Years before our son Noah was born, some of my office co-workers became new parents. Right around this time, Gina and I also got Heidi and were raising her from a ten-week-old puppy. During that period, I could easily draw comparisons between the stories I was hearing about child raising and similar situations we had with her. However, I never opened my mouth because I didn’t want to be that guy who compared someone’s kid to a dog.
I wish I’d known then what I know now, though. I’m not sure where we went wrong, but somewhere along the way, our dog has been raising our son while we weren’t looking.
It all started with Noah’s early vocalizations, which included an approximation of Heidi’s bark. It took us a while to pick up on it, so it’s hard to say how long this had been going on, but after a while we realized a “woop-woop” kind of sound would emanate from our son every time Heidi barked at a passing dog, pedestrian, deliveryman, or gust of wind. Even now, he’ll join in once she gets going, and any kind of toy dog also gets a “woop-woop.”
Naturally, we encouraged this behavior with laughter dog noises of our own. I suppose our son took this as permission to keep going. (Mental note: Noah will probably master dog language before English.)
Before long, more little signs began showing. Ever since he started crawling, Noah has gravitated toward Heidi’s food and water dish, unable to contain the urge to stick his hands into her water or to try to tip over the dish. He is also fascinated by her dog food container. It didn’t take long for him to figure out how to open the lid, bypassing its limited safety features designed to keep out dogs more than humans. You would think that he would use his newfound knowledge to help his fellow dog-kind by sharing food or at least stashing it away for Heidi to find. But instead, he can quite often be found hiding under the kitchen table, sifting through whatever dog food he can reach, opening and closing the container at will but keeping it all for himself. We have two measuring cups that we use to portion out Heidi’s food, and I’ve caught him on camera with one of the cups in his mouth, clamped against his teeth, while standing innocently near the container. Thankfully, to date he has only tried to taste the food once (that we know about), and it didn’t seem to thrill him.
Of course, babies and toddlers usually have something in their mouths, but I’m not so sure that they always use their mouth as a carrying case while they crawl from place to place. I’m pretty sure Noah picked this up from watching Heidi carry her toys around. He’s successfully traveled with bottles, spoons, and a few toys this way. It’s multitasking the canine way!
Heidi loves when Noah eats, because our little collaborator usually drops scraps off the side of the high chair specifically for her. She happily fulfills the duty of licking them up and waiting expectantly for the next one. Sometimes, however, Noah will be crawling around hours after a meal when he’ll mysteriously lean down and lick the floor. Why do this? Leftover food particles? Just to see what it tastes like? We may never know, but odds are our dog does.
This relationship also extends past food. Ever since we got Heidi a furry new bed that will keep her warm these long, cold nights, Noah has claimed it as his couch when she’s not around (and sometimes even when she is). In fact, the only things Noah doesn’t seem interested in sharing with her is her dog toys – he usually leaves them be. Go figure.
What could be causing this canine imitation? Just a toddler being silly? Flattery in the form of imitation? Some wisdom Heidi imparted to Noah in dog language? Whatever the case may be, I’m just glad that they are getting along and that Heidi seems to be an okay parent, since none of our human lessons seem to be sinking in. I guess I owe her a bone sometime soon.
And hey, there’s always another bright side: we’re going to save a fortune on beds, clothes, education and food if he turns out to be another dog!