When friends come over, I've always felt the need to apologize for the dog hair all over our house and on our furniture, for the black hairs that have collected on the front of my boys' T-shirts, and the stray hairs often found on their lips and faces. But, no more! Now, I can confidently say with pride, "It's for the kids!" A recent study found that children who live with a dog (or cat) for the first year of their lives tend to get sick a whole lot less.
Well, phew, because every time I find one of my twin babies sucking on a dog toy, I need some reassurance that I'm not the worst, stankiest Mother of all time. Now that I know it's healthy, hell, I'm going to let them play in our Lab's dog bowl, snuggle in her dog bed, share her chew toys. I kid, I kid. Obviously, I don't want my boys all up in her mess, but I do feel a lot better knowing that it's actually good for babies. But, just seeing my sons interact with our sweet Ruby, I can already tell it's good for them.
My babies are totally fascinated by Ruby, eager to crawl over to her and jangle her collar or pet her fur or climb her. From what I can tell, Ruby now recognizes them as part of her pack, although she doesn't seem to love all their jangling and pulling quite so much. Of course, I'm always right there to monitor to make sure neither pooch nor pumpkins hurt each other, but Ruby seems perfectly capable of taking care of herself. I'd say that 95 percent of the time, she just gets up and walks away when she's had enough. The rest of the time, she just lies there, with this look like, "Alright kids, five minutes, then leave Miss Ruby in peace."
Of course, she sort of brings it upon herself because the dog is always where we are. Even when the babies are in full meltdown mode, Ruby's right there. Both my boys could be wailing their heads off and rather than run from the racket, Ruby moves towards the cacophony, coming into their eye line just when they're in need of distraction. When I see her in the doorway, it really does feel like she's there to help.
Although my guys aren't even 1 year old yet, I think they're learning a lot about compassion and affection from having a dog. I've been reinforcing, "Gentle, gentle, gentle with Ruby," since the minute they started grabbing at her fur, and now, months later, they get it. Sure, they'll yank at my hair and bang, bang, bang toys on the ground. But, when they're petting the dog, it's just soft pats and strokes. As a result, I find that if I say "gentle, gentle" when they're reaching at each other, or other babies, they seem to get it more now. They show her affection as well, snuggling into her fur the way they nuzzle against us, and she licks their faces in return. Dogs and babies -- I mean, it doesn't get any sweeter.
I think the dog has also made them a little more resilient -- not like babies need to learn how to be resilient. But I think it's important for children at least to be able to roll with the punches. When Ruby barks her loud, scary bark (usually at passing senior citizens with small dogs), the boys don't even flinch. In fact, as I've mentioned, one of my boys even "woofs, woofs" back in his own mimicking baby way. She thwacks them with her tail, sometimes in the face, which used to get them really upset, but now, they just sort of blink heavily and try to swat her tail away. Maybe it's an age thing, but I also think they've just gotten used to it.
Of course, they've also had to get used to a little bit of nastiness as well, but I feel a whole lot better about it now knowing it's keeping them healthy ... Okay, it's still really freakin' gross. Ruby always brings her dog toys around the babies (although, she seems to recognize that the babies' toys aren't hers) and leaves them all over, where my boys inevitably find them and stick the muddy, slobbery things in their mouths. They're no strangers to slobber though -- Ruby constantly licks their faces, which they respond to by opening their mouths wide with glee.
Mealtime is all kinds of gross as well. I constantly find dog hairs on their highchair trays, seconds after I've cleaned them. I don't know if they're raining down from the ceiling or what, but they seem to float in the air like dust. Which means that, inevitably, dog hairs will attach themselves to pieces of meatball or noodle before they go right in my babies' mouths. Oh, and now, while eating, my guys like to reach out to Ruby, letting her lick whatever mess of food is on their hands, before putting that hand right back in their mouths. At first, I tried to stop all this germ-sharing, but I couldn't keep up. So, I gave up.
At the end of the day, our dog is part of our family. She was the baby we had before we knew if we'd even be able to have a baby. She makes us happy, she soothes us, she gives us that unconditional puppy love. In general, Labs as a breed tend to be patient and gentle with small children, so that helps, but we still never leave her unattended with them. I grew up with dogs though and loved every minute of it, and I have a feeling my boys are going to feel the same way. I think, if you can do it, every family should try to have some kind of pet (dog, cat, bunny, goldfish, whatever), even if that means your babies will end up sucking on dirt.
Do you have a pet? What positive effects do you think it's had on your baby or children?