Perfect Dog, Neurotic Dog Mom
August 2, 2009 5:57 AM   Subscribe

How did you adjust to being a first-time dog owner?

My husband and I adopted an adorable adult boston terrier/american bulldog mix from 3 weeks ago. The dog is sweet, obedient, funny, and gentle. He doesn't bark at all - ok, he's barked twice in the past 3 weeks, each just a single gruff "woof" and that's all. He likes other dogs, and likes people even more, and is good with children as well. He doesn't have any behavior issues that I can see so far (other than waking us up at 5 am because he wants to cuddle - we have to find the snooze button on this dog). We plan to sign him up for obedience training soon, but we are still looking for the right class. He was underweight and had a dull coat when we got him, but he's coming along well now (with a few setbacks of diarrhea which had me worried sick).

We live in an urban area, and we don't have a yard, so we make sure he is walked three times a day (average: about 1 hr in the morning, 1/2 hr mid-day, and then 30-45 min in the evening). The rest of the time, he's inside the apartment. On days when we are away for 9 hours (3 days a week), a dog walker comes in in the middle of the day to walk him for a half hour. The other 4 days, one or both of us is home for at least half of the day. He seems to just sleep during the day, and the dog walker has even said that sometimes he is not too into his mid-day walks and it seems like he has been disturbed from his sleep when she comes in. We play with him after walks, and feed him twice a day.

So, what is the problem? I have just had a lot of anxiety and stress from adjusting to the responsibility of having a dog. I'm in my early 30s, and before getting this dog I guess I had too easy of a life! I am very responsible and hard-working within my career, but I have not had to face taking care of another living being before. I have previous problems with anxiety, and have a lot of difficulty adjusting to change. I am also having a hard time taking things one day at a time - while walking my dog in the lovely summer weather, I am thinking "Oh, I'm going to hate walking him in the winter in the morning," even though I have always gone walking in the cold weather in the past before having a dog, though not every day. When he was sick with diarrhea in the middle of the night, I was thinking, "Will it always be like this? Will I never sleep through the night again?" I also worry about the dog all of the time even though he has shown no signs of separation anxiety or boredom. I am not sure how to deal with this problem. I know I can't return the doggie just because I am neurotic! I want to adjust to this responsibility, because I know if I can't take care of this sweet, easy dog then I won't be able to handle children, which previously I thought I would want in about a year or so, but now I am not so sure. If you have gone through something similar, and can give any advice on how to adjust, and a success story or two, I would really appreciate it.
posted by tuff to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I think you're projecting your anxiety about children onto this dog and putting too much pressure onto yourself (i.e. "I know if I can't take care of this sweet, easy dog then I won't be able to handle children, which previously I thought I would want in about a year or so").

Your description of the care routine you've got set up, even the tone of how you describe the dog, has me pretty convinced you don't have to worry you're not making the dog happy, or keeping him safe. It sounds like he's got a great doggy life, and you just need to enjoy him and stop freaking this out for making it the absolute, daily litmus test of whether or not you'll be a fit (human) parent.
posted by availablelight at 6:03 AM on August 2, 2009

I rarely say this but, YOU'RE DOING IT RIGHT!!! It's only been three weeks, cut yourself some slack. I got a second dog in May and I am JUST getting used to him and he to us.

PS, I used to think like you about kids. It doesn't work like that. It's night and day different. Your parenting/maternal/oaternal instincts don't kick in for a dog. It's just different.
posted by bunnycup at 6:08 AM on August 2, 2009

I was a little nutty in the beginning, as well. I was actually helped by many metafilter/metachat dog owners who reminded me that I was in control and had choices when I got crazy about a situation that I feared might adversely affect her health (long story). I realized that my own worrying (if I didn't snap out of it) was going to be more of a threat than other aspects of her environment, and that did the trick for me. You can't help but worry when they get sick, of course, but I think that feeling and acting calm and in control as an owner (as much as possible), goes a long way toward ensuring my pet's psychological, and even physical, health. Basically, I didn't want to create a self-fulfilling prophecy with my worrying. It seems terribly obvious in retrospect, but new (dog)mommy nerves were cramping my brain.

Don't concern yourself too much... I think it's a pretty normal reaction, and as weeks turn into months, and you realize you haven't broken your dog, you become much more confident. And you have all these really, really smart, cool dog owners here to help you out, which is no small help. You definitely sound like a great owner, and your dog is a sweetheart. You'll all be very happy together, I predict.
posted by taz at 6:19 AM on August 2, 2009

You're doing great with the walks. Seriously. Two hours a day? Great for you guys and the dog, and he's getting a lot more exercise than many dogs, urban and suburban.

Seriously, you've described a just about perfect dog and a just about perfect dog owner. (My credentials: I am currently on dog number ... oh let's see ... seven, if we count childhood dogs.)
posted by bluedaisy at 6:21 AM on August 2, 2009

Don't project outcomes! You are doing just fine.
posted by netbros at 6:47 AM on August 2, 2009

You sound like a fantastic dog owner. Re will it get easier-yes, you'll get better at it, and you'll grow confident through your successes. Just like when you have a kid.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:59 AM on August 2, 2009

Remember too that dogs are amazingly resilient. They live in the now, and tend not to fret over the past or worry about the future. It sounds like you are doing really great, but just try to keep in mind that even if you do something wrong, it's not likely to traumatize the dog or ruin him for life. He'll just wake up the next morning expecting to snuggle and go for a walk and have some breakfast.

You are doing such a great job and sound like a wonderful dog owner.
posted by misskaz at 7:30 AM on August 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

I daresay, kids are much easier than dogs, at least at first. Babies just need to be fed, changed and washed; no real play, no walkies, no complex psychology to worry about. It gets trickier as they grow up, but you've had time to adjust by then.

But as to the question: your problem is the anxiety, not the dog (I would echo the other sentiments that you seem to be doing great by the dog). I would try to fix the problem rather than the symptom. I won't offer any pop psychology as to how: get professional advice or discuss it with someone you trust. If it helps, you will find that your dog (and probably your kids, when you have them) will be much more accommodating of your shortcomings (real and imagined) than you seem to be.
posted by BrokenEnglish at 7:48 AM on August 2, 2009

You are doing a great job with this very lucky pup. I look after dogs for a living and I promise you from your description that you are way above the average dog owner already.

"because I know if I can't take care of this sweet, easy dog then I won't be able to handle children"

You've answered your own question since you clearly can do a stellar job of looking after this dog.
posted by merocet at 8:05 AM on August 2, 2009

Agreeing with everyone else: you're doing fine. I adopted an adorable fox terrier from the local shelter last September. My first time as a dog owner as an adult. I was totally freaking out at first, with many of the concerns you voice. I'll address a few of your specific points in hopes that it'll help reassure you and let you relax and enjoy your new friend:

- No yard: I live in an urban area, too, and have no yard. This was probably the biggest thing that freaked me out at first. In the first few weeks, I was walking him like six or eight times a day! He quickly adjusted though: now he gets a long walk (about an hour) in the morning, a short (maybe half-hour) walk midday, and another longish (45 minute to an hour) walk in the evening. He's fine with it. Of course when I have time I take him to the park and let him run his ass off -- maybe three or four times a week.

- Sleep: Dogs sleep A LOT. More than you'd expect. At first I felt guilty that he was bored or something, but then I thought: you know, dogs have been around people for a hell of a long time, and those people certainly didn't spend every waking moment entertaining their dogs! It's natural.

- Walking in the winter: My dog doesn't like the bad weather (or the excessive heat, for that matter) any more than I do. On a bitter winter morning, once I get him to actually go out the door, he's interested in getting his business done and getting back inside the warm dry house as quickly as possible. It won't be a big problem. Get yourself a big hooded slicker, a warm pullover sweater, and some slip-on waterproof shoes (I have these) and keep them by the front door. That way you don't even have to worry about getting dressed to take the dog out on a miserable day.

- Barking: Doc didn't make a single vocal sound for the first two months I had him. Now he'll bark if he thinks someone's trying to get into the flat, and occasionally at something totally random (someone in the park yesterday was playing a plastic didgeridoo -- he stood there and basically yelled at it for like five minutes -- he yells at balloons, too).

- Diarrhea: Likely just an adjustment thing. Maybe you're not feeding him what he was used to being fed. Maybe he's still adjusting to the new environment. Whatever the case, he will adjust as long as you're fairly consistent in what and when you feed him.

Like the others have said, you're doing a fine job. Relax and enjoy your new pup!
posted by trip and a half at 8:13 AM on August 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

Um, did I write this question? I got a puppy last august, my first dog. I obsessed and agonized over everything. EVERYTHING! One time, after her midday walk, I went back to work and convinced myself I hadn't latched the front door and she had gotten out and been hit by a car. I worked myself up so much I had to go home, in tears, to check the front door. It was locked, she was fine. If she was sluggish in the morning, I was on the phone to the vet. I asked a friend to walk her a few weekends ago and I texted him after all the walks to make sure she was safely back at home.

Strangely, I have always let pup rough-play with big dogs (she is medium sized) without any concern.

I know I have attachment issues that I have been working on my whole life. When I love someone/something I obsess that I am going to lose them. I am convinced I am going to ruin any children I might have by being overprotective and obsessive. What has helped is time first of all. When she survives a bout of diarrhea it helps reassure me she will survive the next one. My boyfriend reminding me that she is fine helps when I obsess. Pup is happy, healthy, and well adjusted. She comes when I call her and has survived eating many tennis ball covers. She is resilient and that helps calm me. I don't know if this will help with children, but I fully intend to put myself back in therapy if I find myself pregers.

In terms of how you are caring for your dog, you are doing an excellent job! I would only suggest a little more socialization at a dog park if there is one in your area. Not only do most dogs enjoy it, but you can meet other dog owners and talk about your pups. I really enjoy my opportunity to socialize at the dog park! Also, our pup has really thrived with positive training. I highly recommend it.

If my experience is anything like yours, you will get through this with time. Just be glad you didn't adopt a puppy!! Geez! Talk about not getting any sleep!
Good luck!
posted by rachums at 8:25 AM on August 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wow, it sounds like your dog won the lottery! You're doing a great job so don't worry too much. It took me almost a full year to get a hold on my anxiety about my new puppy. Once you get through the winter you'll see that there will be days where you definitely don't want to take him for a walk but you'll do it anyway because you're so responsible, and once your dog gets totally settled in his new environment in a few months the nights will get easier. (My puppy used to wake us up freakishly early every morning, too, but after the first year she realized that sleep is good and gave up.) You'll also be able to recognize your dog's signs, too, so you'll know when he's bored and when he's just lazy. Everything should start to calm down in about seven months to a year.

I'm afraid about giving you more things to worry about, but one of the biggest things that helped ease my anxiety about my dog was simply having a card for a 24/7 emergency vet clinic on my fridge. Dogs always seem to get hurt in the middle of the night and already having a number will save you hours of panicking. The people at our emergency vet place are super sweet and tell us whether we really need to come in at ten at night when our dog's nose swells up to twice its normal size. It's not a big deal if you can't find one, but make sure your normal vet's number is easily accessible.
posted by lilac girl at 8:59 AM on August 2, 2009

About early-morning sleep resets: our dog wakes about 4:30 or 5, and taps on our bed to be invited under the covers by our feet, where he promptly goes back to sleep. If you can stand that, it's a nice way to get your feet extra warm. (Ours is a mostly-poodle, so his coat needs to be shorn fairly regularly; maybe he began waking when the night gets chilly. If he's sleeping with a blanket over him, he usually doesn't wake, but I haven't figured a way to keep a blanket in place in his bed, nor has he.)

Agreeing with everyone else -- it sounds like your dog has great owners.
posted by anadem at 9:21 AM on August 2, 2009

My hunch is that over time the happy face of your happy boston terrier/american bulldog mix smiling up at you will cure the first-time-dog-owner anxiety and some other stress as well.

Enjoy the honeymoon period and get to class or a dog park where you can talk with other dog owners.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:26 AM on August 2, 2009

One more thing: dogs sleep about 20 hours/day, so, yeah, your pup is snoozing while you are at work. As he should be.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:38 AM on August 2, 2009

You live and learn, just like with everything else in life. Every day is a new lesson. Last night's lesson in dog ownership (nearly sparking my own frantic AskMe) was: The dog WILL eat a condom that is carelessly tossed to the floor; plan accordingly.
posted by greekphilosophy at 10:43 AM on August 2, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you to everyone for your responses! I agree with those who have said it's my anxiety, not really the dog. I know that dogs are a lot of work and responsibility, but with time I should be able to work through my anxiety and live up to this challenge. I also realize that I think a lot of the anxiety stems from my last family dog having HUGE separation anxiety (howling, destroying door frames) - I needed to remind myself that our other family dogs, and most dogs in general, don't have such an issue with being left home alone. I was also doing myself no favors by reading forums where some dog owners said dogs should never be left alone more than 2 hours ever (who has a life like that?). I am definitely going to take my dog to the dog park and to obedience classes, and I have been trying to have him meet and greet every dog he walks by (if the owner says it's safe and ok), and he has done very well with that.

I really do thank each and every one of you. The next time I feel anxious or bad, I'm going to come back to this thread!
posted by tuff at 2:01 PM on August 2, 2009

Response by poster: Also, if your're interested, here is a video of my doggie playing.
posted by tuff at 2:07 PM on August 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

The best thing about dogs is that they're patient with you, even if you aren't patient with them. I'm also prone to anxiety. In fact, in the past two or three years, my dogs taught me a level of patience, self-confidence, and self-control that I think will be absolutely essential if I ever have kids.
posted by SpecialK at 2:14 PM on August 2, 2009

Response by poster: Also, since you all have been so helpful, I'm definitely going to post again when I have my next dog question!
posted by tuff at 2:23 PM on August 2, 2009

Sounds like you have a happy, well adjusted pup. So, how about going to look at dog sweaters, booties, rain coats for the fall and winter weather? If your puppy were tearing up the furniture, chewing shoes, barking incessantly when you were at work, peeing all over the house, then you would have a problem.
posted by x46 at 5:47 PM on August 2, 2009

Omg, he is adorable! I just wanted to comment on the winter walk: It is more important to spend time with him than an 'official' walk. So if you find that you, and he, don't like being out in blizzards for an hour at a time, realize you don't have to. It is just fine to combine a shorter walk and fill that extra time with play. They really mainly just need the time spent with you. (not much help, but hopefully you can check that off your anxiety list)
posted by Vaike at 7:17 PM on August 2, 2009

« Older Recommend a professional skin care brand?   |   Help me out of Seoul and back to LA Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.