We have all been there. You look down at your dog and remind yourself that you haven't walked them in a while or you haven't truly been present for a game of tug in weeks. You feel the guilt wash over you, and just as this feeling is setting in, you look at your dog and they are giving you the sappiest Sarah McLachlan animal rescue commercial eyes. The guilt increases.
If this has ever happened to you, like it has to me, you know I got you! Here is a simple, realistic, and easy guide to follow to avoid the bouts of guilt. (Don't forget, you're doing your best!)
Here are a few real-life thoughts so many of us have. So see if you find your current scenario that is causing some pet parent guilt and select from the options. 🙂
"Shit, she desperately needs a walk and I don't have the time."
- Option: For dinner tonight, toss her dry food (or a handful of treats) into her toy bin or in a rolled up blanket. She can spend some time sniffing and finding her food/treats. Food and toy enrichment is always my go-to when I am short on time. I have a ton of resources on enrichment in my Free Dog Enrichment Guide. I also have a lot of clips and tips (that rhymes 😂) on my Instagram Enrichment Stories (Story 1, Story 2)
"The weather is horrible and my dogs need an outlet!"
- Option: I started timing the activities with my dogs during lockdown and it is a habit and approach I highly recommend. If your dog likes tugging, set a timer for 5-10 minutes to play with them until the timer goes off. If you do this with 3-4 activities/games, you'll quickly reach an 15-40 mins at a time on easy, dedicated dog-activities. Some other games you can try are hide-and-seek, find the toy (hide a toy and help them search for it), find the treat (same idea but with food), or work on a new training skill. This not only kind of makes this a game and more fun, but it also helps keep you accountable. I also time our walks and even our playtime in the yard to commit to a timeframe.
"My mental health has gone down the toilet today and I can't do much for anyone (including the dogs)."
- Option: This is a good time to bust out the long-lasting chews. Depending on your dog, I recommend having a stash of bully sticks, dental treats, or whatever type of chew your dog can have that can last them at least a couple of mins. If you have little to no energy, a more attainable option is to spoon some peanut butter into or onto a rubber dog toy and let them have at it. As someone who lives with generalized anxiety disorder and depression, I find it is most helpful to be prepared. I make sure the dog supplies are filled, so I do not have to worry about it. I try to have a backup of whatever I know I will need or that we typically use so there is always one in stock. I also do this for my personal items too and it's such a game changer.
- Another important option: This is also a time when you should be most forgiving with yourself. If you can't provide anything other than the basic needs that day because you are struggling, that is more than ok. Quite frankly, you may not have a choice in the matter in that moment and simply can't. Allow yourself to rest and try not to beat yourself up. Remember, rest can allow you to show up even better for your dogs when you're feeling more up for it.
"My work/life schedule is nuts this week. I'm going to be gone from home more than usual."
- Option: Let's look at anything you are going to be present for as an opportunity (or something to delegate to the person who will be in your absence). Meals can be given in puzzle toys, let outs in the yard can end in 2 minutes of tug, provide a safe chew or food toy for your dog to work on while you're gone, bring your dog with you to the mailbox to grab the mail or while you go to fill up your gas tank. Find enrichment in any little moment you can, with the addition of chews, toys, and appropriate enrichment activities.
- Option: Depending on how long you'll be gone, you may want to consider hiring a dog sitter or dog walker or convince your Uncle Louie to come help.
"My dog's behavioral issues are preventing us from doing things and I feel so bad."
- Option: Try to reframe the thought. Your dog has some behavioral issues, you are both working on it as best as you can, and that may mean that we need to find more-appropriate outlets or adventures for them.
- Option: If you struggle with a dog who gets anxious around other dogs, drive to a field and walk when no one is there. If your dog doesn't do well on leash, go for a car ride. If your dog doesn't feel comfortable around strangers, play games in your backyard where they feel secure. Come up with realistic replacements for things and remember, not every dog is suited for everything we may want them to be. Stop letting this societal "perfect, friendly, well-behaved dog" mentality make you feel guilty that your dog isn't Lassie. Lassie is the exception, not the rule. And I guarantee Lassie had some shit she was probably working on too. We are all working on something. Remember, perfection is an illusion.
I hope this helps you feel less guilty next time one of those thoughts creep in. You got this and I got you! Thanks for reading, it means a lot.
Have you ever felt dog parent guilt? Are there any scenarios I should add to this list? Let me know!
Take care and talk soon,