My Dog Will Always Be My First ‘baby’—And I Won’t Apologize For It

For all those with fur babies!

Living in New York City makes raising children exponentially more difficult, or at least it seems that way. Hearing stories of eager parents applying for preschool before their baby is even born and watching exhausted moms wrestle strollers up the subway stairs give me and my husband pause about starting a family. So, we decided to begin with a four-legged furry “baby” and go from there.

Now that I am a “puppy parent,” I consider my dog my child. Yes, I know that pets are not the same as human children. I realize some people think it’s ridiculous to refer to a dog as a baby, but I don’t at all. As we’ve bonded with our pup, I’ve noticed our nurturing and protective instincts emerge and our capacity for unconditional love grow. Not to mention, our pup turned our schedule upside down, giving us a taste of the trials and tribulations that parents to human children experience.

Most of my friends are also puppy parents with no children, so they wholeheartedly agree. Still, I’ve gotten pushback from mom friends who refuse to acknowledge my perspective. They insist that until I have real children of my own I couldn’t possibly understand the parenting experience. Hearing parents say, “You’ll get it when you have kids,” drives me crazy.

Bringing Home Baby (Errr—Puppy)

While training a puppy is no picnic, our West Highland Terrier, Poppy, surprised us both by instantly filling our home with joy. Just hearing the pitter-patter of her paws coming down the hallway brought a smile to my face.

Jennifer Nied

I’ve especially enjoyed watching my husband, a first-time dog owner, bond with our puppy as she’s grown. One morning, he caught her mid-squat, and while relocating her to the proper potty spot, she finished up her business — in his hand. We called that his “initiation.”

He often took on the middle-of-the-night pup duty, tasked with calming our sensitive pup. As a result, they share a super-close connection and she brought out a new nurturing, perhaps even paternal, side in him. Watching them together made me love him even more.

Bringing a dog into our home has given us a preview of what we’d be like as parents: I learned that he is the “good cop” and I’m definitely the “bad cop” when it comes to pup parenting, so we balance each other out.

What Science Says About Our Bond With Dogs

There’s research to back up the deep connection people feel to their pets: Scientists found that gazing into your dog’s eyes can trigger the release of oxytocin, just like when a mother makes eye contact with her baby.

And that bond goes both ways: Studies show that dogs often have a “favorite person” — and it’s not always simply the human who fills their food bowl.

Jennifer Nied

“A Whole New Schedule”

Having a puppy in our lives also necessitated a whole new schedule. In place of lazy weekend mornings spent sleeping in, we were out walking Poppy in Central Park before the coffee shops even opened.

Evenings also revolved around dog walks. Instead of Netflix with wine and popcorn on the couch, we spent at least an hour wandering the paths of Central Park. Surprisingly, we never felt like we were missing out and relished the newfound quality time with each other and our four-legged family member.

Jennifer Nied

A Community Of Puppy Parents

Much like parents of tiny humans often become friends with other parents at preschools and playgroups, we discovered an incredible community of fellow dog lovers in our Upper West Side neighborhood. I often learned the dogs’ names weeks before their human owners, chit-chatting while the dogs wrestled on the sidewalk.

We became fast friends, all thanks to our dogs. The best part is they all live around the corner, literally, and after many random run-ins, we started planning play dates, organizing walks and hosting pup-friendly happy hours.

We took it to the next level with a birthday celebration for our dogs, their owners and friends. I baked “pup” cakes for the dogs and cupcakes for the humans. We even brought in balloons and party favors. Some might see a dog birthday party as over the top, but we love these creatures and want to celebrate them and the friendships we made because of them.

Unlike parents, my husband and I still have the flexibility to travel just the two of us, thanks to my mom who puppy-sits. However, we feel incomplete when our pup isn’t along for the journey, so we bring her whenever we can.

She’s content sniffing her way through planes, trains, buses and cars. She even comes home for the holidays with us and has several presents under the tree waiting for her from her “cousins” and “grandparents.” This summer, she will be part of our extended family photos, too.

Jennifer Nied

Maternal Instincts

Though other people sometimes call me Poppy’s “mom,” I won’t go so far as celebrating Mother’s Day. Still, I have noticed new maternal instincts in myself.

One night when Poppy was misbehaving in the park, she ran toward the street and without hesitating, I leaped between her and an oncoming car. The car was barely going 15 mph, but my protective instinct kicked into gear. I often feel like I have an extra pair of eyes honed in on her when we’re out and about, much like the mom of a rambunctious toddler.

I get that it might sound strange, maybe even a little offensive, for me to compare my dog to a child. But for me, in this phase of life, my pup is just as meaningful.

Jennifer Nied

I still love human children — evidenced by my obsession with my growing brood of nieces and nephews — and I hope our family will expand beyond our dog one day. But no matter what happens next, my dog is — and always will be — my first baby.