14 Sep Tackling Pet Guilt
As a pet parent, do you ever wonder if you’re doing enough or do you ever find yourself comparing your parenting with what you see other pet parents doing with or for their pets? Are you consumed by guilt every time you have to leave your pup or kitty alone or decide to say no to something that would be good for them? (Like that uber-expensive spa treatment or therapy?) Trust me, you’re not the only one dealing with pet parent guilt!
I’m constantly finding myself staying home instead of heading out to do something I’d really like to do. I work hard and although I know I need and deserve some ME time I just feel guilty about leaving again when I’ve already been gone for several hours that day. My babies are so happy when I finally return! I feel like I owe them my attention and of course I also want to spend quality time with them.
Guilt is awful. It feels like a heavy weight I just can’t shake! Even though you may experience guilt from time to time, I’m here to tell you—YOU’RE DOING A GOOD JOB. YOU’RE DOING BETTER THAN I BET YOU THINK YOU ARE!
What is Pet Parenting Guilt and What Does It Look Like?
I’ve always viewed guilt as not doing enough, letting someone (or some pet) down and not being enough.
Pet parenting guilt can look like a lot of things:
- Feeling annoyed when your pet wants to play and you’re tired from a long day at work
- Knowing you “should” brush out your pet’s fur AGAIN or clip their nails but you can’t find the time or energy or you haven’t even started building trust around this yet and you really have to start working on this if it’s EVER going to change
- Jerking the leash suddenly or yelling in a firm tone to stop them from getting into danger during a walk
- Wanting to lock your pet out of the bedroom because he’s not letting you sleep or actually locking him out
- Leaving your pet home alone for hours while you work or go out
- Downgrading their food because you can’t afford what they really need anymore
- Putting them in another room, alone when you have company
- Feeling resentful because your pet’s meds/surgery cost way more than you thought it would
- Wishing you could go on a vacation whenever you want and not have to plan care for your pet while you’re gone
- Watching your pet age and not knowing how to help them (THIS IS A BIG ONE FOR ME RIGHT NOW)
- Getting upset at them when they beg instead of teaching them what to do when you’re eating
- Deciding if it’s time to put your pet down or not (ANOTHER BIG TRIGGER FOR QUILT)
- Spinning in your head after loss about what you wish you had done differently
- Deciding when it’s time—if ever—to get another pet after your pet dies
While guilt might be a natural human emotion, it isn’t always helpful. The experts over at Psychology Today warn that “… in excess, guilt may needlessly burden those who experience it.” I think that’s what happens often to us pet parents. We become burdened by our guilt and let it get the best of us.
But as far as I’m concerned, so long as you are doing the very best you can do under the circumstances of your life right now, you are good enough!
When we can’t give our pets more, like access to us 24/7 or a bougie lifestyle, it’s easy to excessively beat ourselves up. If you fall into that category, it’s time to stop the guilt trap!
6 Helpful Tips to Lessen Pet Parenting Guilt
Connect with other pet parents.
Finding other people with pets who understand the struggles is very helpful! Ever notice how people who don’t have pets are always telling you how ridiculous you’re being or that “It’s only a dog”, which are fighting words to me! They don’t understand because they haven’t emotionally connected with an animal. They mean well but they usually make you want to yell at them or even worse, smack them! Find your people! You can help each other find solutions and also realize that everyone is doing a pretty good job already.
Easier said than done, right? Comparing yourself to other pet parents is nothing but a recipe for shame and guilt! If you’re like me even if you’re doing better in most areas than the person you’re comparing yourself to you’ll find that ONE THING that they do better and that’s all you can focus on. Not helpful!
Now that you know better, you can do better.
We don’t know what we don’t know. Different experiences will help you become a better pet parent in the future. Much of the guilt my clients have comes from old beliefs of what “every dog” needs. The truth is, every dog is unique just like every person. Do you enjoy doing all the same things that your closest friends enjoy? Probably not. Learn what your dog enjoys and make time for that. Let the other stuff go!
Don’t entertain negative thoughts.
Keeping your negative self-talk in check is a great way to practice self-care. When you hear that little voice creeping in saying, “You really should do more with your pup when you get home from work no matter how your day went” don’t entertain the statement. Find some ways to take control of your thinking. You might try changing the statement by removing the emotion. “I would like to take the dog for a walk but my day was very stressful and I’m not in a place to give him the attention and guidance he needs on the walk today. I’ll do it tomorrow.” Or maybe, “I do a great job most of the time but today I need to care for myself so I can get back to the normal activities with the right attitude tomorrow.”
Add enrichment to their life where you can.
Sometimes a new toy, TV time or opening the blinds is all your pet wants to make their days alone more interesting. Make sure there are some options of things to do when you’re away. Other ideas are; stuffed Kongs, TV made for dogs, white noise or even a dog walker or trainer who comes in to break things up during the day. Also have some enrichment ideas for those days you can’t do what you’d like to when you get home. This could be raw bones, special chews or even homemade puzzle toys.
Sometimes things just happen.
To feel guilty means that you feel responsible. The truth is, you aren’t responsible for everything that went “wrong” with your pet. Sometimes accidents happen. Sometimes things are completely out of our control. There are many days I start out with wonderful plans but life throws curveballs that require me to let those go and adjust. It happens and it’s okay.
My pets are my world and part of my deep love for them is my deep care for them. But because I care, I open myself up to feeling guilty from time to time. As long as I keep it in check and continue to learn and grow, I know I’m doing a good job parenting my dogs.
Try one of my tips and let me know how it went! If you need more ideas enrichment sessions are a great and fun option!
Jennifer began to learn more about dog behavior and training in 2009, by reading all the latest science-based research she could find and by enrolling in a dog training course through Raising Canine, owned and operated by Susan Smith, CDBC, CPDT-KA. Jennifer earned her national certification in professional dog training through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) in 2013. She feels strongly that: “The attitude that’s brought to the training session by both myself and the dog’s guardian is critical to its success.” “I strive to fully understand the goals as well as the challenges of each client and work hard to develop a plan that works for everyone, including the dog.”