Acknowledging The Impact Maladaptive Behaviors Have on Human Emotions

I love my dog but admit as I watch my neighbor with her dog I have a twinge of envy.  He’s a goofy happy go lucky pooch who is friends with any dog or human; and happily rests chill on the couch looking out the window as the world literally walks by.  Then the envy bleeds into guilt.

My neighbor may never understand my feelings, but I’m guessing some of you might know what it feels like to have a dog who struggles to adapt to the human world.  Does your dog’s behavior make you feel embarrassed? Do you find yourself feeling isolated?  Do you feel exhausted waking up in the wee hours to get your dog out before the world is awake?  Do you resent the person who runs their dog off leash oblivious of how that might impact your dog? Do you sometimes wish you had a “normal” pet?

Plenty of research studies look at the impact of human caregiving, for example, the impact of caring for someone aging with Alzheimer’s or caring for a child with mental illness.  Less research has focused on humans and their pets.  Having a pet undergoing cancer treatment or chronic illness requiring extensive treatments can impact the caregiver in ways similar to supporting a human who is sick.  Buller and Ballantyne (2020) share the results of one of the few studies that examine the experiences of human caregivers living with a pet with behavioral problems.  Not surprising themes arose around caretaking and the kinds of emotions the pet caregivers felt. 

 

You are not alone.  

I bet there is more than one of us who at some point has felt like this.  

  • I feel cut off; I can’t have my friends over cause my dog would just lose it.
  • It’s embarrassing I think my neighbors think my dog is Cujo with the way he acts when he sees someone in the hallway.
  • I’m sad; she’s not the dog that I hoped I would have to take to coffee shops and hang out.
  • It’s so much work; sometimes I feel guilty because I feel like I don’t get back from my dog what I put in.
  • Sometimes I need to give myself a time out; I feel like I can’t deal with one more outburst.
  • It’s so taxing to try to figure out ways to not leave my dog alone.
  • It’s frustrating; I’ve tried so many things and progress is so slow.
  • I’m sad to see my pet struggle so much; it’s not the quality of life I want him to have.

As we grow close to marking the 3rd year since the start of the Covid pandemic, many are still struggling.  Coming out of the holiday season too may be a hard time for some especially if you’d had to rearrange your plans in order to accommodate the needs of your pet.  Sometimes it’s hard not to let the negatives just suck the life out of you.

 

What can we celebrate?

Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of the small wins and what they felt like in the moment.  Over the holidays, we stopped by a friend’s house; I brought my dog’s mat, a frozen kong, and some boxes to shred and she was able to focus on those and not bark incessantly or a variety of other behaviors that have happened in the past.  Even my friend remarked that we made it through the visit without a doggie meltdown.  Hooray!  It’s so easy to just move on rather than focus on how this felt and to celebrate.  I felt relieved, it made me happy that she seemed more comfortable and at ease, I appreciated my friend for acknowledging our mini-victory and that he cared enough to say so, and I felt a sense of accomplishment for what we achieved. My dog is also pretty darn adorable when she is in shredding mode; it warms my heart. 

I think we need to recognize these victories as tomorrow will likely be another day with some battle cause she’s a “project dog” with a lot of big feels about a lot of things.  But today we need to celebrate our win and store that positive feeling into our emotion bank.    

 

Now what?