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Is It Wrong to Treat My Dog Like My Child? We Asked a Vet, a Trainer and an Insta-Famous Pet Parent

Ahh dogs. Is there a more perfect, more loveable creature on this planet? They regale us with their cute personalities, they’re sensitive enough to give us cuddles when we’re down and when we’ve had a grueling day at work, there they are, waiting for us at the door tongue out and tails profusely wagging. They’re such a big part of any pet parent’s life, so it’s only natural that we form a tight bond with them. Kinda like they’re our children. But is it possible to dote a little too much on your pup? They are animals, not people after all. Here’s what a vet, dog trainer and Insta-famous pet parent had to say.

Is it wrong to treat your dog like a child?

The answer across the board was no. There is absolutely nothing wrong with treating your four-legged baby like your regular baby. Granted, there are some boundaries you have to strike with your pups, so they understand their place in your home, but for the most part, if you want to share your bed, feed them while you have dinner and even fill them in on your day, the experts say you totally can. 

While some people get dogs to expand their families and instill a sense of responsibility in their kids, others, like Megan Rose—aka @NYCDogMom on Insta—have gone the millennial way and adopted dogs before having children. “I am 33 and don't have human kids yet, but I feel like I am already a mom of three,” she told us. “I think today it is normal to have dogs before or instead of kids. You still can be a mom and care for something even if it has four legs.” Rose is a proud mom to two border collies—Pharrell and Rosie—as well as a potcake named Rumba.

In fact, Rose has gauged her dogs’ personalities, as any mother would of her children. “Pharrell and Rumba love to be loved on, touched, talked to and to be a part of everything all the time. If I am not ‘smothering’ them, they are doing it to me,” she explains. “Rosie, on the other hand, wants her alone time and her space. She wants to be loved when it is right for her, and we know that. So we give Rosie her space and let her initiate most of the cuddles when it is on her timeline.” Sounds like a balanced dynamic to us.

Just like children, dogs need space, too 

Like children, dogs need to have firm boundaries. They need to be guided and trained into understanding their role in your home and it’s up to you as the parent to instill that in them. Giving them too many treats, buying too many toys and giving them free reign around the house can result in weight issues or render them hard to train. 

“Being a good pet owner means providing the basic needs for your dog (food, water and shelter) and also spending time with them,” says Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM and veterinarian at SeniorTailWaggers.com. “Some people will have tons of toys for their dogs and let them do whatever they want. This can be overdoing it—your dog only needs a few toys to play with. [Most of them] just love to spend time with the family.” 

Though it’s normal to want to be around your pup all the time, creating some distance between the two of you is also highly encouraged. “Your dog cannot and should not go everywhere that you go because they do need to learn to spend time at home alone without destroying things,” Ochoa elaborates. “Some people will have outfits for their dogs and have strollers and try to take their dog everywhere. Some of these outfits can just smother a dog and really, many dogs would rather spend time at home alone sleeping.”

Unlike newborns, for example, who need to be close to their parents, it’s helpful for your dog to understand that you won’t always be home. “Smothering your dog [with affection] can cause them to be very needy,” says Julie Burgess, CPDT-KA, certified personal trainer at Senior Tail Waggers. “Show your dog that it’s OK to be left alone sometimes. Dogs not used to being left alone can become overly anxious and fearful, which can lead to separation anxiety.” And we don’t want that.

They also need boundaries

Setting boundaries in families with children is also a major key. Again, your dog needs to understand that they’re a part of a group of children, not the main attraction. If they’re not well-adjusted to kids, you may have some serious issues. “Toddlers and young children move very erratically, which causes some dogs to be wary. Dogs who are afraid or feel threatened, protect themselves by growling, snapping or biting,” Burgess explains.

Still, when those instances occur, it’s important to go about disciplining them gently so you don't create more chaos between your dog and your kid. “Avoid reprimanding your dog for growling or snapping because these are warning signs before biting. Dogs corrected for these actions often move to bite, and owners feel it’s without warning, but it’s not. If you’d like your dog to stay in their place, it’s best to use a crate or a baby gate and ensure your dog has space separate from your toddler.”

As a dog parent you also need to be mindful that just because Max the golden retriever is practically your first-born son, not everyone is going to view him that way. Don’t assume that because someone will clear out a room for your friend Sally’s new baby they’ll be as accommodating to your pet. If you’re going to visit or even meet up with someone, let them know your four-legged bestie is also tagging along. It’s just polite.

The takeaway: It’s totally fine to treat your dog like a child, just don’t forget that they’re a dog and may need a specific and separate set of rules and boundaries in order to cohabitate with others. Also, be considerate and think about what behaviors you may be reinforcing by taking them everywhere you go, buying them too many clothes, pushing them in a stroller instead of letting them walk or giving them copious amounts of treats. Much like children, you want a canine pal who listens and is disciplined.

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