Did you get a COVID puppy?
Along with many other Americans, we decided that adding another pug in the midst of a global pandemic was a good idea. Not that we hadn’t thought of it before. We had already discussed adding another pug to our two-pug, five-child household, but it never seemed like the right time. But with all seven of us at home, what could go wrong?
I was more reticent than the other members of the family. What about Pebbles and BamBam, our six-year-old bonded pug littermates? How would they acclimate to a new addition?
My oldest child, who is now 20, responded:
“Well, you obviously didn’t consider that when you had my four younger siblings.”
That conversation had me thinking. What did my children think when I brought home a new baby? And then another, and another, and another?
Similar to children under the age of three, explaining to a dog that a new puppy is coming home does not work. You can read them books, and show them pictures, but do they really understand that the world they live in is about to be plunged into mayhem?
Figuring I was better prepared, I searched the web for tips and tricks, trying to delude myself that I could actually prepare for the new addition. Playpen set up — check. Stocked up on puppy food — check. Plenty of love for older dogs — check. It was going to be a giant pug love fest!
Then we brought home little Milo, a particularly spunky platinum pug. Who was smaller than I remember my other puppies. Too small, in fact, for a leash, so introducing them in the backyard went out the window. We sat on the couch, Milo thrashed about, and Pebbles and BamBam ran away. So much for that Instagram worthy first meeting.
Pebbles and BamBam seemed curious in those first new-puppy days and then decided that a squirmy, loud, four-legged friend was not what they wanted. (Did my older children feel the same about their siblings, all new and plump, when they came home from the hospital? I have decided it’s in my best interest not to ask them this question). The pugs retreated to their hiding spots, leaving Milo on his own.
When I finally felt comfortable enough to let the pugs run around together, Milo would immediately run and try and bite them. The older dogs would quickly growl and snap. My first reaction was to yell at the older dogs.
Ah! But this is where my parenting skills should (hopefully) shine! Here’s what being a mom of five has taught me:
Lesson 1 — It takes time
The day I brought home Milo, my other pugs did not take to him.
The next week they continued to ignore him.
The week after, they barked when he came near them (some progress)?
As adults, we recognize that relationships can’t be rushed. So why would we expect our dogs (or our older kids) to immediately accept and adore their new sibling?
Instead of catastrophizing that the pugs would never get along and that it was a mistake, I let the older dogs get used to the puppy slowly and on their own time. Did I do this with my kids? Or was I guilty of “come love your new baby sister” on more than one occasion?
Lesson 2 - Positive reinforcement works better than punishing
Instead of yelling at the older dogs (as I may have done with my older kids) that they shouldn’t growl (or yell or hit), I removed Milo from the situation when it looked like it was getting out of control. In my experience, dogs, like children, don’t respond to yelling.
When I tried to socialize them again, I put Milo on a leash (ok, that’s not possible with kids). I was able to gently pull him back if he got too rough, and Pebbles could play with him without getting hurt. And I rewarded Pebbles for acting appropriately, which went a lot further than yelling and punishing her for reacting in a natural way when she was bit by the puppy. Similar to when older children get mad at younger siblings for taking their toys — instead of punishing the older child for their natural reaction, reward the child when they do share nicely. The positive results are amazing.
Lesson 3 - Everyone needs their own space
Contrary to what is depicted on modern TV or social media, dogs don’t always get along. The same holds true for children. Dogs, children, people — we all have different energy levels with different temperaments.
Pebbles has a lot more energy than BamBam and is able to run with Milo. BamBam would rather not partake in crazy zoomies around the backyard. He’ll typically go off on his own and find an empty bed. The lesson here — everyone needs their own space. Having a small room or area to call your own is a great way to regroup. I also highly recommend for parents when possible.
Lesson 4 - Not everyone will get along all the time
This one is hard for me. I am the ultimate underdog (pun intended) champion. Seeing one dog, or one child, on their own invokes an immediate response from me, typically in the form of “why are you by yourself BamBam?” or “why are you not including your sister?”
But, if you have multiple dogs, or kids, the above scenario will likely happen. And the more you try and force inclusion, the more the separation you can cause. That’s just my experience and opinion. Championing one child over another and forcing them to be included will typically make their siblings dislike them, if for no other reason than that the “underdog” child has a different status and possibly more of their parent’s attention.
So I have learned to hold my tongue when I see an odd man out and maybe see if they want to hang out with me instead. Or in BamBam’s case if he wants a hug (or a blueberry).
Lesson 5 - It’s good to spend time together. And it’s good to spend time alone
Puppy time, like family time, is super important. Running in the yard together for the pugs, or family movie night for us, is a great way to bond and spend quality time.
And as important as family time is, it’s just as important to spend time alone with each of your offspring (furry and non furry). Today, I took Milo alone for his walk, and he could run as fast as I could go, with no one holding him back. Then I went back to get Pebbles and BamBam for a slower, puppy-free stroll.
When my kids were little, I didn’t have a lot of time to spend with them individually. Weekends were full, and by the time school was finished and homework was done, it was time for dinner and bed.
To carve out time for each child, I would keep them home from school or take them out earlier than my other kids, usually around their birthday. Sometimes we would have exciting adventures, other times we would just watch a movie. Most importantly, we got to enjoy each other’s company without a ton of outside distractions.
Today, my kids are older. And I still look to spend alone time with them, whether it’s an overnight trip, dinner out, or just a ride to get coffee.
I am happy to say that after a few rough weeks, Pebbles and Milo are friends. BamBam is coming around, and he’s still super close with his little sister, Pebbles, as well as all his non-furry siblings.
As for my five children, they have their ups and downs that are typical with larger families. I encourage their individuality and for them to support each other. Despite their age and personality differences, they are there for each other when one is in need. And for that, I am grateful.