My biggest fear

I feel like I can say this here and be heard with compassion and understanding, even though I still feel afraid to say it.

I want to tell you my biggest fear, the potential moment that causes me the most dread and anticipated heartache.

So, biggest fear: I am afraid that if and when we have children, we won’t be able to keep Pyrrha.

I can barely even write about this without wanting to cry, but it’s been weighing on my mind and heart lately — even though I still think we’re a few years away from having children.

Pyrrha is extremely afraid of children, especially small ones. This has been a long-standing phobia of hers. The first family that adopted her returned her to the rescue after just a few days because of her extreme fear of their small children, which had the potential to slide into aggression. Without my intervention, I think she could have bitten several children, and she has already nipped my cousin, which I saw as a serious warning (it was not playful). She is overly interested in toddlers, and not in a sweet way, but in a way that makes me extremely nervous, so much so that she is always crated behind a closed door if there are small kids afoot. I cannot trust her in any environment in which children are loose. Kids themselves are unpredictable, but her behavior around them is not encouraging. She is able to coexist in a room with calm, quiet kids over the age of 8 or 9, so long as they don’t try to interact with her, but that seems to be her limit.

I adopted Pyrrha heart-first, not thinking very rationally that we’d probably have children one day and that her phobia of them could pose a problem. I wasn’t even thinking about the future when I saw her; all I saw was a sweet, shy, beautiful dog who needed a home, and I said YES and didn’t think anymore about it.


Practically, I am thankful that we have great resources, in our trainer and in her connections to behaviorists, who could help us navigate the perils of simultaneous child- and dog-rearing. I think Pyrrha could learn how to adapt to a home with noisy, scary little humans, but she wouldn’t be happy in such a home — and we’d have to really limit her life and interactions with the family to keep a child safe. And I don’t know if I could live with myself, seeing her so removed from our lives. Naturally, this is all very subjective and hypothetical, but I don’t think I’m overstating my fears — or hers, for that matter.

If I’m honest with myself, Pyrrha is one of the main reasons I haven’t wanted to have children. Because I know how unhappy they would make her.

The thought of having to give Pyrrha to someone else, to a stranger, KILLS me, as much as I’d feel if I had to give my own child to a stranger. Furthermore, the thought of surrendering her back to her rescue, who would slap a shock collar on her as soon as they could, makes me want to pull a Beloved. Yes, really. (English majors will get this reference? It’s too dark/sad to explain…)

Obviously, I’m not going to make any decisions about her future before we have children. Who knows? Maybe the miraculous will happen, and she’ll be able to coexist in a household with small kids. I don’t even want or expect her to like children, because I don’t think that will ever be possible; I’d just want her to feel happy and secure and have the wherewithal to remove herself from stressful situations. Naturally, we’d protect Pyrrha AND our potential child. But part of me wonders if it would be possible to do both simultaneously, as I’m not sure Pyrrha would ever be happy in a home with small children.

I don’t think I’m looking for any answers, necessarily, but I’m always happy to hear counsel. This makes me heart feel so heavy.

25 thoughts on “My biggest fear

  1. I have no children and no answers. I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to seriously consider the potential effects/affects (barely passed English much less an English major) on everyone. Too many people get a child or dog without thinking about how the two will do together.

  2. This was a real concern of mine when Joe and I were together with both Shelby and Panzer. They’re both so nervous around most people and kids especially. I still worry about it now and told Joe that if/when he gets in another relationship and maybe if/when the kid thing comes into play I hope he’ll include me in a serious discussion about what we’ll do with the dogs. My best advice for you though would be to just continue working with Pyrrha as much as you can around kids. I think she can definitely be trained to come around and you’ve got lots of time to make her as stable with kids as you can 🙂 And I do actually believe that there is something to be said about dogs being able to hear/smell/sense a pregnant woman so maybe Pyrrha will innately understand the baby belongs to you/is a part of you, whom she loves. That sounds a bit mystical I suppose, but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility. Not that I’d count on that. Just keep training, just keep training 🙂 (said in my best Dory voice)

    1. Thanks, Aimee; I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I think you’re right: (1) Keep training around kids, in safe ways, and (2) it is true that dogs know about pregnancy/sense a change. Pyrrha has two things in her favor: (1) she loves me devotedly, and (2) she LOVES food. Loves food so much that she’ll overcome big fears to get it. Kids are almost always attached to food in some way, especially when they’re young, so I hope that, in the beginning, could help her attach baby with positive things (food).

  3. I understand your fears. I adopted my first dog that was truly mine and not our family dog when I was 20. A few years later she snapped quite viciously at my 6 year old niece and I realized Daisy was afraid of kids. I worried a lot about her during my first pregnancy. But when I brought home my first baby, she was curious about this small blob that smelled human, sounded near human, but couldn’t really move. By the time he was mobile, Daisy was used to him. I never left them unsupervised, but she really seemed to be comfortable with him. I think the gradual changes in his development helped her to not be afraid of him. There is a huge difference between newborns and toddlers.

    IF you have to give Pyrrha up, then you will find the perfect person to take her. You have the commitment, resources and community to make sure Pyrrha finds someone who will give her the kind of home she deserves.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing, Beth; I really appreciate it. And that’s an encouraging story. I have that hope, too, that her gradual relationship with an infant, getting used to it being around all the time, would transition her into at least relative calmness about that infant becoming a toddler (her biggest fear).

  4. It’s great that you’re confronting this fear rather than burying it. Others have offered solid advice so I’ll just offer support – you’re doing great by being ahead o!

  5. Thank you for being so honest. I can’t imagine how hard that would be. Honestly, I’m still on the fence about children but I often think about fostering and possibly adopting in the future. When I think of the home check and Ru’s ridiculous reaction to strangers, I cringe. Would we pass? How much emphasis do they put on the pets in the home? I have no idea!

    Of course every dog is different, but my brother had a similar experience. His great dane was incredibly uncomfortable around children and strangers in his home, and the first few nights with the baby were absolutely horrible for my brother and his wife. His dog was anxious, pacing, panting, and terrified. With slow introductions and just getting used to having a baby around, his dog now adores the children and has never nipped or bitten them – it’s like he knew they were part of his pack.

    Like I said, every dog is different so who knows what will happen in the future? I get that your anxiety is real and absolutely merited, but hopefully you will find peace in whatever decision you make when the time comes. As someone who has read your blog for years, I know that you are an incredibly smart and thorough person, so don’t discredit yourself. Just think about all of that research you did while you waited for your forever dog! That alone was pretty damn impressive.

  6. My heart goes out for you. You’re so far ahead of the game because you’re aware of the issue. So many parents find problems “come from nowhere” when the baby starts crawling. But the signs are usually there. They just don’t know how to recognize them. A parent with a plan is so much better prepared. When you’re ready, have you considered lining up a “just in case” home with a family member. I suspect that freedom of knowing she has a good home will take out some of the stress and enable you to work through it even better.

  7. You need to give yourself a big pat on the back for thinking ahead. It must be very stressful for you. It is heartbreaking to see ads for dogs to be re-homed because ‘we’ve had a baby…’. There are desensitization techniques to prepare a dog for a baby. This includes sounds of baby noises that you can play regularly before a baby arrives. When you become pregnant, you can also let Pyrrha listen to its heart beat.

    A positive would be that any child would grow and Pyrrha could become accustomed to it over time. You would have to plan for Pyrrha only time to avoid jealousy.

    It will take work, and I’m sure this is the most daunting of tasks. Pyrrha is, however, your first child and so her needs have to be considered as part of any decision to have children. As hard as it is to say, you may decide to postpone indefinitely the starting of a human family until Pyrrha is no longer with you.

  8. I’d add a suggestion to’s comment — since Pyrrha loves food, it may be worth it to pick up a soundtrack of children playing and play it (quietly at first) during dinner time. That tends to be a long lasting positive experience for most dogs (which is why so many people feed in a crate to teach the dog to love the crate) and that might help get her used to the *sounds* of a baby and/or children playing (or both).

    They also make very “toddler” like dolls; maybe it’s worth it at some point to get one and randomly add it to the environment when doing training? It’s a child that a) if she DOES react and “harm” it won’t actually bleed; and b) is predictable to YOU — that is, it will not move unexpectedly.

    If you REALLY wanted to simulate a real child, you could ask someone with kids to provide dirty clothes for your doll to wear…. that way you’re training her on sight, smell, and sounds… and then once she’s doing well with those things you can begin to work on real children situations (ideally, with one child you know well first, playing in a controlled way, possibly even on the other side of a barrier…). Just some training simulations that ARE within your ability and that might help you start to work on bits and pieces other than the scary way that kids move.

    I have faith that if anyone can work with her, you can do it 🙂 And none of us doubt that you love your girl.

    1. Thanks so much, Melissa; I really appreciate it! These are great, practical ideas, too. I may just go out and get a creepy life-size doll… 🙂

  9. Pyrrah might surprise you with children of your own. My guess is that the smell of the baby would tell her that it’s a member of the pack and a part of the people she loves. While she might not adore other children, she might become very fond of yours. There’s also the fact that babies are not highly mobile when they first arrive. Pyrrah will have a chance to get used to the baby as it grows up and gets more mobile. It’s not like a toddler falling out of the sky and into her life. It’s a gradual thing that might come about really naturally.

  10. Oh, sympathies. We have *no* intention of having children, but one of the many horrible tracks that plays in my mind about an “accidental” baby is that Silas couldn’t handle it.

  11. My sympathies, too. For what it’s worth, this Internet stranger thinks that there absolutely are situations in which the most loving thing you can do for a dog, finding that you cannot provide a tenable quality of life for her, is rehome her. I’ve essentially been there myself. It was heartbreaking, but I know I did the right thing. And whatever your adoption contract with Pyrrha’s rescue might say, I’m sure you could find a way not to let her back in the hands of a rescue whose methodologies would damage her.

    But! I also think that since you’re thinking so far ahead, it’s likely that you won’t have to resort to that. It seems to me like the time to start talking to your trainer and figuring out how to teach her to cope is now/soon? Even if you guys decide not to have kids, I’m sure that it would be a comfort to know that Pyrrha was less scared around toddlers.

    I was going to recommend a super easy on-the-fly relaxation technique that my trainer uses, but apparently it is nowhere to be found on the Internet. It’s Suzanne Clothier’s Really Real Relaxation Protocol, and it works really well for combining classical conditioning with a relaxed response rather than an over-excited one. If you’re interested, I’ll check with my trainer to see if I can share.

    1. Thanks so much, Meghan; I really appreciate your comments, and I think you’re right (I have a tendency to overthink/fear about far-off future events). I love Suzanne Clothier, and that protocol sounds very interesting. Thank you!

      1. I’m a chronic over thinker, too–but from one overthinker to another, I think all the great training advice you’ve gotten here shows that this is a useful place to overthink!

        I talked to my trainer and sent a very long email to the account listed on your “about me” page. 🙂

  12. Hello, I think houndstooth makes a very valid point and what I was going to say myself having just experienced being pregnant and now having a new born. To be fair Tala was actually always very good with toddlers/babies as she was introduced as a puppy (although 5/6/7 year olds running down the street in Hanoi always use to scare her and there was one young boy who she definitely wanted to nip…) But as Houndstooth said it is such a gradual process. Tala clearly knew something was up when I was pregnant as she started to get into bed with me if my husband was away which she had never done before. When the baby finally arrived at home she gives a sniff sometimes but has quickly settled into accepting him as part of our family/pack and as others said he isn’t going to be moving or bothering her for several months! Considering how territorial she can be with strange dogs and strangers she didn’t even bat an eyelid when he came home as strangely she must know that he is a part of us… I wish you luck with whatever happens!

    1. Thank you, Jura, and warmest congratulations on your latest addition! How exciting. Your story about Tala’s adjustment is also encouraging to me; thanks so much for sharing.

  13. Many dogs are different and loving and tolerant of their own kids and not of other children. I think you should not pre-worry about it and not put off having children based on what may happen. What may be difficult is when you do have children the play dates, parties and sleep overs. I had a wonderful golden/collie mix who was very tolerant and loving to all 3 of my children and very distrustful of any of their friends to the point that he had to be kenneled when young guests were over because he perceived a small argument or running from one room to another as a threat to my child. He became creepily stalker-ish, always watching the guest child with suspicion. I think that she/you will do fine but I also feel you should never trust a dog unsupervised around a child or trust a young child to respect the boundaries it has been given concerning the dog.

  14. I am so, so behind on blogs, and I feel awful I’m just getting to this! I have so many thoughts on this subject because we are in the exact same boat with Cooper. He is terrified of children. His go-to maneuver is to bark as forcefully as he can right in their face, then when they freak out, he ramps it up further to the point that once I did think he was about to bite my nephew. We’re getting near the point of kids, and it’s been an ongoing discussion about how this will work. We’re lucky that we have two willing, confident kids who are helping us “train” Cooper. My nephew (5) and our neighbor (3) are both willing to give him treats and ask for sits from him. He has made HUGE improvements over the last year. As soon as they move/shriek/flail/all those weird things kids do, he goes off again, but he’s able to get himself under control when they offer him treats. We also know that the guest room would become the nursery and have kept it off-limits to the dogs. We’re also working on training a “safe space” in our sunroom for all the dogs that has a baby gate already set up, so he knows he can retreat there when he’s overwhelmed. All that being said, Cooper has a general fear of strangers. Kids freak him out more than adults because they’re so unpredictable, but part of me thinks that our kids won’t be strangers to him. He’ll know them since they’re conceived (Lucas, btw, predicts conception better than EPT… every one of my friends who’s gotten pregnant said that Lucas kept bopping their bellies, in one case before she had even found out herself), and he’ll get used to their erratic behavior slowly as they develop. I think. I hope.

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