5 Ways My Dog Helps Me Be a Better Parent

young child and dog silhouette
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The life lessons our dog taught us helped prepare us for parenthood.

I recently had a baby, and I’m a bit exhausted. We’re still in the “getting up three times a night, haven’t had sleep in days” stage. We also have an almost 2-year-old son, so life in our house is pretty chaotic. Don’t get me wrong – I love almost every minute of it, but it can still be overwhelming sometimes. Whenever I start to feel like it’s too much, I think about when we got our family dog, Cosmo, and it reminds me that it does get easier. It can be difficult to remember that in the middle of temper tantrums and 2 a.m. diaper changes, but it does.

Cosmo joined our family about three years ago, before we had kids. Getting pregnant wasn’t easy for us. It took a few years and a few tears to get there. We knew we wanted a dog, but we were also doing everything we could to have a baby, and we weren’t sure having a new dog and a baby (if that happened) would be a good idea. Luckily, I work for vetstreet.com and have access to a number of veterinarians and dog trainers. The advice from all of them was the same: Get the dog first. I remember our resident dog trainer,  Mikkel Becker, telling me that even if I got pregnant when the dog was a puppy that it would give us time to get him settled and somewhat trained before the baby’s arrival. She said getting a dog after having a baby could be much more difficult. Now that I have kids, I see why she gave me this advice. Potty-training a toddler and a puppy at the same time is not something I’m ready to tackle.

Bringing home the dog before baby might not be right for everyone, of course, but it was right for us. And as soon as we brought our little 8-week-old mixed breed home, he began teaching us life lessons right away. 

1. The Difficult Stages Don’t Last Forever

When you’re sleep deprived from a newborn and changing a blowout in the middle of the night, it can be tough to imagine that things will get easier. But remembering those early early days of puppy potty training helps me. No, it wasn't fun to get up four times a night to carry Cosmo outside to do his business — but it was only a few months of my life. In fact, my mantra with my second newborn has become, “It doesn’t last forever.” When I start to get completely overwhelmed with the toddler yelling, the baby crying and the dog barking, it really does help calm me down. A few deep breaths while I’m chanting it don’t hurt either.

2. Trust Your Instincts

When Cosmo was a puppy, he got really sick. He was vomiting and had diarrhea, and his condition worsened very quickly. It was a Friday evening, we had guests in from out of town, and everyone was telling me to just wait out the night to see how it went. I saw my poor sweet puppy in pain, however, and I knew I shouldn’t wait. By the time we got to the emergency vet clinic, he was very dehydrated. He ended up being OK but did need vet care right away. I'm glad I trusted by gut and will do the same with my kids. We haven’t had an emergency yet, but I know that I won't hesitate if I feel that immediate care is needed.

3. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

My husband and I were married for eight years before we had kids, and we were used to a relatively quiet, clean household. We’re also both pretty quiet people. Our dog and kids, however, are not. Our household has become chaotic and noisy, and messes are just a regular thing now. We don’t mind, really, but the stress can take its toll on you if you let it. It was helpful to have Cosmo to break us in on that front before the kids came and made their own messes. They just do, and it’s up to you to clean it up. If you aren’t ready to pick up poop or clean up vomit, then you probably aren’t ready for kids or a dog. This brings up the second mantra we have in our house, “It’s just poop; just clean it up.”

4. Routine and Consistency Are a Must for Good Behavior

We’re pretty new to this parenting thing. We’ve been at it for only a few years, but I’m noticing more and more that advice from Mikkel can still work for kids. Mikkel consistently advises that if you don’t want a dog to do something, like eat from the table or sleep in your bed, then don’t ever let him do it. I have found this true with our son. If you don’t want him to play with that vase your mother bought you, don’t ever let him play with it. If he gets to do it once, he’s going to think it’s OK and will not understand why you are now saying "no." Kids' brains just don’t work that way. It’s difficult enough for them to process things; why make it more complicated?

5. Don’t Take Unconditional Love for Granted

Whether it’s your furry or human baby, those little beings depend on you totally and love and admire you no matter what. Cosmo is part of our family, and we wouldn’t be the same without him. It might be hard right now, but we try to make sure he gets the attention and enrichment he needs, just like we do the kids. They love us so much, and we want to make sure they are well taken care of and feel loved every minute. It’s an honor to have them all in our house, and we try to never forget that.

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