- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 2, 2003

The big teeth of a large dog and the tiny fingers of small child don't always mesh. But they can, if you make an effort to prepare your four-legged friend for your new arrival of the tiny two-legged variety.

We knew before the Little Viking was born last May that our 90-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback was not very fond of children. His main objection was, and still is, their unpredictability. They suddenly decide to stick one of those tiny fingers in your eye; they shriek without any warning (or reason, it seems); and they pull your tail. What is there to like about these small people?

This attitude from our four-legged friend was fine as long as he didn't have to be around children very much, certainly not 24/seven. That changed radically in mid-May, as the Little Viking came home, removing Loke from the center of our attention, hearts and minds (but not far).

Baby books and veterinarians suggest preparing the dog for the baby's arrival by pretending a baby-size doll is "the baby." Sing to the doll, pretend to change its diaper and put it in a crib while the dog is watching, they suggest.

This may work perfectly well for others. It just seemed kooky to us and frankly, we doubted Loke would go for it. His brain may not have as many twists and turns as ours, but he's not stupid.

Another piece of advice we never took was kicking Loke out our bed. Yes, he sleeps at the foot of our bed, which may seem kooky to you. (We understand). Because we had decided against a family bed, meaning a bed in which the Little Viking and his possible future siblings would sleep with their parents, Loke's removal didn't seem necessary.

If we had decided on a family bed, experts recommend buying or making a comfortable doggie bed. Comfortable, cared-for dog equals happy dog.

Advice we did follow included bringing home from the hospital a piece of clothing the Little Viking had worn as soon as he was born to let Loke get used to his smell. We're not sure how much of a difference this made, but to us, it seemed like the right thing to do to give Loke a chance to prepare for things to come.

Obedience training for dogs, of course, is always important and even more so around a child. A frisky, uncontrollable 90-pound pooch can be a hazard. Loke, who was 2 years old when the Little Viking was born, had his training a long time ago. It has stuck pretty well, except sometimes when he's around his best canine friends.

Preparing the dog for the child and vice versa also includes making sure that the four-legged friend is up on his vaccinations. An outbreak of rabies surely would put a damper on things.

Being sure the dog is around other children before the arrival of the baby also can be a good way to prepare him; that way he can start getting used to the prying little fingers of toddlers. Loke didn't get much of that type of preparation. It may not have made a difference to him anyway because he generally doesn't like children.

He seems to have made an exception with the Little Viking, however, because he has realized that this little but ever-growing person is here to stay. No, Loke, we're not taking him back to the hospital. No, Loke, we're not going to get rid of him because he cries. No, Loke, most toys that are brought into the house don't belong to you.

This is quite incredible: Loke actually knows which toys are his and which toys are the Little Viking's. The term "just a dog," has been thrown out the window in our home. There's nothing "just" about Loke.

While all the preparation and training are sure to make a difference, my husband and I have found that attention, love and affection toward Loke while we're doing something with the Little Viking (feeding, rocking, playing) is the best recipe for success. Basically, we're treating Loke like an older brother to a certain extent, which seems to make everyone feel good.

When we go out for walks, we take both child and dog along, so Loke associates walking (which he loves) with the baby (whom he's starting to love).

We hope Loke and the Little Viking will become best friends in a year or two. Now, they mostly look at each other. OK, so Loke sometimes glares a little, but he also has made progress. He will sniff and (gently) nudge the Little Viking's head and jump up and lie (gently) next to our 8-month-old when he naps.

Teaching the Little Viking how to behave around Loke is the next step, now that he has started comprehending a little more about the world around him. No, little guy, don't pull Loke's tail, and don't pinch him, but pat him with a flat hand and so forth.

In the meantime, we also try to spend a few minutes every day alone with Loke, snuggling in bed or playing in the back yard. We want to show him that he matters very much. He just has had to grow up a little faster than he might have wanted. He may not be our "baby" anymore, but he's still a very "good boy."

Gabriella Boston is a features writer for The Washington Times. She and her husband welcomed their "Little Viking" in May. Send e-mail to [email protected]

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