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Facing the Fear of Being a Bad Dog Owner

By Julia Williams

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I am a cat lady through and through. What you may not know is that I’ve also thought about getting a dog. I know cats better because I’ve shared my home with them for decades but have only had one dog. I “get” cats, but dogs remain largely a mystery to me. Perhaps it is precisely this unknown territory that intrigues me. I adore my cats more than anything, yet as an animal lover I want to experience the unique joy of having a dog. Actually, I could say the same thing about horses, rabbits, hamsters and birds – I’ve wanted to have all of these as a pet at one time or another.

The desire to adopt a dog is more intense, though. I think it’s because there are so many fun things you can do with a dog that you can’t do with a cat. You can go places with them, and there are umpteen dog sports you can enjoy together. My cats loathe the car, and the only sport that interests them is competitive eating….as in, let’s see who can finish their food first to “help” the others with theirs. I don’t think having a dog would be better than having cats, just different.

So why don’t I get a dog then? Oh, I’ve asked myself that question a thousand times, and there are so many reasons. The biggest is fear. Not fear of the unknown, but fear of being a bad dog owner. Dogs are complex creatures, and there is a lot involved in raising a happy, social, well mannered dog. I’m afraid that I would screw it up, and end up with a problem dog I didn’t know what to do with. I’m afraid that I don’t know enough about dogs to do it right. And if I’m going to adopt a dog, I want – no, need – to do it right.

I know that a lot of my fear comes from the painful memory of the time I did it wrong. When I was 18, I succumbed to those “sad puppy eyes” and adopted a dog from the shelter where I’d been volunteering. Never mind that I knew nothing about dogs, how to raise one, or how to deal with little problem behaviors before they became gigantic, insurmountable issues. I didn’t stop to consider what breed of dog might be best suited for me, or what they required beyond food and water. I was young and dumb, but that’s really no excuse for doing it wrong. I’ve never forgotten, and probably never forgiven myself, for being a bad dog owner.

One of our most popular articles on this blog is on the topic Jealousy in Dogs. We get comments every week from people asking for help with their particular issue. I can feel the desperation and apprehension in their words. They want to do it right, but they don’t know how. And every time I read yet another plea for help, that fear rises up again. What if I adopted a dog and this same thing happened to me? What if I didn’t know what to do or where to turn? I couldn’t bear it, so I push away the desire to get a dog.

Another thing that stops me from adopting a dog is my cats. Specifically, I fear they would feel betrayed by this intruder into their home. I fear they’d think I am replacing them with the dog. I’m sure many of you just laughed after reading that. How funny that I attribute such human emotions and thought processes to a cat, right? I know…but I fear it nonetheless. My cats have never been around dogs, and I have no idea how it would turn out. Photos of happy cats and dogs curled up together abound, but could my cats and a dog ever be friends? I don’t know…and what would I do if that didn’t happen?

I think the only thing I know for certain is how NOT to adopt a dog. I know that giving in to sad puppy eyes is never the right way, and that adopting a dog before you really, truly know what you’re getting into is setting yourself up for failure. I know that you need a basic understanding of the canine mind, and knowledge of what they need. I already know that my dog would eat CANIDAE, and I’ve learned a great deal about canine behavior from the knowledgeable writers on this blog. But at what point do I say, okay, I may not know everything but I know enough, and I am ready. I honestly have no idea, but I am open to your suggestions.

Photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis

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