I come from a family of pet-lovers and always had a dog growing up. My husband shares a similar history so, naturally, we've always had dogs. While we always considered ourselves "parents" to some extent (our dogs being our pride and joy), we found that many people were quick to share their contrary opinion. That being said, having a child is completely different from having a pet. Having given birth to our first child two months ago, I now very strongly both agree and disagree. Of course, children are different from dogs. But having dogs also prepared me for motherhood in more ways than I expected. Allow me to explain.
Right off the bat, when you think of having pets or having children, the word that probably comes to mind is "responsibility." And this is for good reason — both pets and children are reliant on you (a capable human adult) to take care of them and provide them with the basic needs that they are unable to provide for themselves. In my opinion, this truly is the largest common denominator. But my fur babies taught me much more than just responsibility.
The first is the importance of a schedule. When it comes to parenting, I believe in "to each their own." I don't believe there is a right or wrong way to do things, every family has what works for them and that's great! In our household, having a schedule is the key to contentment. All of the creatures in our home are much happier when they have structure to their day. The dogs know when it's time to eat or go for a walk, and the baby knows when it's time to nap or time to be awake. While my husband and I are both advocates for having a schedule, and would probably have one even if we didn't have pets or children, I've also learned that having dogs will keep you accountable. Let's just say your dogs won't forget to wake you up for breakfast. Having been pet owners for years, we're well accustomed to being held accountable when it comes to getting up early or penciling in time for a daily walk. This certainly helped us further cement our schedule-oriented mentality and prepared us for creating a schedule for our baby.
Similar to the importance of creating a schedule, our dogs reinforced to us the importance of structure. We believe in crate training our dogs. If you've ever tried to crate train a dog, then you may have noticed that they generally don't love it to begin with. But despite their adorable puppy protest, we've learned from experience that it's best to start on day one. The puppy may not like being in the crate at night, but they'll eventually adjust or, in our household, actually learn to love the crate and choose to be in there even when they don't have to be. We've learned that it's much easier to do the hard work upfront and have been applying that same tactic in our early phases of sleep training our baby. While he's too young to sleep in his crib overnight, we've been placing him there to nap during the day. When he first started napping in his crib in his nursery (as opposed to in a co-sleeper in the living room during the day with us), he didn't love it. But after a week or so, he came to understand that his crib was his personal safe space for sleeping. We're hopeful that doing this work upfront will help him more easily transition when it comes time to sleeping in the crib overnight.
Lastly, having dogs has made my husband and I pros at understanding nonverbal and unintelligible communications. We know exactly what our dogs want based on their physical cues and different barks. We know the difference between, "I need to go out," "Don't forget, it's dinner time," and "I'm bored, play with me." Babies are much the same as dogs — they can't communicate the same way as you and me, especially when they are newborns like my son. Because my husband and I are used to observing and picking up on nonverbal cues, we learned very quickly what different coos and body movements meant. A soft "goo" means "Hi, I like you," a distressed "way" means, "Feed me," and so on and so forth.
So yes, it's true: A dog baby is not a human baby. But both are dependent on you to love them and take care of them day in and day out. If you're a parent to fur babies and are wondering how that will translate should you decide to also have a human baby, rest assured that your pets have been teaching you more than you may realise.