Dog Mom (& Dad) Guilt: Why It Happens & What To Do | Pupford

May 16th, 2023

Filed under Podcasts

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I’m here to tell you first and foremost, dog mom (or dad) guilt is totally normal.

Let that sink in for a second…

We all want to be the absolute best pup parent and provide our dogs with a healthy, happy, and fulfilled life. But, sometimes we fall short.

And that’s where the guilt comes in.

In this article, I want to help break down what guilt really means, why dog parent guilt happens, and some actionable ways to help reduce those feelings of guilt.

Here’s some of what we will cover:

  • What exactly is guilt?
  • Why do we feel guilty as pup parents?
  • What can you do when you’re feeling dog mom (or dad) guilt?
  • I feel guilty leaving my dog, what can I do? (this one is so common it’s getting its own section)

Let’s dive into it! ⬇️

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WHAT EXACTLY IS GUILT?

dog mom guilt happens to many pup parents

First, let’s clarify what guilt means from a clinical perspective.

Guilt is described as a self-conscious emotion that involves negative evaluations of the self, feelings of distress, and feelings of failure.

We all have goals and aspirations of being the best pup parent possible. And unfortunately, we often fall short of our own expectations.

And when that happens, guilt shows up.

While guilt can actually be a healthy emotion (it leads us to want to improve and/or repair mistakes that cause guilt), there are times when it becomes harmful and unproductive.

In this article, I want to dive into why we feel guilt as pup parents and practical advice to combat those feelings when they come up!

NOTE: I am not a mental health professional. If you are experiencing serious challenges with mental health, excessive guilt, or other similar challenges, please consider getting the help of a certified counselor, therapist, or other mental health professional.

WHY DO WE FEEL GUILTY AS PUP PARENTS

there are many reasons why pup parents feel guilty when raising their dog

The reasons we feel guilty as dog moms and dads are almost endless (unfortunately), but here are some common reasons we pup parents feel guilt about our dogs.

  • Leaving our dogs home alone for extended periods (this is probably #1)
  • Incorrect training methods when we just didn’t know better or hadn’t yet learned what to do (using the crate as punishment, punishment-style methods, etc.)
  • Having to crate our dogs when we leave or even while we’re at home
  • Falling behind on grooming that negatively affects our dogs (nails too long, not frequent enough grooming visits, etc.)
  • Bringing home another dog
  • Having a baby and our dog getting much less attention and care
  • When our dogs act bored or seemingly “sad”
  • When we see them in pain and feel powerless to help them
  • Getting angry or impatient with our dog’s behavior and/or training progress
  • Spending less time with our dogs during holidays, busy periods of life, back to school, etc.
  • Leaving our dogs while we go on vacation

While that list isn’t comprehensive, those are some very common reasons dog mom guilt pops up!

So, what can you do?!

Besides giving yourself some empathy and compassion, there are some critical reminders and actions you can do to help reduce your pup parent guilt! ⤵️

WHAT CAN YOU DO WHEN YOU’RE FEELING DOG MOM (OR DAD) GUILT?

a pup parent looking for ways to decrease their feelings of guilt and stress

From a psychological standpoint, remedies for unnecessary guilt may include reflecting on factors that were beyond your control, acknowledging what you know now that you didn’t in the past, and considering whether your standards for yourself are too unforgiving.

I think that last part is massive… Considering whether your standards are too unforgiving.

When it comes to dog parent guilt, above all, know that it’s normal. Guilt and associated feelings are to be expected, and it’s good to give yourself some slack. The puppy blues are real!

It’s okay to cry.

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed.

It’s okay to have some negative feelings toward your dog.

It’s okay to even question your decision to get a dog or puppy.

But know this…

If you are meeting your dog’s needs (exercise, food, enrichment, training, love, etc.), remind yourself that no one (dog or human) is perfect. You will make mistakes, but the beauty of dogs is that they are tremendously skilled at loving unconditionally.

And while it can sound annoying to hear, it will get better! Puppies can be extremely difficult in the early stages.

But, if you stick to a training plan, like the free 30 Day Perfect Pup course, and stay consistent you will see improvements in your dog’s behavior and likely your own feelings toward your pup.

So, let’s look at some common experiences that induce pup parent guilt and what can be done when those moments pop up! 👇

WHEN YOUR DOG IS ACTING BORED

As I’m writing this, my dog Scout is staring at me seemingly wondering when the h*ck I’m gonna get up from my desk and pay attention to her.

a labrador retriever staring at her human looking bored

I work from home and it can be challenging to be with my dogs but not actually be spending time with them. At least once or twice a day while I’m working, I catch myself feeling guilty for not playing with my dogs.

I have to remind myself that they’ve been properly taken care of that day, and learning to self-regulate is a part of a dog’s life!

Here are some things you can do if you feel guilty when your dog is acting bored.

  • If you’re giving proper physical exercise, know that dogs can (and should) learn to self-regulate and relax
  • Try using a tasty frozen Kong recipe and giving them the Kong when they seem bored to help keep them engaged and entertained
  • If financially viable, consider taking your pup to doggy daycare once a week… This level of play and exercise is unbeatable
  • Find unique indoor exercise ideas to help reduce your dog’s boredom during breaks in your work day, house chores, schooling, etc.
  • Know that it’s okay! Some dogs (mine included) will give you the “bored look” even after hours of exercise, and that is okay!

Above all, make sure you’re meeting your dog’s physical and mental exercise needs! If you are doing that, remind yourself that you are and do your best to ignore the sad puppy eyes! 🥺️

WHEN YOU GET UPSET AT YOUR DOG OR MAKE TRAINING MISTAKES

sometimes we make mistakes training our dogs and feel guilty because of those mistakes

While getting upset with your puppy or dog doesn’t accomplish anything, we’re all human and it does happen from time to time.

In those situations, some serious dog mom guilt (or dog dad) can pop up.

Once you’ve taken the time to calm down, apologize to your dog and move on. Make a commitment to be more patient and in all likelihood a stronger commitment to not allow your dog the opportunity to get into mischievous situations!

This type of guilt is honestly a healthy one. It pushes us to improve and avoid the same actions that led us to that guilt originally.

There are also situations where you will use training techniques that you later find out are not beneficial to your dog. I personally used aversive methods on my pups before I knew any better, and I still have guilt about it.

It almost ruined my relationship with my puppy.

But, the beauty of life is that we are all learning and progressing! Dogs are extremely forgiving and have a desire to love us.

So, if this has happened to you, move on and vow to stick to dog training methods that are science-backed, fair to your dog, and beneficial to both parties!

CRATE TRAINING

crate training can make dog parents feel guilty

Many pup parents, especially with puppies, feel guilty when they leave their dog in the crate.

Sometimes there is whining, barking, and howling that can just break your heart! As long as you are following humane methods of crate training, then stick with the process and know that some level of protesting is normal.

When it comes to crate training, remember that crates are beneficial in the long run.

Crating is explicitly for their safety and to improve potty training, and know that when done correctly many dogs learn to enjoy their crate!

Mike, the founder of Pupford, talks all the time about how much his dog Doris loves her crate. When an overwhelming situation, like thunder or fireworks, pops up, Doris will willingly choose to go lay in her crate as a safe space.

The one caveat to this whole point is that you shouldn’t be leaving your dog in their crate as a punishment or for longer than they can handle!

But in normal crating situations, try your best to push away those guilty feelings and know that you’re helping keep your pup safe and secure.

I FEEL GUILTY LEAVING MY DOG, WHAT CAN I DO?

many pup parents feel guilty when they have to leave their dog at home alone

Quick note: Everything I’m going to discuss in the next section is applicable to dogs that do not suffer from separation anxiety. If your dog has legitimate separation anxiety, this section won’t apply to you. If you aren't sure if your pup has separation anxiety or not, do yourself a favor and check out our Separation Anxiety Course taught by Amber Aquart CPDT-KA. (The course is certainly extremely helpful if you do know your dog has separation anxiety as well.)

Of all the reasons pup parents feel guilty, leaving their dog home alone has got to be #1!

There is something that just tugs at our heartstrings when we walk out the door and our pup gives us their sad eyes…

If you’ve felt that guilt when you walk out the door, ask yourself… Is it realistic to never leave your dog alone? (Hint: The answer is no.)

You have a job, family, friends, errands, activities, etc. and never leaving your dog alone is out of the question. This goes back to the definition from above which pointed out that overcoming guilt can be about “...considering whether your standards for yourself are too unforgiving…”.

Our dogs need to be left alone as part of their life. And while they may not love it, dogs are adaptable creatures and can learn self-soothing and calming skills.

Here’s an overview of some reminders and things to do when leaving your dog alone causes you to feel guilt ⏬

  • Know that self-care and time away from your dog can actually help you be a better pup parent
  • Dogs need structure and routine, being alone should be part of that
  • Try making it as positive an experience as possible
  • Use a dog camera to check in on your pup if needed
  • Try to plan “dates” with your dog

Let’s look a little closer at each idea!

SELF-CARE AND TIME AWAY ARE BENEFICIAL

self care can help you be a better pup parent

I believe there is a lot of truth to the saying “distance makes the heart grow fonder”.

When you’re in the thick of raising a puppy, it can be truly overwhelming for your mental health (and time!).

Recognize that taking time away from your pup can actually help you become a better pup parent. If you’re always running on empty, your training sessions, level of patience, and ability to think clearly with your pup will suffer.

Taking time away from your dog for self-care (whatever that looks like for you) is extremely important for any new pup parent!

When you come back, you’ll likely feel more confident and patient to handle the challenges your pup throws your way!

DOGS NEED STRUCTURE & ROUTINE, BEING ALONE IS PART OF THAT

Dogs are creatures of habit, and they truly thrive under structure and routine.

Know that over time, your dog will start to recognize that being alone is part of their routine. The key to this is to start at a young age by practicing leaving your dog for short periods of time and increasing the time incrementally.

With time, practice, and patience your dog will start to better handle being left alone. And, you will too!

TRY MAKING THE ‘LEAVING’ EXPERIENCE AS POSITIVE AS POSSIBLE

giving your dog a tasty treat can make being left alone more enjoyable

A surefire way to reduce the guilty feeling when leaving your dog alone is to make the “leaving” experience as positive as possible.

Try not to make it a long-drawn-out affair. Try not to make the goodbye too long.

Swiftly present your dog with a tasty treat, say a quick goodbye, and head out the door.

I’ve been doing this consistently for about 5 years and now my dogs actually like when I leave. My dog Sunny will sit on her bed by the door when she knows I’m about to leave and longingly stare up at where she knows her treat will come from.

It’s truly classical conditioning at its finest!

They now know that me leaving = a seriously tasty treat for them.

I usually opt for a frozen Kong-style treat, but just give your pup any safe chew or snack that is not part of their normal routine.

USE A DOG CAMERA TO CHECK ON YOUR PUP

If you’re out and about and feel guilty that your dog is at home alone, using a dog camera is a great way to alleviate some of those guilty feelings. It can give you peace of mind to be able to check on your pup and see that they’re (hopefully) safe, happy, and probably sleeping!

There are lots and lots of camera options available for keeping an eye on your dog, but anything basic will work.

Many pup parents swear by the Wyze Cam. It’s an easy-to-use and extremely affordable option!

TRY TO PLAN “DATES” WITH YOUR DOG

doggy dates can help reduce dog parent guilt

If you feel guilty about having to leave your dog alone, planning out “doggy dates” can be a great way to reduce those feelings.

While our normal dog schedule often includes a couple of simple walks and playtime each day, trying to sprinkle in longer adventure dates every week or so can improve your bond with your pup! And, it’ll help you feel less guilty and stressed when you are needing to leave your dog alone.

Here are some fun doggy date ideas ⤵️

  • Go for a much longer than normal walk
  • Take your pup on a new hike
  • Let your dog guide a walk, don’t give them any direction as to where you want them to go
  • Take them shopping at a dog-friendly store
  • Go do an activity you don’t normally do, like swimming or dock diving
  • Have a decompression walk where you let them just explore and sniff everything while on a long lead
  • Take your pup to a cafe or restaurant that has items for dogs on their menu
  • Explore a new part of your town or city that your dog has never experienced before

These are just a few ideas, just be sure to find something your dog will absolutely love and that isn’t part of their normal routine.

Sprinkling in a doggy date every week or so can really help break up the monotony of routine AND help you feel less guilty when you do need to leave your dog alone.

RECAP OF DOG MOM (AND DAD) GUILT

the bond between dog and human makes all the guilt and stress worth it

One of my dogs passed away last year, and that pain was tremendous.

Having had time to cope and explore the grief associated with his passing, I’ve learned that ALL of the “annoying or problem behaviors” meant nothing in comparison to the joy he brought into our lives.

Feeling guilty, overwhelmed, or anxious about your dog, your parenting of them, and their behavior is totally normal. But if you stick with it and fight through the hard times, the bond and love you will gain will make all the hard moments seem like nothing.

My two cents… it’s all worth it. All the struggle pays off!

Dogs are our best friends and I’m a firm believer that our dogs know (in one way or another) when we are trying our best to give them a great life!

If you’re feeling guilt about your dog, that’s okay. Find help through a community around you, reliable training resources, and of course, patience and time!

Before you go, please answer a quick 1-question survey. ⬇️

How have you overcome your feelings of dog parent guilt? Tell me in the comments!

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