We have two cats and a dog sharing our home currently, and I have been feeling really happy recently about the temperaments of the animals that have come into our lives. Our dog has mellowed with age, and now only jumps around spastically when people come over for a few minutes, and only barks at nothing a mere dozen or so times per day. Our cats are content as long as the food bowl is full, there is a ray of sunshine somewhere to sleep in, and someone has accidentally left an open glass of water unattended for them to dip their paws into and shake around.
Since the baby came to live with us, the dog has needed a little more attention from time to time, but gets it in a positive way – by climbing onto our laps while we’re seated on the floor, or by nudging our hands with his head to get some ear scratches. The cats are the cats. They sometimes like to be in the same room with us, and once in a while want to curl up on our laps in the evenings, but it’s always on their terms. The dog will happily engage in playing tug or accept and return any displays of affection we initiate, and the cats…well, at least they don’t bite us if we try to pet them. Usually.
The baby is a special case in the eyes of the animals. The dog only uses 10% of his strength when he plays tug with the baby, and the cats allow him to grab fistfuls of their fur and poke at their ears. We work on “gentle” and open-palm petting, and he’s getting there. But for now we are so grateful that the pets are so tolerant of their newest, tiniest fan.
I heard someone once describe phases of babyhood in terms of “cat and dog phases,” and this rang so instantly true to me. Cat phases with the baby have been marked with increased independence, decreased affection, easily ruffled feathers (fur?) and decreased tolerance for parent-directed activities. Dog phases have been marked by increased compliance, easier temperament, and increased affection (both accepted and initiated). I have an advanced degree in child development, but this is a much more holistic way of conceptualizing the changes that happen in babyhood than anything I learned in grad school.
Yesterday the baby gave me the stiff-arm everytime I tried to hug him, and when I wouldn’t let him hold his soiled diaper he bit me in the arm. Today, he hugged me no less than 74,563 times. When I stroked the back of his head while he was playing, he leaned back into my hand and rubbed his head back and forth with a small smile on his face. He sat at a breakfast restaurant with us and happily ate a blueberry muffin while smiling at everyone he saw. He followed me from room to room while I put away laundry and did other household chores and only tried to mess with dangerous things a handful of times. One day does not make a phase, but here’s hoping.
So, Fabulous Thing #38: Entering a dog phase.