As a new dog owner, it is human nature to believe it will be an idyllic experience where our new puppy will seamlessly become a well-behaved pooch who not only adores us, but listens to every command and task we send their way. The kind of life where our perfect babies will patiently await our arrival home from work every day without any messes, where they smother us with gentle affection the moment we step through the front door and then fit perfectly in the crook of our bellies as we settle in for a restful night of sleep. We all strive for a quintessential life where our dogs become a model extension of our existence.
Does this picture-perfect life actually exist? Sure… it certainly can with hard work and dedication. But it is also perfectly okay if your picture-perfect life looks completely different.
Because let’s be realistic. Being a dog parent is hard work. How many times have we heard, or maybe even said to ourselves at one time or another…. “This pup of mine is a lot more work than I ever realized he would be….”
Being a dog mom or dad isn’t easy. Truthfully, we do not get enough credit. Training a new puppy aside, the hard work never ends because being a good and responsible dog parent also means reinforcing those positive behaviors for the duration of their lives. It is a life-long commitment for the life of your pets. And just like parents of human children, we tend to beat ourselves up when our dogs display behavior we don’t necessarily approve of.
Take my dog Wyatt, for example. He is 100 pounds of Staffordshire Terrier and American Bulldog. He is built like a pit bull, but has the height of an American Bulldog which means he usually towers over all other dogs we encounter. Take it from me, he is ten thousand percent a gentle giant. But when others first meet him, they tend to hesitate. When I first rescued him, I began to notice that when he would play with other dogs, he would growl and then pin them down by the neck. Being a new dog mom, I panicked and did everything I could to try and break him of this habit. Other dog parents would get annoyed and more than once I left the dog park feeling ashamed and embarrassed over Wyatt’s behavior. After much research, I soon realized that Wyatt’s behavior was completely normal. Rough play or “play fighting” is a way for dogs to communicate with one another and rarely escalates to anything beyond just that…. Play fighting.
Thinking back to all those moments when I’d feel embarrassed over my dog not listening to me, whether he was “play fighting” or simply distracted by something that was more entertaining than my “mom voice,” I started thinking about dog behavior and training in general. According to the National Pet Owners Survey, conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 67% of U.S. households (or about 85 million families) own a pet. Of those, 63.4 million are dogs. That translates to A LOT of dog parents and I know that I cannot possibly be alone in my fear that others may interpret my dog’s temperament as bad behavior.
There is no right way to be a good dog parent. Every dog is unique and possesses his or her own distinctive personality. And as responsible dog parents, we work to provide the best care and training possible to fit their individual needs. That can and will look different for all of us. Some of us choose to train our dogs ourselves. Some of us choose to hire professionals. What works for a family with an Australian Shepherd, likely won’t work for a family with a Basset Hound. Our lives are intricately linked because of our shared love of dogs and yet they can also look vastly different for the very same reason.
We are hard enough on ourselves without letting the rest of society creep into the levels we already hold ourselves accountable to. So let’s absolutely celebrate the little moments…. The little victories, no matter how small or meaningless they may feel in the moment.
A friend recently conveyed to me her dog’s need to pull while walking on a leash. Years of training and different exercise methods have seemingly failed, while her pup continues to pull with great strength. She finally found a harness that has worked to keep her dog walking calmly beside her and she even squealed with excitement when a neighbor stopped to comment on how well-behaved and beautiful her dog was. Years of embarrassment and shame were washed away in that small moment…. So celebrate it.
I remember being at the park with Wyatt once, when I noticed a dog mom working on basic training with her high energy pup off in the distance. After jumping on her many times with plenty of loud barking, he finally took the treat gently from her hand. She clapped excitedly for a few minutes, which eventually excited her dog all over again… but it was heartwarming to see her in that moment so filled with joy over something so simple.
Whether your dog nips when they take treats from your hand, jumps on you when you first walk through the door, barks incessantly inside your tiny apartment, or likes to sneak into the dirty laundry to munch on dirty socks… their lives are still filled with love and adoration and that is something to be celebrated. Even if it is something as simple as learning to sit after what felt like would never happen… celebrate it. Because what appears to the rest of us as little moments, are the very big moments for you and your dogs.
Here at the Furr-bulous HQ we are cheering on all the dog mom’s and dad’s who are out there doing the very best they can. We see you!