Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A boy's best friend

John has a best friend and a protector - the first thing he looks for in the morning when he wakes up. His all-purpose word, "Hey-yo!" is most often directed not at me or Daddy, but at Bandit - our dog.

John loves Bandit.

Bandit is 13 years old, and part rat terrier and part something else fluffy and portly. He pre-dates me in our household, and has become quite the creature of habit.

So when we found out that I was pregnant, we did wonder how he would react to a newer, more demanding, louder member of the family. Would he bark all the time? Would he be jealous? Would he like the new baby?

One of the first things we worked on was bark training. At the time, Bandit would bark for no apparent reason. He would bark at menacing toddlers across the street. He would bark at squirrels. He would bark at me, coming out of the bedroom.

Obviously, we needed to get that under control before the baby arrived. So we began with shushing him at the first bark. We worked hard for several months on the barking, and finally he began to get the idea, and the barking was cut down to just a few instances.

We wanted to make sure, though, that Bandit would also be able to co-exist peacefully with a baby. We consulted with our vet, who recommended bring home baby blankets from the hospital for Bandit to sniff after the baby arrived.  We also worked on teaching Bandit boundaries, by not letting him on furniture anymore, and by learning to wait for permission before approaching. We spread out a blanket on the floor, and would make him wait at the edge of it for the OK to approach, paving the way for the day a baby would be sitting on that blanket, playing.

And when John did arrive, and we came home, we even deliberately planned how we would enter the house, after a friend suggested it. I went in first and greeted Bandit. After a few minutes, Tom (presumably the house alpha) brought John in and introduced him to Bandit.

And from there, it was love at first sight. While we'd never dream of leaving the two of them unattended together (mostly for Bandit's sake), Bandit immediately understood - and began protecting John. He sat next to John's infant carrier. The first storm sent Bandit running into John's room, not ours, as was his custom before.  Bandit's regular sleeping spot at night is in the hallway between John's nursery and our bedroom. If we're not quick enough to answer John's call, Bandit will come find us, and give us a look like, "You do hear that, right?"

And now that John is sitting, crawling and pulling up, Bandit has found his friend - who previously was stationary - can now come up to him and pet him. And John is learning that "gentle" is how you pet Bandit, that tails are not for pulling, and riding the dog is frowned upon in this establishment.

Now if only I could teach him that "gentle" is how you play with Mommy, too.

Bethany Erickson is the wife of Texas Health Resources web editor Tom Erickson and Mom to 7-month-old John.

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