6 Tips to Make Your Life as a Dog Parent Less Stressful
We love our dogs. We take them for regular check-ups and walks. We make sure they have the best caretakers and quality nutrition. But, let’s face it — sometimes life as a dog mom can be stressful. From Fido pooping in the house to incessant barking to unexpected medical bills, your blood pressure can skyrocket in seconds. And unfortunately for some dogs, fairly fixable instances like these can break down that dog-human bond, landing dogs in shelters.
Fortunately, a bit of planning ahead can be a game-changer and make your life with Fido a lot more fun. Below are some common stressors and expert-suggested solutions to help curb the crazies at the best time — before it starts.
1. Stopping the poop-eating
No one wants their dog to re-eat dinner. It’s just gross. "There are lots of theories out there as to why they seem to enjoy this disgusting pastime, but the most widely accepted is that they’re trying to reclaim digested protein," says veterinarian Dr. Christie Long. Even if this is the case, it does not make the habit any less nauseating. Check out Long’s article for more information on poop-eating and other common dog questions.
- Understand that this might be a natural instinct — and very hard to deter. In fact, when puppies are born they’re unable to poop on their own, so mother dogs lick their puppy’s butt to enable normal defecation and clean up after the pup by eating the feces. “Poop-eating is virtually in a dog’s DNA,” wrote friend and renowned veterinarian, animal behaviorist and author Dr. Sophia Yin in her article about why dogs eat poop.
- Given how ingrained this behavior is, an ounce of prevention really might be best. Try walking your dog on a leash to prevent them from snacking on other dog’s feces when you’re out and about.
- Be sure to pick up immediately after your dog since most dogs seem attracted to fresher feces than the stuff that’s been sitting around.
2. When walking the dog is the last thing you want to do
I’ll be the first to admit that which of us walks our dogs during a rainstorm — or when we’re exhausted — has definitely started a few fights in my household. And my home isn’t the only one that likes to avoid walks sometimes. According to the American Animal Hospital Association's NEWStat, researchers estimate “approximately 40 percent of dog owners don't take their dogs for walks.” However, not only does walking the dog give your dog a potty break, it pays off in other ways too — making your dog tired and less anxious, keeping his or her mind stimulated (which can help delay canine cognitive dysfunction), increasing the bond between you both and helping your dog with socialization. So regular walks are important, but what can you do to help de-stress those moments when grabbing the leash is the last thing you want to do?
- If you share dog-walking responsibilities in your household, set a schedule you all agree on. That way there’s no back-and-forth about who’s going to give the nightly or morning walk when you’re all tired and stressed.
- Help encourage Fido to get done faster. Giving your dog a treat or feeding immediately after the walk can be a good way to encourage your dog to do his business quickly. This way, you're able to keep scheduled potty breaks shorter, while still enjoying longer walks and exercise as often as your dog (and you) need it.
3. Housetraining hassles
The fact is, most new dogs in a new situation will likely need some form of housetraining, no matter how great their bladder control is. Helping a new canine member of your household understand that peeing is for outside only is critical in creating a happy and healthy space for the whole family. However, if you haven’t done it in a while, housetraining is not fun. Here’s a bit of shorthand I’ve learned after fostering, pet-sitting and adopting scores of dogs over the last 16 years.
- New dogs (especially puppies who have never been housetrained and small dogs with small bladders) need to be brought outside frequently when housetraining — some every 30 minutes.
- Get everyone in the house on the same page about housetraining and set a schedule for who is going to watch the new family member and when.
- Supervision is essential. When Fido’s not being actively watched is when he’s most likely to slip at first. Be sure to have a plan in place for when you’re not home or can’t pay close attention — whether you choose to crate train or seclude your dog in an easy-to-clean area.
- Get more tips on how to make housetraining simple and effective.
4. Vet bills and emergencies
We can’t predict the future, and if you’re like a lot of dog moms, unforeseen or unplanned costs can cause some big-time stress. When accidents occur, not only are you worried about your dog, but you’re worried about how much it’s going to cost to diagnose and (hopefully) treat the issue. Likewise, even routine tests and procedures can add up at Fido’s regular checkup. So what can help take cost out of the equation?
- Pet insurance can help. You may or may not save money, but that’s not really the point. Instead of having you face a possibly massive unexpected charge, pet insurance helps offset the cost of emergencies by letting you pay a regular monthly fee you can plan on and budget for. (Learn more about how pet insurance works and what it costs.)
- Regular checkups with your vet can help prevent, detect and/or treat conditions as early as possible, giving you a better shot at keeping costs lower. Similar to insurance, many vets and some insurance plans also offer wellness plans. These can help break down the cost of recommended healthy pet veterinary care into manageable monthly payments that are friendlier budgeting-wise.
- Of course, if you’re disciplined enough, maintaining an emergency fund for unexpected vet costs can give a sense of security and confidence. This can be as little as setting aside $10 each month for a doggy emergency fund and can be in addition to an insurance or wellness plan. An automatic paycheck withdrawal can be set up with most banks to ensure the money makes it into the fund too.
- You’ll also want to ensure you have a point of contact and plan in case you are ever out of commission. Have a friend or family member willing to care for your dog during an emergency — someone who knows about the financial preparations you’ve made can go a long way in a crisis. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
5. Finding a dog-friendly home when moving
Moving is, in and of itself, one of the most stressful experiences, and having a dog can indeed make it a bit harder. Sadly, pet-friendly housing is at a premium, so to combat such obstacles, give yourself lots of time to prepare, schmooze and research.
- Once you know you’ll have to move, begin searching for your new home as soon as possible.
- Check out sites that have pet-friendly search criteria, like Rent.com.
- Be aware that not everything listed as “pet-friendly” means pet-friendly for you. Different associations and landlords will allow different types of pets, so give yourself lots of time to look.
- Try researching local pet-friendly associations or landlords that accept your type of dog, and see if anyone you know can introduce you.
- Sometimes contacting a pet-friendly landlord and letting them meet you and Fido even before they have something available can go a long way in obtaining affordable, dog-friendly housing.
6. Finding someone to care for your dog when you’re away
When it’s time to take a break from life, we can’t always bring our beloved dog on vacation with us. And for those of us who take business trips, Fido tagging along is not always an option.
- If boarding is an option, scope it out ahead of time. Be sure to arrange a walk through of the facility (usually after hours when the dogs are crated) so you can see the environment where your dog will be. Check out more tips for boarding your dog from Dr. Christie Long.
- If boarding is a no-go, think about whether to hire a professional to pet sit or ask a friend. Either way you go, be absolutely sure you have a back-up in place who will be able to get to your pup in an emergency or in case your sitter flakes.
- Be sure to leave your boarding facility or caretaker (and back-up) authorization with your vet for care. Should your pup get sick while you’re away, this enables your caretakers to make medical decisions on your behalf, if you can’t be reached.
We’re only human and sometimes, try as we might, we can’t shake the frustration we have toward our canine companions. After all, having a dog in our lives gives us both enormous joy, entertainment and responsibility for another life. It’s bound to cause a bit of friction at times. Along with preventing stressful situations before they arise, it’s important to remember we are in control of how we respond to any situation. When in the moment, try some of the classics: count to 10, breath deeply and if you can, it’s OK to take a break from Fido. Go ahead. Go for that walk... alone.