Yeah. We’re those people. You know the ones. The people who treat their dogs like a furry kid — buying them birthday and Christmas presents, including them in family photos, maybe even calling the animal their “baby.” I understand how this makes people’s eyes roll hard into the back of their heads. I get it. We treat our little Jack Russell mix like a member of our family, and in return, we get unconditional love, unexpected entertainment and more white dog hair than you could ever imagine.
For nearly four years, she was our only baby, and we doted on her. Then we had a real human baby, and while things have changed a bit in our household (For example, when we say “Hi, Baby!”, we might be addressing the baby, or we might be addressing the dog. The dog always assumes we’re talking to her — confusion ensues.), there are a few striking similarities between having a dog and having a baby. In fact, there’s not a baby class on the planet that can prepare you as well for having a baby as a dog can.
Let me explain.
1. Poop. If you’ve ever had to pick up freshly minted dog poo on a walk, you know what I’m talking about. Of course, there’s always a bag around the hand so you don’t actually have to touch it, but you’re still handling someone else’s poop. Sometimes it’s even still steaming. As you might imagine, it’s an easy transition to handling baby blowouts with aplomb. Dog vomit is also good training for this.
2. Toys. When we got a dog, we also got her some toys, you know, so she had something to play with besides socks and couch pillows. What was once a furry squirrel and a plush bone is now a box full of stuffed animals, mind-stimulating puzzle toys, frisbees, balls and a random handkerchief she likes to chew on (I don’t get it either.). It’s like the toys got together and procreated. At least once a day, we have to go around the living room collecting the detritus of a hard day’s playing. Having just experienced the first Christmas with a kid, I can safely say the toy situation can get out of control quickly with a child, too. And like the dog, our baby is snot really into cleaning up after herself.
3. Perfection. Speaking of toys all over, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that my home will always be described as “homey.” That means, there will always be toys and baby things scattered about and everything will pretty much constantly be covered in a fine layer of white dog hair. It’s just the way it is right now. Through her shedding, accidents and general lack of regard for keeping things orderly, our dog has taught us to live with imperfection. That helped us transition when we suddenly had burp rags, blankets, toys, pacifiers, swings, seats and jumpers strewn all over tarnation. And the dog hair was just the gateway for snot, boogers and spit-up on all my clothes.
4. Interpretation. I distinctly remember in the middle of the night one night, our dog was in her crate whimpering the saddest little whimper you’ve ever heard. It wasn’t unlike her to cry in order to be let of her crate because she hated being in it, but there was something different about this whimper. Something was clearly wrong, but I didn’t know what. I let her out, and she headed straight to the back door. She went outside and immediately I knew: the bag of treats she’d stolen from the counter and eaten in its entirety had upset her tummy, badly. Our dog has other ways of communicating as well: a growl to indicate she’s bored or needs to go out, a bark to indicate someone’s on her turf, a bark to indicate annoyance/frustration, a whine to alert us that she wants whatever is on our plate. It’s not hard to figure out what she wants once we figured out her various communication techniques and used context clues. Babies pretty much operate the same way: a hungry cry, a sleepy cry, happy screams, angry screams and cries to let you know that something isn’t right — that’s when you have to put your context clues to work and figure out what the deal is. Gas? Dirty diaper? Ear infection? Dissatisfaction with the democratic process?
5. Spontaneity. Gone were the days of randomly picking up and going somewhere for the weekend — heck, even just for the whole day — when we adopted our dog. Unless she could come with us, we had to make arrangements for her care while we were away. Or we had to plan to be back to let her out by her routine afternoon potty break. If she came with us, we had to pack food, toys and a leash at a minimum. Let me tell you, that was all great preparation for the work and forethought it takes to travel with a baby or leave a baby in someone else’s care. Toys? Check. Dipes and wipes? Check and check. Pacifier. Check. Food? Check. Three extra outfits? Check. Check. Check. Kitchen sink. Check. It’s hard to be spontaneous when you have to plan for blowouts and naptime.
6. Selflessness. When you bring a dog into your home, you’re committing to caring for it for the rest of its life (or you should be, anyway). Our dog is dependent on us to feed her, keep her safe and healthy and love her. Sure, she could probably survive on her own for a while, but she’s a domesticated house dog whose main talents include burrowing under blankets on the couch and weaseling onto your lap whether you want her there or not. She probably wouldn’t make it long. As such, it’s our responsibility to, you know, keep her alive. That involves a certain amount of selflessness to do, whether it’s planning for her care while we’re away, making sure she’s getting enough exercise or getting her to the vet (and paying the bill) if she’s sick. I worry about her. I look forward to seeing her and giving her attention. In short, our dog’s health and contentment are important to us. Multiply that by 1,000. And then by 1,000 again. That’s what it’s like to have a baby. The level of selflessness obviously increases exponentially with babies as compared to pets, but the principal is the same: it’s not just about me anymore. And that’s really the best part.