Barks and Babies: Preparing Your “Furry Baby” for the “New Baby”

DOGSThere’s a lot to be said for being prepared for when you bring your baby home. We read lots of books, bought way too much gear, and signed up for a college semester’s worth of childbirth classes. In reflection, the best investment my husband and I made was taking the Barks & Babies class at The Pawsitive Dog.

We have two pure-bred American Shelter Dogs (aka rescue mutts) who came to us with their own personalities; one is afraid of people, the other is aggressive with other dogs.

As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I knew their reality was about to shift in a big way. I was anxious for advice on how to manage the changes for them -AND most importantly, have a safe environment for the new baby.

In comes Jen Vickery, a canine-human relationship guru who helps families manage the “new baby transition.” She’s the founder of The Pawsitive Dog, in Boston, MA. In Jen’s Barks & Babies class, we gained a whole new perspective on what bringing baby home would be like through the eyes (ears and nose!) of our dogs.

I was six months pregnant when we signed up for Barks and Babies. I learned there was no time to waste. It turns out there was a lot we could do even before the baby arrived! Jen promptly gave us our marching orders, and here was some of her best advice:

    •  Start walking the dogs while pushing your new stroller—they need familiarity with the new gear. (Yes, you will look a little strange because there isn’t actually a baby in the stroller yet.)
    • Channel your inner toddler by pinching and poking the dogs and then reward them with a treat. (Yes, pinching, poking and pulling WILL happen in the toddler years. Best to desensitize your pup early on.)
    • Start giving your dogs commands with your feet, not your hands. (At first I thought this was odd, but Jen was so right. Once the baby arrives forget using two hands for anything! And, if you have a sleeping baby in you arms, the last thing you want to do is utter a word that might disturb the peace. )
    • Last but not least, FORGET to feed the dogs now and again. They need to get used to unpredictability. (This has happened on more than one sleep-deprived occasion, I’ll confess.)

Jen’s been running Barks and Babies for over 20 years.  Her advice was solid, effective and helped tremendously in those early blurry days when we were overwhelmed with our newborn. We found comfort in her advice and reflected back on our learnings well into toddlerhood. Now, in large part thanks to Jen, we are now one happy, harmonious pack.

By Johanna Cockburn
JR headshotJohanna COCKBURN is a mom, co-pack leader, and nonprofit development consultant in the Boston area. When she’s not managing the canine-human life force in her home, she’s matchmaking people (and sometimes people and rescue dogs) to help build a better world through community activism and social change efforts.

For Toddlers and Tough Transitions: Try Sand Timers

I can’t remember precisely when it happened, but at some point around the early twos, our son started having a tough time with some every day transitions. Time to start the bedtime routine… protest. Time to get out of the bath… whine. Time to nap… cry. We soon realized that if we gave him some notice, in the form of a countdown or number of minutes, he seemed to accept these transitions a little better because he knew they were coming. But even with a warning, things weren’t perfect. My two year old had no idea what 5 minutes meant, for example, so he would stress about when the 5 minutes would be done. That’s when my husband had this brilliant idea.

He ordered some Tea Timers. They came in a pack of three: one for 3, 5 and 7 minutes. They have colored sand which falls down so my son now has a concrete visual indication of how much time has passed and how much is left.

Now we let our son turn over a timer for each tough transition. They have worked like a charm! They work especially well for bath time. He used to protest the end of bath time like crazy (can’t blame him really–baths are great). Now we use the three minute timer when we want him to get out. He likes turning it over, can see the green sand falling down, and after it is done, he has no problems climbing out and getting his towel.

We also invested in a bigger hourglass. We got a 15 minute one to use during rest/nap time. We allow him to turn it over once or twice for each rest time and after it is done, he can get up. He watches as the purple sand falls down, and more than often, he’s asleep before it finishes. It has been incredibly helpful, especially since my son is now 3 1/2 so his naps have become less consistent. But at least now, we have a way of ensuring he gets in a good 15-30 minute rest every day.

I’ve noticed with parenthood, sometimes it’s little things that make a big difference. This is one that has helped us tremendously during the toddler phase. I’ve added the tea timers to my Mamajamas list. I hope your list will eventually help you share with your new parent friends some little things that have helped you along the way.

The Pacifier Fairy Failed

Back in September, I wrote this breezy post on how easy it was to get rid of our son’s pacifier. I was feeling very smug right about then. 

Let’s recap. Son loves pacifier to sleep. Son gets mouth full of canker sores due to bad virus. Parents use this opportunity to take away his pacifier via the tried and true “Fairy” method. After first few days, son seems to be handling it okay. Son only asks about pacifier once. Parents are quietly struggling with new sleep issues from said  weaning, but figure like most transitions, this too shall pass.

What I didn’t realize then was that though he was okay with the transition mentally, physiologically he had a very tough time falling asleep without his pacifier.  Over the next two months, he would wake up crying at least two times a night. He couldn’t fall back asleep for almost an hour each time. He also started waking up at 5:30-6:00am. Though this left him (and us!) exhausted during the days, sans pacifier he couldn’t figure out how to take his naps anymore–so those left us too. Without his nights and naps he would often cry his way through his daily transitions.

It was incredibly difficult for us to see him struggle like this. After two months of this, we couldn’t take it any longer.

So what did we do?

We reintroduced the pacifier.

At first I felt like a total failure for doing this. In the infinite black hole that is online mom forums, I could find no precedent. Who reintroduces a pacifier to their child at 3 years old? Also, wasn’t I damning him to a life of messed up teeth through this prolonged use?

But you know what? Now I’m so happy we made that decision. The day the pacifier came back, we got our son back. And our good life back. He went from an exhausted mess of a toddler, to the wonderful little man we know and love so much. He’s back to sleeping through the night until at least 7:30-8am. And back to napping almost every day.

And all it took was that darn little piece of rubber. We’ll worry about weaning him from it again in a year when he’s a little more mature and he doesn’t nap anymore.

Why do I share this marvelous failure with you?

Too often, all I read on these types of blogs are the successes. And successes are great.

But in this failure, I learned to do what I think is right for my child. And not get super caught up in following the “right” way to parent. I learned that I don’t have to strictly adhere to any guidelines that tell me when I absolutely need to do things. I learned that development is not a race.  I learned to listen to my instincts and listen to my child.

I also learned that sometimes what feels like a failure initially, can actually be a big victory.

The other day I told my pediatrician a condensed version of this saga and she was great. She said something to the effect of “Don’t worry about it. If your kid couldn’t transition within two weeks that means he obviously wasn’t ready. Try again down the road. And by the way, there is no real evidence anyhow that pacifiers contribute to overbites.”


ImageI read an article yesterday about a mom whose autistic son reacts really strongly (ala class A meltdowns) every time there is a break in his routine.

My husband and I just finished a marathon heart-to-heart the night before about how we can provide more consistency in routine to our own, particularly sensitive, 3-year old.

Now our situation is probably more of an edge case. While not autistic, we have always known our little guy is sensitive to changes in his surroundings (and his environment in general — for other parents with sensitive children, it was really helpful to read this book).

But even if you don’t have a sensitive child, I think all kids thrive on predictability and routine to make sense of a world that can be chaotic and overwhelming.

But anyhow, back to our situation, to further complicate matters, my husband and I have always preferred to live lively, hectic lives (the following may make you feel better about the stability of your own situation):

So, for example:

  • Our work schedules are flexible, but inconsistent. Even though we get to spend lots of quality time with our son, he often doesn’t know who is caring for him when, and what time we will be home.
  • We recently did a major home renovation which lasted six months, so there are still lots of workers coming in and out of our house.
  • He’s been on at least 75 flights (which does sound crazy — but it’s been mostly for family reasons and breaks down to about once a month over 3 years).
  • He moved 4 times in the first 2 years of his life — including across the country.

These breaks in routine have manifested mostly in sleep problems, but also in some recent intense cries during times of transitions. Travel is especially hard, and we usually suffer through about two tough days pre-travel and a week post.

So here is what we’ve done (or are trying to do) to create more consistency of routine for our little guy:

  • Cut all non-necessary travel (we tried to go with him to SXSW when he was 5 months old and vowed to never to do  a trip like that again — but then we continued to have a crazy travel schedule. But we’ve recently decided that we should only travel for important events, weddings, and family).
  • Try to have only one transition occur at a time. We’ve learned that combining events, like for example, taking away the pacifier a week before we have a trip scheduled, is a recipe for disaster. Now we plan each transition carefully (or try to), so they are spaced out and come one at a time.
  • Talk about “the plan” — a lot. As part of our bedtime routine, we always talk about what the day will be like tomorrow. We’ve also made a book that shows his routine and has pictures of his caregivers that can be swapped in and out of the day.

This is all still a work in progress for us. Please leave a comment if you have other suggestions that have worked well for you.