How Pia Baroncini Prepared Her Dogs for Her New Baby
The creative multi-hyphenate and dog rescue advocate is mom to three big mushes and one tiny human.
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When my husband and I decided we were going to start a family, Chi Chi — our English Bulldog — was our main concern. We had two dogs at the time. Our first, Nina, is a rescue Pit Bull who I’ve had for seven or eight years. She loves affection but she lives in her own world, so I’ve never really worried about her. Our second, Chi Chi, is intensely our child. My husband and I were in a long-distance relationship in the beginning, so Chi Chi would fly back and forth on planes with us everywhere — wherever we went, we knew Chi Chi was coming. We figured that if we got a third dog, that would ease Chi Chi into accepting a new family member, our rationale being that he would get a taste of not all the attention being on him, realize he was still loved, and then not resent the baby when she arrived.
Nina is deaf and Chi Chi is far from being a guard dog, so we were looking for a dog who would be as family-oriented as they were protective of property. We were also looking for a “nanny dog” who’d influence Chi Chi’s relationship with the baby. Everywhere I looked, people recommended Mastiffs. We ended up manifesting the perfect puppy who needed a home, Nutella.
As soon as I became pregnant, we started bringing up “the baby” to the dogs. I’d point to my stomach and ask where “the baby” was, and when they came near I’d remind them to be “gentle with the baby,” so by the time Carmela came they knew “gentle with the baby” as a command. We also made sure the dogs spent a lot of time around kids before Carmela was born. Nutella is 100 pounds and Chi Chi is obsessed with balls, so my friend would bring her seven-month-old son over and we’d make it clear that the dogs could not touch his ball. For the little boy, that meant telling him not to throw the ball in the dog’s face because that’s mean — it’s teasing the dog. And for the dogs, that meant letting them play but correcting their behavior any time they’d put their mouths on the ball. We didn’t lock the dogs up or use fear-based training methods — we taught them that they had to figure out how to coexist.
I knew we’d need a routine for all of the dogs when the baby arrived. Going on walks with them is impossible because they’d need to be walked for 10 hours just to get their zoomies out! But we found a group of dog people in the neighborhood who meet up at a huge park and let their dogs all play together, so we take Chi Chi and Nutella there every morning. We started this routine halfway through my pregnancy, so by the time Carmela came, they knew that we still start the day with something that’s just for them, and they can get all their energy out.
When Carmela was born, we wanted things to be business as usual. When we’d post photos of the dogs with us in bed, people would joke, “It won’t be like that when the baby gets here!” I was like, why would the dogs not be in our bed? Our whole life doesn’t have to change with the baby. When you’re pregnant, your body’s already changing and you’re adjusting to so much — but having the world turn upside down felt, to me, unnecessary.
One of the first things we did was let the dogs into Carmela’s room. I’ve seen a trainer recommend keeping the dogs away from the baby’s room, but allowing them to relax in there is what worked for us. There’s a daybed in her room, and I got a trundle bed that the dogs can lounge on. I didn’t want to keep the dogs away — I worried they might get too curious or start resenting her. So, they can be in her room with boundaries: they can’t jump on her chair, they can’t jump in her crib, and they can’t touch her toys. And they love it. Every time we change her diaper, the dogs are there. Sometimes I’ll go into Carmela’s room and Nutella’s just lying in there by herself.
We give Chi Chi a lot of special time just for himself. He’s the only one who gets to go to work with his daddy at Ghiaia Cashmere in Pasadena. We give him lots of special attention so he knows the baby isn’t enemy number one. I also make sure that when the dogs are close to the baby, I don’t get mad at them. I don’t yell at them or tell them to go away. Instead, I make sure that being around her doesn’t become a negative thing — I’ll pet them and ask, “Are you gentle with the baby?” Last night when I was breast-feeding, Nutella put her head on the breast-feeding pillow at my waist. I could have pushed her off, but that would have created a negative interaction between the two of them. So now I make sure that when I’m breastfeeding, I lean over and kiss Nutella, and I ask her, “Do you love the baby?”
And it goes both ways; every animal and child in this house needs to know that they’re not top dog. Carmela’s going to have to learn to love the animals and accept their boundaries, too. I was bitten by a dog when I was little — I got too close to his face when he was eating and he snapped at me — but I didn’t let that stop me from loving dogs. We trained Nutella to let us take her toys away from her when she’s chewing: we’d give her a bone, and as soon as she’d get really into the bone we’d take it away, then we’d kiss her face and give the bone back. And, of course, we’ll teach Carmela not to go near a dog’s face when they’re eating! We can’t keep her away from the dogs at all times just in case something happens — life isn’t like that.
Especially for me, as it happens. Every time someone in the neighborhood finds a dog, I rescue them and try to get them adopted. When I was nine months pregnant, I brought a Pit Bull home who I’d found on the street in Silver Lake. My husband will say, “You can’t keep bringing dogs home!” But I can’t go around saying I love animals and then not open my home to a stray dog — it’s hypocritical. We’re always willing to make space for more humans and more animals. That’s just how our home is.
Disclaimer: This is my personal story. I’m not a certified dog trainer, so please consult one if you need professional advice on introducing dogs to babies.
They’ll always remember their first childhood pet — this intro is just the beginning.
Without turning your home into a circus.