“I felt, and still feel, lots of guilt that my dogs’ lives are so different after the baby.”
“I feel guilty for yelling at my dog when he wants attention, but I’m too tired and too touched out.”
“I feel guilty for not taking my dog on long walks we both used to love.”
Can you relate? I sure can.
My experience with dog mom guilt
I felt guilty for 4 years (!) for not being the dog parent I used to be.
I used to do A LOT with Lola, late evening training classes, weekend competitions, long hikes, and training sessions at home. And then I had my twins, and with that came postpartum anxiety and depression.
I quit scent detection training; I hired a full-time dog walker. I chose myself and my sanity and….I felt so guilty for doing it.
Lola went from being the center of my world for over 4 years to getting a few minutes a day of my undivided attention in the first months. Even if my husband walked her and gave her more attention, it broke my heart that I couldn’t do it.
The truth is, almost every aspect of my life has changed dramatically. I can’t go back to my previous life. All my priorities have changed. It took me 4 years to let go of the guilt, finally understanding that my dog still has a great life and I’m doing the best I can.
Guilt mixed with grief
My guilt was not a result of the lack of preparation. I felt guilty because I couldn’t give Lola what she had before, and the alternatives didn’t seem enough to me. I also thoroughly enjoyed our scent detection training and competitions, and the choice to stop doing it was a really hard one. The grief over the dog mom I used to be, and the things we used to do together.
Looking back, Lola loved her daily trips with her beloved dog walker, and my kids' generosity with their food was definitely a huge positive change in her life. I didn’t see it then, but she still had a great life, and despite less time together, our bond remained strong.
Dogs have emotions, too.
When you have a baby, the unique language you and your dog have developed together will be interrupted. Your dynamic will change. Your dog will try the same behaviors that have worked in the past, e.g., jumping in your lap to cuddle or bringing a toy to play fetch. When those behaviors don’t work, they may try other ways to get your attention, such as (more) barking, jumping, grabbing stuff, etc.
Unwanted behaviors are a reaction to all the changes, the new reality (which includes the baby), new routines, and interruption of the dynamic with you, not because they are “jealous” of the baby. Some dogs act depressed, avoid their mom and their whole demeanor changes. If your dog keeps being “sad,” especially if they stop eating or drinking, contact your veterinarian asap.
On a practical level, I would prepare the dog (and yourself) in every way possible, including:
- mastering useful training cues
- introducing new routines (e.g., new daycare or dog walker)
- practicing time apart and times when you don’t give your dog attention
- reducing attention seeking behaviors such as barking, pawing, whining, nudging, scratching, etc.
- creating a safe, relaxing space for your dog.
If this already sounds overwhelming, you might benefit from my courses, where I’ll help you navigate this new journey, step-by-step.
Check out my Dog Meets Baby courses.
Adjustment is normal
It’s important to understand that even if you have spent time preparing and training your dog, there might be an adjustment period for you and your dog.
When you are sleep-deprived, tired, and figuring out your new identity as a mom, and your dog starts “acting out” –pees or poops in the house, barks more, gets into fights–those new behaviors bring up a lot of emotions.
As Sloane said, “ I feel like he is doing this out of spite and for attention. It's killing us. We don't know how to react. I feel so bad for him because I knew the adjustment would be hard for him but didn't know it would be THIS hard 😢”
And it’s easy to feel guilty at that moment, even when you try your best with the limited time you have. You feel like you are failing your dog, who was your ENTIRE WORLD only a few weeks ago.
First, you are not alone; many new parents go through this. Adjustment is normal. I can’t stress enough how helpful preparation and training per baby is, because you may still feel guilty but life with a well prepared and trained dog, and a baby, will be so much easier.
Ask for help
You’ve heard it many times before, ask for help when you have a newborn. This is no different: ask for help with your dog. People want to help and if they want to help with dog care, let them. If not, you might consider hiring a dog walker, or finding a doggie daycare.
A full time dog walker (5 days a week group off leash walk) was not cheap but for me, it was important that Lola’s life was not completely disrupted. I started 'Lola’s maternity fund' when I was in my first trimester. That fund allowed me to outsource her walks that wouldn’t have happened otherwise (or rarely) and outsource part of my guilt. I can tell you now that was one of my best decisions.
Chelsey said that she anticipated the shift in needs and hired a dog walker, and now on her second kid, they still use the service. “it’s been great for me, my dog, and fam! ❤️🙌”
Advice from Licensed Mental Health Counselor
I asked Bryce Reddy, LMHC, founder of Mom Brain Therapist, for her advice as a mental health counselor:
“As humans, it’s so easy to get stuck in the comparison trap of a ‘before & after’ baby. We think of how different life was then versus now. And our relationships with our dogs are no exception. When you find yourself in this guilt-inducing thought pattern, try to bring yourself back to the present (what can I do today to connect with my dog), readjust your expectations (what’s realistic in your current situation), and watch that inner dialogue (“Life can be different and still be good for…”).
Your dog misses you just as much as you miss them
It’s so easy to think about life “before & after,” and they just aren’t comparable. Being intentional about making a new normal for your pup may help. In the first 6 weeks, I snuggled Lola on her bed after the 3 am feed. That was our time together. I still remember the first walk together, just her and me when I was 7 weeks postpartum. We went to a park right by our house for only 30 mins, but it felt awesome.
So many moms miss snuggling on the sofa together, especially if you used to snuggle a lot during pregnancy.
Tammy: “A few days ago, as the baby was napping, we managed to lie down together, and I felt he was really happy. I also make a point of playing with him outside when dad is home in the evening holding baby. And he is with me when I nurse; I leave the bathroom door open when we change nappies, etc., so he can be involved. And I've learned to play fetch inside with one arm while holding the baby in the other. I sometimes wonder if when we finally find more quality time together, he'll dump me for his little sister, who will certainly become his new best friend. He'll break my heart, lol.”
Your baby may or may not be your dog’s new best friend. If they are, their friendship will bring you so much joy. But the goal isn’t for dogs and kids to be best friends; it’s simply not achievable in the case of many dogs, but to peacefully coexist.
Tam said she cried a lot in her 3rd trimester just knowing she wouldn't be able to spend as much time with her beloved dog. “We're 4 months postpartum, and we've found a good rhythm. It turned out better than I thought, but of course, it's not the same.”
Lizzy’s dog is getting older, and it keeps terrifying her that he’ll pass away before the baby’s old enough (and it’s not 10 degrees F outside) to start regular hiking again. “Took him to work with me today now that baby’s in daycare, and gosh, it feels good to have a mommy & me day with him.”
Practical tip for less dog-mom guilt: Give your dog a job.
Feeding Lola out of puzzle toys also helps me feel less guilty when I don’t have time for her. It’s not rocket science, but it really helps. Check out this blog post for inspiration and the Dog Meets Baby Amazon Store to see my favorite puzzle toys.
I hope this blog post will help you process those feelings and not feel alone. I know how important your bond with your dog is. When that dynamic shifts, me and the Dog Meet Baby community of like minded dog parents, are here to support you. Your dog can still be your best friend, before AND after human babies!