How My Kids Prepared Me for Being a Dog Owner
A lot of people say that having a dog is good preparation for being a parent. Well, I acquired my dependents a different order and I have to say that the reverse is true as well. I don’t like to think of my children as guinea pigs, but they did do an excellent job of breaking me in to become a dog owner.
I’ve never owned a dog before and was never very interested in the idea. But exactly one year ago this week, my life was forever changed when a former colleague of mine posted this on Facebook:
It was love at first sight, I knew he had to be ours. My husband, a dog-lover, said we should wait—our youngest was almost potty-trained, why would we want to bring more poop into our life right now? But maybe that was why my maternal (or should I say “peturnal?”) instinct was kicking in—because my youngest was starting preschool in the fall and I needed someone else to take care of. Some women feel a stirring in their womb when they see a picture of a baby; my womb was silent, but I felt an itching in my poop-scooping, fur-petting, treat-giving hand and clicked on the “Comments” box and typed that we were interested.
I knew that I didn’t fully comprehend what I was signing up for, just as there is no way to be fully prepared for parenthood. Fortunately, I wasn’t walking into this completely blind. I’ve had prior experience taking care of domesticated animals: I’m a mom.
Here are some ways that having kids helped prepare me for owning a dog:
1. I’m used to not having any privacy. My dog—and my three-year old—follow me everywhere. I pee in front of an audience of two. When I shower, Bo is sitting right outside the glass doors, watching and waiting. It would be unnerving if my three-year-old wasn’t sitting next to him eating crackers. Or maybe that should be more unnerving. When I step out of the shower, Bo licks my ankles before lapping up the water on the shower floor. Fortunately, my daughter hasn’t tried that. Yet.
2. Poop, vomit, and pee stains are old hat. My dog has major separation anxiety, and used to pee on our rug every time we left him home alone. He has also thrown up in the house and in my car several times, and just this past weekend he had explosive diarrhea all throughout my house while we were sleeping. While I did dry-heave a few times during the cleaning the process, it’s not the first time I’ve cleaned someone else’s diarrhea, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
But don’t ask me to pick up another dog’s poop; just like changing other kids’ diapers grosses me out, so too does another dog’s doo. We get used to our own brood’s poops, and outsiders’ poops are just plain nauseating.
This is also a reason to have kids before getting a dog: My 8-year-old scooping poop in the rain for 5 cents a turd.
3. I know how to turn off (or down) the Mommy Guilt. When we first got Bo, I felt terrible every time I left him home alone. Knowing that he’d been passed around a lot in his past, including time at a shelter and time with an abusive owner, I felt I was contributing to his feelings of abandonment and anxiety. I stayed home a lot more and brought him with me wherever I could. But as a Mom I knew this was not helping him; he would just have to learn that Mommy always comes back.
4. I’ve gotten used to having unrealistic expectations placed on me. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “I wish I were half as good a person as my dog thinks I am.” Well, just as I’m not nearly as wonderful as my dog seems to think I am, I am also not the all-knowing demi-god my children believe me to be. I’m getting used to disappointing them. Every time I give a wrong answer or say, “I don’t know,” the pedestal my kids have put me on inches lower and lower toward the ground. Pretty soon both my dog and my kids will realize I’m a hopeless mess and take pity on me.
5. I’m ok not knowing what I’m doing. It’s been a year and I still don’t think I pet my dog the right way. It doesn’t feel natural and is often a bit awkward (I’m a great cat-petter though!). But Bo doesn’t seem to mind, he still wags his tail happily and begs for more. I’m his Mom, and he loves me no matter how clumsily I man-handle him.
My daughters already taught me this lesson. I’m a hopeless braider, particularly of the French variety, but my six-year-old still proudly goes to school with my pathetic, disheveled attempt at a French braid. By the time I pick her up at three o’clock, all her hair is down except for a couple loose strands still clinging onto the elastic band. She still asks me to do it again the next morning.
6. I’m used to inappropriate touching. Fortunately neither my kids nor my dog is a crotch-sniffer or thigh-humper. Although if my dog were, I suppose years of kids grabbing my boobs or tugging on my pants and giving me plumber’s butt in public has probably given me a little training in handling inappropriate touching.
7. I don’t fall for the sad, puppy-dog face (most of the time). If I did, I’d be in trouble with this guy:
Just look at him, even when he’s happy he looks suicidal. My youngest also has a very convincing pouty face, some have suggested that her sad face resembles a Basset Hound (as her mother, I cannot say this is true, but I won’t deny it either). I’ve developed an immunity to the puppy pout over the years, though I admit to occasional lapses.
8. If you can sleep-train a toddler, you can crate-train a 4-year-old dog. We didn’t have much choice other than to put our dog in a crate when we leave him home alone; he peed in the house every time we left him, even when we gated him in the kitchen, and if we left him in our fenced backyard he would howl constantly, disturbing our neighbors. I’m not sure who crate-training was harder for—me or him. But I sleep-trained two of my kids and I knew what I had to do: be tough, be consistent, and bribe when necessary. We got through it. Now, if only my kids’ bedroom doors had an outside lock like the crate, sleep training would have been a lot quicker.
9. Sleepless nights and house-training: been there, done that. I know that puppies wake you up several times at night to go outside and are prone to accidents until they are fully house-trained. After surviving three newborn periods and potty-training three kids, I have a pretty good idea what this entails. And that’s why I didn’t get a puppy.
10. Drool is cool. My dog is a slobbery mess. He drools when he’s stressed, he drools when he’s happy, he drools when he’s asleep, he drools when he’s awake. I’m not going to say I like getting slobber on my clothes or furniture, but after three teething children I’m not as grossed out by dog drool as I was pre-kids.
11. I know that nobody thinks he’s as special as I do. Just as new moms marvel at every little thing their baby does and love to tell you how it’s the cutest thing ever when little Johnny sleeps with his butt in the air or stretches on the changing table, I found myself telling people about Bo’s cute “quirks” as if he were the only dog in the world that did them. “You should see what he does before he lies down in his bed, he circles around it three times, pats it down with his paws, then lays down. He does this every time, it’s so funny!” It was a while before I realized this was a common dog behavior. But being a mom to humans, I have already accepted the fact that nobody else will ever fully appreciate just how wonderfully special my charges are. Sure, people think they’re cute, but only my husband and I know how cute they really are.
What I was not prepared for when we got our dog is the same thing I was not prepared for when we had our first child: how quickly he would become an irreplaceable member of our family; how easily he would steal our hearts; how happily we would accept his smell, his accidents, his slobber, his howls and his following me around everywhere in exchange for his unconditional love, unquestionable loyalty, and undeniable sweetness.