Jen wanted to bring home a puppy as soon as we moved into our new house and knowing that a baby was on the cards soon, I gave in. We added Leo into our family in October 2015 and despite a challenging 1 year since then, I realize how he has helped us prepare to be first time parents. Read on, and you will understand how.
1. Sense of responsibility- Having a baby brings different level of responsibilities. Just like raising a puppy. Leo couldn’t do anything on his own when we brought him home for the first time. Of course, he was able to sit, walk, run and sleep by himself but he needed our support to do all these. For example, taking him out to poo, giving him food or putting him in the crate. For the first time, we had this sense of ownership, responsibility and accountability towards another living being. It is completely different from taking care of your parents or your partner. They are not dependent on you to eat or sleep. We took Leo to Puppy training classes, to the Vet whenever he fell sick, to the groomers for his regular bath and spa, daily walks, protected him from other dogs whenever he felt scared, etc. Albeit at varied levels, isn’t the concept same with raising a child?
2. Sleepless nights- Babies will need to be fed frequently throughout the day (and night) and they need to be cleaned every now and then as they cannot control their urge to pee or poo. Same with puppies. Puppies have a small bladder and they cannot hold their pee for more than 2 hours. So Jen and I took turns taking Leo out to the Garden whenever he cried at night. I am a tight sleeper and I was clearly annoyed the first couple of weeks getting up every alternate hour but the very thought of a young puppy suffering because you do not want to wake up is unimaginable. Within two months of Leo’s arrival, we were getting up only once in the night to let him out. It will be longer and more strenuous with a human baby but for a first-time-dad like me, this experience with Leo was like a crash course in parenting and a good lesson that some things worth losing sleep over. Wish me luck though!
3. Coordination between Mum and Dad- With Leo, we soon realized that mixing up responsibilities would not work. We split the tasks we had at hand whether it was taking care of Leo, cooking, cleaning or grocery shopping. Jen wakes up at 6.00 am and has to be at work by 8.15 am whereas I wake up at 7.15 am and need to start at work by 9.30 am. So Jen feeds Leo at around 7.00 am, he plays for a bit and then I will take him for a walk at 7.30 am. Keeping Leo’s crate clean, keeping him on lead when out, picking up his poo and sanitizing the patio are some of my responsibilities whereas Jen takes care of his grooming, feeding, letting him out of the crate if he still cries at night etc. Also, if Jen cooks dinner, then I will keep Leo occupied and vice versa. This coordination of tasks helps us give enough attention to each area of our lives, including Leo, and helps prevent overwhelming one person. What I also found was that before Leo, Jen and I used to bicker constantly about our responsibilities but now our understanding has increased and we argue rarely with issues related to house etc. Of course, you can do this coordination without even a dog/puppy but we do see a clear difference in how we handled our relationship before and after Leo. With a human-baby, this coordination skill will go a long way and will help develop a healthy bond between the parents as well as the baby.
4. Nappy business- This was one of the toughest part for me when we brought Leo home. I retched and vomited for good 4 months every time I had to pick up after Leo. One year down the line now, I have gotten used to it and it rarely bothers me. I am quite sure this experience will help with all the nappy changing when the baby arrives.
5. Clean home?- An untidy home is part and parcel of having a baby. So, if you are a cleanliness freak like me, then prepare yourself to embrace the mess. I like to keep my house clean and things in place (not to the extent of obsessiveness, but I take pride in my house) but since the day we brought Leo home, the place we live in has turned into a war zone. It was difficult, but soon I accepted the fact that no matter what you do, you cannot keep your house looking shiny and things in their respective places. This is a phase and Leo has helped us enjoy it and prepare for it.
6. Patience- I love my nephew to bits but I used to get very irritated and angry whenever he would put on the ‘naughty’ mask or throw a tantrum. I would feel bad later though as I know kids will always be kids. Puppies are notorious. They will poo and pee wherever they want, rip apart your sofa, bark when you are resting, pull you on the lead, run away from you during walks, jump on you, scratch you all over your arms, bite you etc etc etc. The list is endless. All this will stop once you train your puppy but like everything else, there is a learning curve which you will have to put up with. Without patience and compassion, you will not be able to handle a puppy for more than 2 months. The same qualities, that you need as parents.
7. A new Language- Dogs cannot talk in human language but they have their subtle moves through which they will either communicate with you or will make it easier for to understand what they want. Although, I am still learning, I guess I can understand when Leo wants something, without producing any vocal sounds. Babies are not much different in the formative years until they start speaking and this capability to decipher body language signals will serve as an invaluable skill to understand your baby’s needs and addressing them.
8. Understanding yourself and your partner- Leo brought out sides of me which Jen or even my parents had not seen and I saw Jen in a completely different light, after Leo. I considered myself as incapable of being a parent since I was short-tempered, irritable, lazy and irresponsible but with Leo it was always the opposite. Jen even complemented me that I would make a good father. But whenever I handled a situation incorrectly with Leo, Jen will help me understand what I was doing wrong and how I should manage it better the next time. Likewise, seeing Jen with Leo gave me immense confidence that she knows what it takes to be a good Mother but not everyone is perfect, so if I felt she could have done something differently, I will share it with her. This practice has really strengthened our mutual understanding of each other and; knowing each others’ strengths and weakness helps us function as a unit.
9. Endless love- A dog’s love towards its dog-parents is at a different dimension compared to human love. Dogs teach you how to love someone unconditionally and without any expectations. Leo would forgive our mistakes and still come and lick our faces as if nothing happened. He would wait for hours at the door if both of us had to go out for any reason. I would ask Leo to leave me alone if I was busy with something and he will sit there waiting for me to call him back, and when I do, he will come jumping at me. I hope we will be able to love our baby (and Leo) just how Leo does us.