t always been easy but hopefully, we’ll be able keep her world as stable as possible even after our family continues to expand.
I have dreams of walking in to find Lola sleeping at the foot of Savannah’s bed someday but for now I just really hope this peaceful phase lasts a for a little while. I guess if worst comes to worst, come November they’ll bond over a mutual distrust of the new baby. So there’s always that!