I love this book! Despite the way it looks, it’s really much more than children’s book. All of the McDuff books have some good lessons for adults (thanks to the owners, Fred and Lucy, being slightly clueless), but this one in particular gets right to the heart of bringing a baby home to a dog. I sometimes read McDuff and the Baby to my Dogs and Babies students, and I bet I could base the whole course on just the lessons in this book!
McDuff is a much-loved, more than a little indulged, Westie with a beautiful life before baby arrived. Fred reads him the comics in the morning and feeds him sausages, Lucy takes him for walks in the woods, they all sit together on the couch and listen to music.
“Every day in every way McDuff was happy.”
Isn’t that the truth? Dogs live the good life in an adult-only home, don’t they?
The body language is beautifully drawn throughout this book so you can see exactly what McDuff looks like when he’s happy. There’s a scene where Lucy and Fred are sitting on the couch with McDuff, gazing dreamily off into the distance. I point this out to the class and ask them to draw a mental picture around “the family” — clearly McDuff is in the picture.
This all changes on the next page.
“But one day a stranger arrived…It was a baby.”
Lucy and Fred are all lovey-dovey snuggled up with eyes only for the baby. No one is looking at McDuff, and he is on the other side of the room with a “Hmm, I’m not sure about this” look on his face. He’s not growling or anything so he must be “fine,” right?
Do you see how easy it can be to overlook your dog? If you drew your circle around “the family,” McDuff would not be in it.
It gets worse for McDuff as Lucy and Fred keep busy with the baby and there is no time for his usual activities. McDuff is always close-by, trying to be with his family, but they step over or around him as he looks more and more sad. No one is sleeping and even McDuff looks all rumpled in the middle of the night. Little-by-little, McDuff’s tolerance and goodwill is being worn down. You can see it happening with the turn of every page.
McDuff has very little tolerance left when the baby inevitably does something he doesn’t like.
“The new baby pulled McDuff’s beard, and he did not want to be nice.”
Would YOU want to be nice at this point? McDuff later growls at the baby from across the room. It doesn’t faze the baby – she laughs. (And, apparently, Lucy and Fred, being the clueless types, aren’t in the room to witness this.)
OH! But here’s where the story takes a turn for the better!
McDuff stops eating. Lucy and Fred finally take notice of McDuff, because they do love him dearly, and they turn the whole thing around!
Fred bets McDuff misses the comics. Lucy remembers the walks in the woods with all the good smells. They let him sit in a chair at the table and feed him his favorite vanilla rice pudding with sausage slices! OK, well, presumably your dog isn’t THAT spoiled, but the point is that they notice their dog and think about what’s important to him and find ways to meet his needs.
In the end, the whole family goes outside to listen to their music – an accommodation that allows Lucy and Fred to enjoy their hobby and include the whole family — dog and baby, too. McDuff takes a fresh look at the baby. Instead of growling, he says, “Woof.” The baby keeps her hands to herself and says, “Woof,” back to McDuff.
Now they are on the right track! Maybe Lucy and Fred aren’t so clueless after all. The author and illustrator, Rosemary Wells and Susan Jeffers, certainly aren’t!
- Pay attention to what’s important in your dog’s routine. Even if you find you can’t keep up exactly with your dog’s routines, you can find a substitute.
- Know what your dog looks like when he or she is happy and relaxed.
- Your baby is a “stranger” to your dog, and your dog has not spent the last nine months preparing.
- Never forget to look at your dog and talk to him or her as you attend to your baby.
- Look at your dog for body language changes.
- Dogs will often remain in trying situations because they want to be with you. Don’t assume the dog will leave on his own.
- Hope is not a method of bite prevention. “Lucy and Fred hoped McDuff would like the baby…”
- Babies and toddlers will not heed warning signals from your dog.
- Dogs and babies must never be left in the same room without an attending adult.
- A growl is a call for something to change. Most dogs will growl at one time or another as your child moves through toddlerhood. It should not be ignored, but it doesn’t mean your dog can’t move on to live safely and happily with your child.
- Babies and toddlers, if given the opportunity, will touch dogs in ways dogs do not like. This will not foster friendship.
- You WILL have time to bring back more of the dog’s favorite activities. The crazy early time with a newborn does not last forever.
- Dogs are more comfortable with babies who do not grab at them and might even enjoy being around babies who keep their hands to themselves.
- Your new routines with dog and baby might even be better than the old routine!
- Given space and a chance to recharge, dogs can take a fresh look and be okay with the baby.
I think all dog people should carry a copy of this book and be ready to whip it out whenever the topic of dogs and babies comes up! Sit with your friends and walk through the pages together — don’t just hand the book to people. Discuss it! There’s a lot of wisdom in this little book!