Overindulging neurotic dog is a red flag for parenting skills
Q: Am I completely unreasonable in thinking that having a neurotic dog for the past two years has somewhat prepared my spouse and me for a baby? Our first is due in August, and I'm starting to freak that we won't be able to handle it.
Then I think about our dog, who has to be near us at all times, has separation anxiety — he chewed his skin raw when we tried to vacation without him — will not let anybody else feed or walk him, and has accidents all the time that we have to clean up.
We have definitely had to change our lifestyles because of him, including no vacations without him, always going home right after work, etc., but we love him and don't mind that sacrifice. At all similar to a baby?
Dog and Baby?
A: Yes, but not the way you think.
Your sacrifices are sweet, admirable in their intent, and completely uninformed. If you were anxious enough to chew yourself bloody, would you just suck it up while your spouse was at work, and demand s/he rush home every night? Or would you address the underlying problem?
Your dog is miserable, even when you're around, because you're enabling his anxiety instead of fixing it.
You've also created a perfect analogue for child-rearing. One of the greatest challenges in caring for needy, dependent creatures like dogs or babies is to resist the pull of letting your pet/baby raise you. You are the alpha. You are in charge.
Obviously, you can't expect dogs or newborns to work a can opener; being in charge includes nurturing. But an effective leader establishes realistic expectations of the pack's abilities, and runs the household accordingly.
Without that understanding of how their charges function, good people often err on the side of compassion. They rush home to anxious doggies, hover over toddlers to break the slightest fall. It's better than alternatives like neglect or abuse, but it creates its own set of serious problems.
Such as, self-mutilating dogs and owners who can't leave the house.
Whenever you're asking yourself "Is it supposed to be this difficult?" that's the time to shelve your assumptions and start getting more informed.
For dog information, there are vets and trainers; for babies, pediatricians. For both (or anything), I also strongly urge cultivating a community. Individuals aren't always reliable — we can all cite a jaw-dropping nugget we've received from an elder — but collective experience can be a healthy foil to ideas we form in a vacuum.
Since dog parks tend to attract informed owners (i.e., those who socialize their dogs), the regulars might have tipped you off two years ago that anxiety was treatable. Likewise, seasoned parents will gladly tell you, yes, older babies can and should learn to sleep on their own.
Your dog-rearing style screams neurotic baby in progress: Rushing to meet every little need is ideal for newborns, progressively less ideal as babies grow, and emotionally crippling when you keep fussing past the point when kids can start helping themselves.
Your freakout is normal, but you can tame it with balance: Strive to be equal parts informed, compassionate and in charge — and careful not to take any of these too far. And, please, ask your vet about a behaviorist who can help that poor dog.