Zoo Baby: Part 3

Welcome, Zoo Baby!
By Julia Lane, March 2014, Updated June 2021
newborn zoo baby dogs family

He’s here! Our little zoo baby, Brandon Richard Lane, was born February 23, 2014. He let out a powerful wail as the doctor placed him on my chest, assuring us that he would fit right in with our vocal pack. At 6 pounds 5 ounces, he weighed less than our tiniest cat, Cricket, and he measured 20.5” long. He had a surprising amount of brown hair and beautiful, dark blue eyes.

After three days in the hospital, we missed our dogs and cats and couldn’t wait to bring Brandon home to the zoo. In order to prepare them for the new arrival, my mom, Grandma K., brought them a little shirt Brandon wore so everyone could sniff it.

She reported that only our oldest dog, Darby the 11.5-year-old Dalmatian, excitedly checked it out and whipped her tail into circles. I think she smelled her favorite person, my husband Brian, on the shirt. Everyone else demonstrated some curiosity but once they realized Grandma wasn’t offering food, they wandered back to their favorite sleeping spots.

When we came home that night, I entered the house first and spent a good 10 minutes greeting everybody. Jolie, my 10-year-old Dalmatian, bounced up and down with joy, while the younger dogs, Ginger Peach and Magnum, swirled around me, bringing offerings of slobbery Kongs and rubber balls. Darby the Queen, who usually waits for her loyal subjects to approach her, thrust herself into the chaos, slapping her tail against my shins while she growl-grumbled hello.


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Brian then entered the house, carrying Brandon in the car seat. The zoo repeated its manic greeting ritual, either ignoring the baby in the room or just being unaware of his presence. Finally, their noses started working and they realized the humans had increased their ranks. Before they could uncover the blue polka-dot Dalmatian blanket protecting Brandon from cold, wet noses and pools of dog slobber, Brian placed the car seat on the kitchen table.

baby cat family pet behavior
Cricket literally warmed up to the baby

This, of course, delighted the cats, who were lying in wait for their opportunity to climb into that comfortable looking cat bed. Unfortunately, there was some weird creature in the way. Cricket tentatively smelled Brandon, and she was on the cusp of tolerating him when he startled and waved his arms around. That did not go over well. She hissed in his face and would’ve started trash talking had we not intervened. Thankfully, our gentle giant cat, Bruiser Bear, just sniffed Brandon a few times before sauntering away.

I had expected – and prepared for - a variety of behaviors from the dogs. Darby had never been comfortable around children. For everyone’s safety, we taught her to leave the area rather than feel she had to confront a child (many thanks to our nieces, who were willing guinea pigs in the training process). So it was no surprise that she excused herself from the room.      

dalmatian dog baby sleeping family pet behavior
Jolie the Dalmatian enjoys napping with baby Brandon

Jolie is a Therapy Dog who adapts well to new situations and is drawn to people, especially if they’re upset or lonely. She is wonderful with children, who love to pet her soft fur and count her spots. She remained at a respectful distance from Brandon until we invited her over. After inspecting him thoroughly and making sure he didn’t have any crumbs of food to offer, she turned her attention to me. Sensing my exhaustion, she gave me a little kiss on the ear (I can count on one hand the number of times Jolie has kissed anybody in 10 years). That was all the assurance I needed.

Magnum and Ginger Peach were the surprises. The former is a two-year-old Border Collie who adores people and grew up with our young nieces. Yet his high energy and sensitivity to pressure and space made me wonder if he’d feel overstimulated and lose his cool. On the contrary, Magnum loved the baby. He was curious without being obnoxious, and sweetly licked the tips of Brandon’s tiny fingers. When Brandon would cry or fuss, Magnum was right there, wanting to know what job he could do to help this poor little puppy feel better. I figured they would bond once Brandon was old enough to throw a ball, but there was an instant closeness between the two.

newborn baby border collie play training behavior
Brandon, 2.5 weeks old & his best friend, Magnum, 2 years old

The dog I thought would be Brandon’s best pal from day one was actually very conflicted about him. Although she loves people, too, she is an anxious rescue girl who does not handle change easily. Her response to stress is to madly lick everything in sight, from the carpet to people’s clothing. She has strong prey drive and is not to be trusted unsupervised around small dogs. Every time Brandon cried, which sounded like a squeak, Peach went on alert, hoping to find a toy. Yet she knew it wasn’t one, leaving her confused.

Upon meeting Brandon, she demonstrated a behavior that shocked me. She narrowed her eyes, lowered her head, and slunk around the car seat, like a feral dog. She was afraid and unsure. Of course, we moved Brandon up to the table again to remove the pressure from Peach and keep him safe. In typical shepherd mode, she placed herself between Brandon and me. That’s when I realized that she wasn’t necessarily being more protective of the baby when I was pregnant. She had wanted to protect me in what she must’ve perceived as a more fragile state.  

We were too tired that night to worry about Ginger Peach’s behavior with the baby. But it was something we would have to address over the next few days. I hoped that with my training background, we would find a way to help her gain confidence around the newest member of the zoo.


Read Zoo Baby: Part 2

Julia Lane owns Spot On K9 Sports, a training facility in the Chicago area, and offers online dog-sport coaching. She is the author of several travel books, and her byline has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poets & Writers and elsewhere.