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5 Dog-Parenting Rules I Break

There are a lot of "rules" for pet parents. I diligently follow many, but I break some of them, too.

Theresa Cramer  |  Jun 19th 2015


When it comes to having a dog, a lot has changed since I was a kid. The dog world is practically unrecognizable to my parents. My mom would go to the grocery store and buy a giant bag of inexpensive dog food, and keep the bowl full all of the time. Our neighborhood had a Weimeraner who wandered the streets and would come play with our German Shepherd. I fed the dog Twizzlers, and both of our dogs happily rode in the back of our pickup truck (though, so did I). Today there are a lot more “rules” when it comes to being a pet parent, and I diligently follow many of them. But I break some of them, too.

Here are five dog-parent rules I break:

1. I give her “people food”

Maybelle sleeps better on a full belly.

Maybelle sleeps better on a full belly.

There are two kinds of people: those who can resist the sad eyes of a dog who just wants your food and those who cannot. I fall into the latter group. Maybelle has to keep a polite distance while I’m eating, but it’s pretty rare that she doesn’t get to clean my plate or get the last bite of my sandwich. She isn’t overweight and has a stomach of steel — and I don’t have to pre-rinse plates before putting them in the dishwasher. Everyone wins.

2. I’m going all-natural on flea and tick prevention

I want to cuddle my dog, not a flea collar.

I want to cuddle my dog, not a flea collar.

When I was a kid, my mom worked at an Italian restaurant and brought home leftovers for the dogs every night. Thanks to the garlic, they never had fleas — that is, until my mom had my brother and had to stop working for a while. More recently, some friends of mine decided to use a homemade flea and tick remedy for their dog. So far, it’s been working. They made it through last year — in their new yard in a rural area — without any flea or tick problems. I’ve decided to give it a try. I know garlic can be controversial, but I’ve decided it’s better than caustic chemicals that I wouldn’t even use on my lawn.

3. I leave her in the car

Maybelle prefers staying in the car to going back out in the rain.

Maybelle prefers staying in the car to going back out in the rain.

No, I don’t leave my dog in a hot car. And yes, I know that there are sick people out there who steal dogs from cars. I also know that it’s probably a lot more likely that a car will jump a curb and hit us while we’re on our daily walk than it is that someone will break into my car — which has a security system — to steal my dog in a suburban grocery store parking lot. I find it even harder to believe no one would notice someone smashing my window and stealing a 45-pound dog with Yoda ears. I refuse to deny Maybelle countless fun car rides based on the canine equivalent of “stranger danger.”

4. I yell

Maybelle is more bothered by duckface than by my raised voice.

Maybelle is more bothered by duckface than by my raised voice.

I once heard a saying that went something like this: “You whisper to a Border Collie, you yell at an Australian Shepherd, and you kick a Heeler.” It should go without saying that I won’t be kicking my Heeler-mix, but there are times when the only way to get her attention is a loud noise — namely, me yelling. She listens very well about 75 percent of the time, but there are those days when she’s amped up and our walks are filled with one squirrel after another, barking dogs, and speeding cars. Short of carrying an entire steak with me on every walk, I find the best way to get Maybelle’s attention back on me in those moments is a loud “HEY!” And before you reprimand me too harshly, Maybelle is not scared by this. She’s so tuned in to whatever is keeping her attention from me that I’m sure the nearby neighbors are far more alarmed by my yelling than the dog is.

5. I send mixed messages

A rare moment of understanding between Maybelle and Ruby.

A rare moment of understanding between Maybelle and Ruby.

Dogs benefit from consistency, and most people are woefully inconsistent. I am one of those people. I am most guilty of this when it comes to how Maybelle interacts with my cats. She often decides that the cats are not allowed near something, usually something that is new to our environment — like the suitcase of a visitor. She will chase them away, and I will yell (see above). But when the cats are scratching the furniture and Maybelle leaps into action, chasing the felines away, I praise her. I hope she’s smart enough to understand the difference, but she might just be confused.

As much as we may strive to be perfect for our pets, most of us aren’t. What rules do you break? Let us know in the comments!

Read more by Theresa Cramer:

About the author: Theresa Cramer is a journalist and editor by trade, an NPR addict, and an avid gardener. She blogs at Writer on the Prowl, where you will find pictures of her garden, her pets, and musings about whatever is on her mind. She is working on a book about content marketing and how to make the transition from journalist to brand journalist.