Help me stop thinking of my dog as a small person.
August 24, 2010 3:43 PM   Subscribe

Help me stop thinking of my dog as a small person.

I’m a middle-aged woman with no kids, so not surprisingly, my dog and cat have kind of become my “babies” in my brain, and it’s not always a good thing.

My husband and I will be taking a two-week trip fairly soon, and for the first time will be leaving our beloved rescue mutt with someone else for that long. We’ve done this once before, but only for one week. She will be with the same person, who is a wonderful friend, loves dogs more than people, and probably spoils my dog more than I do. Still...last time I dealt with so much stress and worry about the situation, and I want to avoid that for this longer trip.

I need mental tricks, reading material, vague reassurances...something — to remind me that my dog is, in fact, just a dog, and will not be traumatized and end up a nervous mess just because she has to stay with someone else for two weeks.

She’s a good dog, but because she’s a rescue with a somewhat sketchy background, she can be barky and territorial. She wasn’t well socialized as a pup, so she gets scared in new situations, but over the last two years that we’ve had her, she’s made huge advances and continues to improve all the time. I guess one of the things I worry about is that being apart from us, at someone else’s home, will negate some of those improvements.

I know my worries are totally illogical. I know, but they still come up (usually in the middle of the night, keeping me awake). I know I have too much emotionally invested in the pooch, and I need ways to bring myself back to the reality that my dog is just a dog, and she will be just fine.
posted by TochterAusElysium to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you left the dog with this person before for a week and there was no problem, I am sure that leaving the dog for two weeks will also not be a problem for the dog. Dogs do not exactly count the days. You can't really imagine the dog thinking to itself, say, it's been a week, shouldn't TochterAusElysium be back by now? If the dog was too emotionally attached to you to be parted from you, then a week would be too long, even a day would be too long. As it is, the dog is being left in good hands and all is well.
posted by grizzled at 3:48 PM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My dog means almost as much to me as my husband. But my husband survives well when I have to go on business trips without him, and our pup, a rescue like yours, likewise does fine when we are away. Really, the hardest part when we are gone is simply that I miss my dog.

It is not that your dog is "just a dog," that you need to remember, but that 1) you've arranged a very safe and loving caretaker in your absence 2) your dog will be focused on what is happening in her life while you are gone, not counting the hours and 3) the safe and secure environment you've created has already gone a long way toward healing your dog's fearfulness.

I can assure you that your good work with your dog will not be undone by your absence. Dogs are like kids . . . once they have confidence and socialization skills, they do well in different environments than home. Thanks to you!
posted by bearwife at 3:49 PM on August 24, 2010 [6 favorites]

The first time I left my dogs with a dogsitter I was a wreck. When I came back the dogs were like, "Oh, it's you. Where's that awesome lady who was here a little while ago?" They totally were fine -- more than fine. I haven't worried since. Was your dog fine last time when you went away for a week? Then he'll be fine this time, too.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 4:22 PM on August 24, 2010

Does communicating regularly with your dog sitter help? I think one reason we often feel worse leaving our pets behind than leaving people behind is that we can't explain to our furballs why we're gone and when we're coming back. We can't call them up and tell them we love them like we can with the people we leave behind, and we can't get the same kind of reassurance that they're doing ok emotionally.

But if there's a way your friend can be that intermediary--assuring you the dog is ok and promising to give her lots of attention--through regular texts, emails, or phone calls (even just brief messages left at the hotel you're staying at, perhaps?), would that help? I know that when I left my furball for a long time once (12 days), I felt better hearing from the sitter every 2-3 days. She even sent a picture once, which was thoughtful.
posted by BlooPen at 4:34 PM on August 24, 2010

It doesn't really sound like you are having this anxiety problem because you anthropomorphize your dog too much. It sounds like you can just have anxiety/fatalistic thinking problems sometimes, and right now they are popping up with regard to this subject ... but do they pop up with regard to other subjects too?

You could try some CBT exercises to try to tamp down on the fatalistic thinking. You could also have the caretaker text you some photos of your dog every now and then while you are gone. It might help, if you are sitting there thinking "omg, she is probably whimpering and crying for me right now," and then you get a text of her in the middle of happily nomming a bunch of food and not thinking lonely thoughts at all.

I completely understand that the reason you want to stop thinking of your dog as a small person is because you see it as causing problems in your life ... I just wanted to say that I don't think that is a bad or abnormal thing, and I think the world would be a much much better place if more people thought of animals closer to the way you do, than thinking of them just as objects to do whatever with.
posted by Ashley801 at 4:43 PM on August 24, 2010

Best answer: I forget where I heard it on the radio, but I like the phrase "Give me three days and three cans of Alpo, and that dog will forget you ever existed."
posted by benzenedream at 4:51 PM on August 24, 2010

Can you have a video chat on Skype with the dog sitter, so you can see your dog?
posted by Ideefixe at 4:58 PM on August 24, 2010

You should find a good trainer to work with. This will help with socialization of your dog as well helping you understand what your relationship with your dog should be. But you need to find a good trainer; it may not be the first one you work with. Call a few different ones in your area and tell them about your situation.
posted by jeffamaphone at 4:58 PM on August 24, 2010

Best answer: To the best of my understanding, dogs don't really experience life the way that you or I do. When something happens to them, they don't wish for a different circumstance or imagine how things could go differently. They literally aren't capable of that. Instead, they just roll with what they've got, making the best of their current situation.
When you get back, your dog will remember you, be glad to see you, and be happy to be with you. But will they wish they could have been with you instead of the sitter? Does not compute.
posted by Gilbert at 5:03 PM on August 24, 2010 [6 favorites]

Help me stop thinking of my dog as a small person.

Ask your dog how he feels about going away, and if he has any ideas he'd like to suggest.
posted by spaltavian at 5:17 PM on August 24, 2010 [6 favorites]

Your dog is going to be spoiled rotten by somebody who loves dogs enough to babysit someone else's pet for an extended period. This is doggy heaven for her. Extra treats and walks and ear-scritching and couch-sitting and romps with the neighbor children are in her future. She'll be fine. :)
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:18 PM on August 24, 2010

Best answer: Your dog is an adult. Not an adult person, nor a baby person, but an adult dog. Your dog (as hopelessly cute as she is) can handle herself. She's got 40,000 years of a combination of evolution and selective breeding to help her get along with people. Trust her.
posted by stet at 5:26 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My SO has two border collies. The 10-year old male, Dib, is a bit OCD when it comes to his mission in life, retrieving a frisbee, but he's totally awesome, well mannered and handles changed circumstances with gentlemanly aplomb. The 4-year old female, Evinrude, is neurotic, but so full of affection that it's impossible not to love her back, despite her many issues. She is territorial, barky and so much more. Totally defensive with strangers, to the point of distraction.

My point, and I do have one, is that dogs are not like people. At all.

An example: thanks to MeFi, I was steered to a book about canine behavior--sorry, can't give you the name or author just now--that said dogs need full-body pointing if they're to "get it." One day, when they were both looking for the frisbee in the yard, we tried it. We got their attention, then "pointed" with feet, arms, body, and eyes to where it lay. Literally, in ten seconds, bingo.

Dogs are not people. We project that onto them.

Okay, so... to your question. What is in your dog's mind about kennelling/being cared for by another probably has nothing to do with what you imagine it does. Evinrude, bless her canine heart, despite her mistrust of strangers, turns out to LOVE being kennelled. Not for two weeks, granted, but, after three days, she was not only not a basket case, she was practically blowing kisses to the staff as we left.

With any luck, yours will be the same.

Your dog, not incidentally, is gorgeous.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:38 PM on August 24, 2010

I dogsat for my friend in July when he was away for about 2 weeks. The dog already knew us and is comfortable at our house & with our dog, but she's my friend's baby. So I texted him regularly with doggy updates --- photos of her lounging around, cuddling with my son, or sitting pretty waiting for a treat --- a recording of her barking when we were playing frisbee in the backyard --- and mostly just commentary on what she was up to. It was no effort for me, and fun to do, and your friend would probably be happy to do the same for you.
posted by headnsouth at 6:18 PM on August 24, 2010

We have two dogs - Max, aged 9 or 10, and Ollie, aged 3. Max was a shelter rescue and started his life with me completely mistrusting of humans due to an abused past. Ollie came from a breeder, last of his litter to go & wanted and planned for from day one.

I have no children, so I am guilty of feeling like you do. When I just had Max I'd just leave him with my mother. But once Ollie joined us I didn't want to foist them both on her. So we found a well-recommended kennel. When we first kenneled the dogs for a vacation I was a wreck. I thought poor Max would think he was abandoned again. I thought poor Ollie would die from shock from being in a contained area without carpeting.

I was wrong. Because they are dogs. And dogs are very resilient - especially rescue/shelter dogs.

Turns out my guys LOVE the kennel. Now they jump out of their coats with excitement when we bring them, and at the end of the trip when they're lead back out to us, they dash behind the desk to give kisses to the staff before greeting us. Hmpf.

When I need a dose of "my dogs are not human" all I have to do is think of what they do when left alone with the cat's litter box. *shudder* No human would do that.

Your beautiful dog will be just fine. Enjoy your vacation!
posted by ladygypsy at 6:31 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Speaking as a pet sitter for some well-loved dogs, I would say that dogs seem to have the best of both worlds; when you go, they miss you, but they can be distracted by the new person spoiling them. Playing with the pet sitter is fun, and interesting, and they are occupied with "living in the moment". They don't forget you... but dogs have that Zen way of life that humans have forgotten. Yes, Mom is not here... but there is a squeaky toy! Hey, shouldn't Mom be home by now? Oh well, here's dinner! ... they do just fine. You can tell, now and then, when they remember... "a car door!! is it--- no. Awww. Shucks. *sigh* Hey, my Kong!" But when you DO come home, it is JOY!! But dogs don't sense time the way we do; you being gone weeks is not much different from you being gone days. They will not mourn more as time goes on; they will just always wait, faithfully, and in the meantime, life is lived. That is the way of Dog, and it is beautiful.
posted by The otter lady at 7:34 PM on August 24, 2010 [17 favorites]

I just started Alexandra Horowitz's Inside Of A Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. I'm not sure yet how well it delivers, but the book certainly promises a perspective on helping people think of dogs as dogs and not as differently-shaped humans.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:29 PM on August 24, 2010

The book I mentioned above is The Other End of the Leash by Patricia B. McConnell.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 3:39 AM on August 25, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you, all; I will be keeping a copy of these answers with me on our trip! These are just the sort of things I needed to hear—once again, AskMefi to the rescue.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 7:13 AM on August 25, 2010

Response by poster: She did just fine. Boy, was she happy to see us, though!
posted by TochterAusElysium at 1:06 PM on September 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

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