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When Your Dog is No Longer Your Baby

Photograph by Twenty20

In the years before our son Declan was born, my wife and I obsessed over our Yorkie Ghostface Killah in ways that bordered on unhealthy. We would devote long stretches of time to just gazing adoringly at him. Weekends were all about Ghostface. During the summer, we would spend happy, lazy Saturdays and Sundays at the dog beach or the dog park. Because my wife hated to leave Ghostface by himself for too long, we spent a lot of money dropping him off at a doggie hotel during the day while we were both at work.

We spoiled Ghostface in a way that's hard to envision now that we have a baby. But until Declan was born, Ghostface was our baby, and we treated him like one. Then my wife got pregnant and, in what was probably not a terribly encouraging sign, Ghostface would bark at my wife's pregnant belly for no discernible reasons.

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Ghostface is a very emotionally intuitive one, and it was almost as if Ghostface intuited that whatever was inside my wife's swollen belly was going to usurp his place at the center of our universe and wasn't pleased about it one bit. If, indeed, that was what was going through Ghostie's face when he barked at my wife's belly, he was not wrong.

Pretty much the moment Declan was born, Ghostface went from being an endlessly doted upon little canine prince to an annoying furry thing that always seemed to be getting in the way. Ghostface was downgraded in our affections from number one to a distant second. And not surprisingly, Ghostface did not do well with the demotion.

He began acting out in the manner of the sullen, resentful but really smart teenager he often resembles. Sometimes his acting out took on a passive-aggressive quality, like when he would cling to any and all visitors to our condo, lavishing them with affection in no small part because, unlike us, they did not bring a tiny, weird little human into his home that transformed his previously charmed life into one that is still pretty happy, but not quite as charmed as it once was.

Now he's not just a sedentary little creature in a swing or being carried: he's a busy little fellow in a perpetual hurry to go everywhere, immediately. This has greatly increased the ways in which he can annoy Ghostface.

Sometimes Ghostface's frustrations over his new lot in life is less passive-aggressive than aggressive-aggressive, as when he registered his discontent over how we dote on the baby and not him by urinating enthusiastically on the bottom of our son's Exer-Saucer. At first, Ghostface didn't really seem to know what to make of Declan, who slept and commanded much of our time and energy but didn't really seem to do much of anything, as far as Ghostface was concerned, positive or negative.

Declan has recently started crawling up a storm, however. Our boy's newfound mobility poses new problems for Ghostface. Now he's not just a sedentary little creature in a swing or being carried: he's a busy little fellow in a perpetual hurry to go everywhere, immediately. This has greatly increased the ways in which he can annoy Ghostface.

Now Declan is able to lunge after the decrepit teddy bear and rubber ball that are Ghostface's favorite toys. He's able to toddle over to Ghostface's food and water bowl and threaten them as well. This displeases Ghostface greatly. So in an effort to keep him from snapping at Declan when he innocently goes after his stuff, I've started taking Ghostface to obedience training for the first time in his three years on earth.

We figured that doing something about our dog's behavior would, at the very least, be preferable to the option that we had previously been aggressively pursuing, which was doing nothing. Ghostface still backslides a fair amount but on the whole it has been a wonderful experience. Ghostface is slowly but surely learning how to behave, a process we probably should've started long ago, but better late than never.

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At obedience class, I feel like I've reconnected with the Ghostface I know and love, but I also feel like I'm blessed to have a new and improved Ghostface, one who does things I never imagined possible, like follow basic directions and behave. I'm hoping that Ghostface's irritation with Declan is temporary, and that once Declan is able to play with Ghostface, and not just annoy him, that they'll be fast friends the way Ghostface is with our nanny's three-year-old daughter, who delights in chasing him around, and being chased around by him.

I know my wife and I both have enough love in our hearts for our baby and what I'm proud to say we never referred to as our "fur baby." I just hope that Ghostface has room in his heart for a baby that may have usurped his position in our household, and our hearts, without ever knowing that he was upsetting a natural order that Ghostface was understandably pretty happy with.

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