What I did not expect was a barrage of judgment from friends, family and even straight-up strangers. And yet upon bringing him home, suddenly everyone from my friends to complete strangers became Cesar Millan, informing me of all the possible ways I’m failing as a dog parent:
Generic flea protection? Didn’t realize that was even an option.
Wait, you don’t use a $600/month raw dog food subscription?
Your dog wakes you up early? We trained ours to do three loads of laundry if he’s antsy.
Maybe I exaggerated a bit there, but the judgment feels so invasive and hurtful. In fact, I’ve dubbed this phenomenon “paw-shaming.”
The fact that three-month-old Roosevelt did not yet know how to lie down on command (but learned to sit in less than 30 minutes) became cause for a raised eyebrow. If he chewed on his $7 Petco bed, it was surely only a matter of time, someone commented, before he destroyed our house. Oh, and once I dared to reveal that he woke us up at 4 a.m. to pee, and the reaction—full-on shock—was so unwarranted, I felt I needed to say: “I said the dog woke us up early, not threw a Risky Business house party and broke the urn in which I keep Grandpa.”
And it’s not just the puppy-less who chime in. The paw-shaming comes from dog owners, too. One acquaintance began checking in to see if Roosevelt had left me any indoor surprises. If I replied yes, she’d humbly inform me that her beloved pup hadn’t left one in weeks and that maybe one day Roosevelt would catch up. Huh. Maybe.
Another friend came over for a playdate and immediately began pointing out issues with Roosevelt’s behavior—the jumping! The licking! The leg humping—OK, yes, will definitely work on that one…but this is a puppy we’re talking about. I’m not training him to get an office job; I’m training him to be safe and make our lives easier. The fact that Roosevelt will eventually do his business outside and lay off the jumping/humping is all one big favor to us humans. As long as everyone is safe, the mistakes in between are a small price to pay for the joy that is bringing a dog into a home.
Yes, I’ve read the puppy training 101 books. It’s abundantly clear that any behavioral issue with the dog is a strict reflection on the parent. What it doesn’t say, though, is that it’s OK if your dog isn’t perfectly trained. If your dog can be social with kids and other dogs, who cares if he heels? If my dog is gentle with my friends’ babies, who cares that my dog eats his own bed? It’s his bed, after all! And ya know what? If my bed cost $7, I’d eat it, too!
But there’s more to the paw-shaming than furniture destruction. It’s the same as with human parenting—every single choice I make is up for debate in front of the Better Parenting Peanut Gallery. With Instagram and bougie services for dogs on the rise, everything from fancy crates to fancy field trips in the woods (yes, they’re a thing) is a new choice you have to make. Long gone are the days of letting the dog sleep outside with the chickens. Today, it basically warrants your arrest if your dog sleeps on the floor.
As the business of being a pet parent becomes more and more commercialized, the more opportunities there are for you to tell me I’m bad at the one thing I care so deeply about.
But, I have a feeling that just like human parenting trends, this too shall pass. We’re so obviously in the helicopter phase of pet parenting. And that’s fine. I will not judge you if you’re a lawn-mower parent. Just how human parents will parent based on their families’ principals, I will “puprent” based on my family’s. And in my family, we eat our beds.