I take being a “pet parent” very seriously.
I’d been dying for a dog of my own since the day I went to college and left my childhood Pug behind with my parents. But because I grew up with an appreciation of dogs and an understanding of how much time and energy they require, I didn’t just willy-nilly pounce on a puppy the first chance I got.
I knew I needed a schedule that was flexible enough for me to do right by the dog. I needed to live somewhere suitable for a four-legged friend, and I needed to be confident that everywhere I lived after that would be pet-friendly. I also needed to be able to commit to training, raising and caring for an animal over the course of their life.
It took over a decade for all the stars to align, but boy was it worth it! This past November, my husband and I got Zeke, a red Golden Retriever puppy who (surprise, surprise!) I am completely obsessed with. He gets all of his vaccinations exactly when the vet recommends, eats quality food and gets plenty of exercise. He’s a well-socialized puppy-kindergarten graduate who is loved and adored by all who know him.
My point, in telling you all this, is that having a dog is a responsibility I don’t take lightly. Like most pet parents, I adore my little man and care deeply about his well-being. I try my hardest to take the best possible care of him. Of course, I’m not perfect, and neither is Zeke, but as long as he’s happy, healthy and well adjusted, everything’s OK—right?
Not according to the dog-mom shamers.
Yes, you read that right: Dog-mom shamers, like those of the human variety, have a way of making others feel inferior about their own parenting for no good reason. I knew about human-mom shaming long ago thanks to friends and Facebook, but I didn’t realize dog-mom shaming existed until I found myself on the brink of puppy parenthood.
How you acquire your future family member is a touchy topic. If you say you’re adopting from a shelter, prepare for an onslaught of “you don’t really know what you’re getting that way” as well as stories about a friend of a friend’s rescue disaster. On the flip side, if you buy your dog from a breeder, you have to defend yourself for not adopting a dog. And even if you know for sure you’re working with a reputable breeder, there will be one or two “puppy mill” comments directed your way.
And just wait until you actually have your four-legged family member! The dog-mom shaming continues at the pet store and puppy playgroup. Depending on where you live, the “right” doggy diet can be natural, raw or grain-free; meaty or vegan; canned or kibble—you name it. But if you’re feeding your pup something different than what’s on the another mama’s menu, brace yourself for a lecture on proper nutrition and how you could be depriving your dog of it.
Training is a contentious topic, too—some puppy parents are against the use of “aversives” (prong collars, spray bottles, invisible fences, etc.) and will take other dog mamas to task for using them. Flexi leashes are fun or fundamentally dangerous, depending on who you talk to. Potty training isn’t a science—it’s an art, and regardless of what any self-appointed potty gurus try to tell you, different approaches and timelines work better for some dogs than others.
There are even fur mamas in the #InstaDog community (here’s Zeke’s account) who put down other puppy parents for not sharing the “right” kind of photos. A few weeks ago, I came across one dog mom’s lengthy rant about seeing pictures of “lazy” pets taken from their owners’ couches rather than ones of them enjoying themselves outside. Now, I don’t actually know this particular pet parent, but as someone who takes far too many pictures of Zeke lounging about while we’re in the den, I couldn’t help but feel defensive.
I wanted to clap back and say that when I’m outside with my dog, I’m playing with him—not taking his photo. Did fetch not happen if I didn’t get it on video? Is a hike in the woods null and void without a proper hashtag? Of course not, but the thing is, there’s no need for me to prove I’m a good puppy parent to anyone other than my dog.
Us dog mamas (and papas) should be sticking together, not trying to outdo each other or prove we’re superior. We can share what we’ve learned and what’s worked for us along the way, but we need to remember every dog is different. What’s best for yours might not be what’s best for mine, and that’s OK.
We all love our dogs, and at the end of the day, that’s what really matters.