We hear about mum and dad guilt all the time when it comes to children, but what about dog guilt? Actually I found that when I had a baby, that’s when my dog guilt really kicked in and started to take over. I felt he wasn’t getting enough attention, walks were less relaxing, I just wanted space when the baby went to bed not another thing on my lap! I felt cruel to have done this to him.
We need to recognise that owning a pet comes with its share of guilt too. It’s a natural response that we feel when we have a responsibility to something else’s wellbeing. It’s also a pretty good sign we are doing things right. But how do we cope with this guilt that can sometimes feel overwhelming?
First we need to understand where it’s coming from.
Is it coming from comparison? Are you seeing that dog do the perfect trick, track a 5 mile walk, eat an extravagant homemade meal?
Or maybe you have recently been flooded with comments or advice that have ill intent.
Know that this guilt is therefore being put upon you by others. Step away from those who interfere with the relationship between you and your dog without the best intentions.
Remind yourself that the posts you see or the comments you hear are only a snippet into someone elses life. And the part they filmed. It doesn’t necessarily mean their dog is getting any more or less.
Are you meeting the 5 freedoms? Is your dog free from hunger and thirst? Free from discomfort? Free from pain? Free from fear and distress as much as possible and free to practice normal behaviours? If you answered yes then you are already doing a fantastic job and probably giving them a better life than so many other dogs out there.
If you need to step away from social media for a while to help ease the guilt then do so. You can’t pour from an empty cup so take care of yourself first.
Is the guilt coming from you? We can often be really hard on ourselves and not have a very kind internal monologue. Every action we do with our pets in mind is done with love and if we do it with the animals best interest at heart then there really is no need to feel guilty. We also need to accept that we have no control over the environment and other people’s actions. It’s so easy to regret our choices or wish we had been more assertive but the reality is we did what felt best at the time. And that would have been the right thing. It can sometimes be useful to use a daily mantra ‘I will not stress over the things I cannot control’.
It happened, your dog will recover. Try to let it go.
Is your guilt justified? Could your dog do with a little more and how can you make it possible? Remember the power of mental stimulation, it might just be a case of getting up 10 or 15 minutes earlier and doing some search games, training or making up some enrichment to dish out throughout the day. There is also no shame in this happening, dogs need us throughout their lives and it’s not going to be possible to give them everything one hundred percent throughout this time. There will be changes and phases that we need to adapt and adjust to and help our dogs to as well.
Remember that all dogs are different too. Another reason why it’s so important not to compare. My dog Badger, loves his walks, his training. But I when we have extra time together I know that he will benefit most from just sitting with me or on me and enjoying that time to just feel connected. It’s sometimes just the simplest of needs you are looking to fulfil. So keep your goals small and achievable, even if it’s just 5 minutes a day.
Most importantly, remember you are not alone. Feeling guilty about not giving our pets enough is a normal and healthy emotion but just make sure it’s not getting out of control. I know as a trainer that as soon as someone admits guilt, it reassures me they are wonderful owners who care and their companions are incredibly lucky to have them.