Thought pieces/Opinion

Dog mom guilt is REAL! (and why you should drop it right now)

Whether you are a dog mom, rabbit mom, lizard mom, plant mom, or human mom - mom guilt is real. It’s absolutely something I’ve experienced while raising Pax. I use to be what the books call, “accommodating”…. Now that I am aware of this tendency I try to do it less but I’m not perfect, and it’s something I deal with often.

I feel guilty if I didn’t get Pax to the park and only took him on two walks. I feel guilty if I’ve spent the whole day immersed in my work while sitting in one spot the entire day and forget to check Pax’s water. I feel guilty if I haven’t taken him out around the same time in the morning. I feel guilty if I’m not playing with him. I feel guilty if I leave the house for over 3 hours. I feel guilty.

It’s tough for me to accept that I can’t do it all. It’s extremely, extremely, challenging to think, “wow I did so much today I should be proud.” Instead, I think “wow, I didn’t do enough today”…It’s something I am constantly working on in my life. I am constantly reminding myself that I am deserving, that I do enough, and that I am worthy. We really need that as Moms (and again, it' doesn’t matter what kind of mom you are because if you are taking care of someone besides yourself, you are “nurturing” or “mothering” that person/thing/animal, etc.)

The absolute best part of starting Pax’s account is the thousands of dog mom’s I can connect to daily. I know that I’m not alone and that there are people I can reach out to if I have questions on something related.

Sarah Varan is one of those people. Sarah reached out to me months ago wanting to contribute to Leader of the Pax. She has also offered me encouragement, support, and engagement with both my accounts, paxthedood and Leader of the Pax. I was so excited when she wanted to do a piece on dog mom guilt because it’s such a real topic. Below Sarah transcribes her experience with raising her puppy, Mina... AND she adds in what she’s been doing to combat the guilt! Enjoy! xoxo


Dog Mom Guilt IS REAL!

by Sarah Varan

Did you happen to read Nikki’s post on 7 things to think about before you get a puppy? See number 5 – Ready to be less selfish? Well, that’s exactly how I felt when we welcomed home our sweet girl, Mina, in May 2018. I was ready. I knew that getting a puppy meant putting her needs before mine and my husband’s, and I was ready to embrace it. Like Nikki, I’m also of the opinion that being less selfish is not a bad thing! Putting other’s needs ahead of your own is one of the most loving and kind things you can do for another, especially when it’s for your new pup. And that’s exactly what I did from day one, Mina came first in almost every way. What I didn’t realize was that Ialso openedthe door for some serious dog-momguilt.

Guilt is a sneaky bugger and grabs a hold of our thoughts when we least expect it.

Here’s how it played out for me….It was clear that our beautiful Mina was a very active, curious and social pup, often needing hours of exercise and stimulation every day. We established our family routine, which meantone of us playedwith Mina, while the other hada quick bite to eat, dida few choresor errands, and maybe hada 5 minute shower – just the bare minimum so we could get back to playing with our girl! Because Mina needed a lot of activity, I spent my evenings outside with her, either playing, walking, or trying to teach her new things. I poured most of my time, and all of my energy into her.

Fun Fact - Mina never got tired! Whoever said young puppies nap a lot, lied. 

I started comparing Mina and myself to other dogs and owners, in real life and on the internet. I tried not to let it all get to me, but I definitely spiraled a few more times than I’d like to admit. Why couldn’t I get Mina to walk nicely on leash? How come she didn’t understand potty training as well as her brother? She’s peeing in the house 20 times a day, that couldn’t be normal. Why doesn’t Mina cuddle with us? Why does she hate me?! I really thought I’d be a good dog mom. Why am I so bad at this? What am I doing wrong???

My confidence was lacking and I refused to give myself a break. All I wanted was to be the best mom and give her the best life. I felt like I would be letting her (and myself and my husband) down if I couldn’t keep up with it all. Don’t get me wrong, most days the good outweighed the bad. We fell deeply in love with Mina, and she brought a joy into our home that we never imagined. Loving her has been the most positive experience I’ve had. But at the time, I was confused, exhausted and very emotional. As the puppy-moon phase wore off, my mom guilt started to grow…  

In the beginning, I temporarily lost my love for self-care, and although I’m working on it, it’s still a challenge for me today. The guilt of leaving Mina during the work week really affected how I chose to spend my free time. And 99% of the time, I chose Mina. I would book appointments and then cancel them because I couldn’t bear to leave her (I didn’t really need physiotherapy for my bad shoulder). I barely did groceries or cooked real food because it meant taking time away from my girl (hello Instacart, take-out, and boxed mac & cheese!).

My husband and I used to go on dates regularly, but it was hard to justify leaving Mina crated for longer than absolutely necessary (cue huge amounts of guilt, both for crating Mina and for not getting enough one-on-one time with my husband). I used to do yin yoga each night to wind down before bed. But Mina would bark at the sight of my mat, and chew on me as I tried to relax on the floor. So I completely stopped. Before Mina I was a regular at my favorite barre fitness class, used to go for a power walk each weekend, and went to yoga class. But why would I leave my puppy for a silly workout?? I simply couldn’t go to the gym anymore, who cares that my body ached from lack of exercise and stretching. 

It was guilt on the daily for one reason or another, which meant I spent a ton of time with Mina to make up for it. But why was that so bad? I knew getting a puppy would mean being less selfish. I knew being her mama meant that her needs come first, and mine and my husband’s second. And being with Mina is absolutely the best feeling in the whole world. Igive her unconditional love, and I get it back tenfold. 

Well, in January 2019, after 9 months of feeling “not good enough” in so many ways, I knew things had to change. I needed a shift in mindset and priorities. Calm the guilt and self doubt, find my confidence and live more in the moment.


Here are 6 things that i’ve learned: 

1. I had to take away the idea of being the “perfect” dog mom, it’s unrealistic, and I can’t possibly live up to it. Adjusting my expectations and changing my inner dialogue eased so much of my anxiety.

2. I had to understand that giving Mina quiet time is not hurting her. I now use a soft harness on her inside the house when it’s time to calm down and relax. She doesn’t love it, but she doesn’t resist it either. When it’s on, she lays down and takes a nap, and sometimes she even cuddles! And surprisingly, the harness has dramatically helped us with potty training. 

3. Self-care! For me that means going for a walk, a relaxing bath, a workout class, movie, and sometimes it means reading a book with no interruptions.

4. Date night! Spending time with my husband, without Mina.

5. Change the way I internalize social media…honestly I’m not sure how I feel about social media, or what role it will play for me going forward, if any. I do, however, enjoy the community of dog-mamas, supporting each other, and sharing stories, tips and advice! 

6. Make my time with Mina count – I take her on longer walks, go to a new location, try a new activity, attempt a new trickor new trainingitem. We form a better bond when we’re not just doing the same old thing (and hopefully tire her out!).

I was actually worried about making changes, especially changing my mindset. I almost feel a sense of comfort in my own guilt, self-doubt and anxiety, so if I work on getting over the things that are holding me back, what will keep me going? Turns out there’s a lot of good stuff! I’m a great dog mom! I’m finding my voice and confidence and it’s so empowering. Mina is a wonderful, happy, silly and smart dog. It’s also no coincidence that I find her calming down lately, as she approaches her first birthday (she’s also so close to being potty trained!). Comparing Mina and myself to others isn’t serving a purpose in my life, it’s actually devaluing what we have. And we have a pretty awesome life! We have amazing friends - human and fur buddies - that we never would have met were it not for Mina. We spend time outside, appreciating our beautiful city and the nature all around us. We have so much fun, we’re constantly laughing and at how silly and crazy Mina is, and yet she brings peace and balance to our lives. There will still be times where I question if I’m doing a good job, and feel guilty for crating her, or not spending enough time with her. But I feel more equipped to handle those feelings. I choose to focus on what a blessing Mina is. I choose to live happily in each precious moment that I have with her. I’m so grateful to be her mama. 

It’s not easy raising you pup! Do you have recommendations to share? Comment below & join our tribe!

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When Rover Goes Wrong. A Dog Mom’s Truth.

Getting a text message from your rover sitter at 4am that your dog is pooping on the carpet, stealing food from the other small well behaved pup, and running around like a banshee is kinda comical slash a complete SH*T moment. It is so hard being in another country on a different time zone and praying your dog is being the perfect angel you claim he is! Basically, Pax is pushing all the boundaries and likes to be the boss. He’s not alpha but he sure does like attention. He’s not taking no for answer and decides if he doesn’t get what he wants he poops on the rug. #SMH....Their dog is 7 years old and the size of Pax’s face- ehhh probably not the best match. Pax keeps trying to play and the dog is just not into it...He even snaps at Pax to get him to go away. I know this is the truth because our 8 year old family dog does the same thing to him.

So how do I stay semi calm while my dog is at home running a muck. First is to not freak. Recognize there is not much I can do and be ok with not being in control. Looking at what I can control is step one. The next step is to not take it out on the rover sitter and think it’s her fault. Through instagram Pax looks perfect but I hate to break it to you...Pax isn’t perfect. SHOCKER! So, I called the babysitter, and was a complete betch to start with because I want to instantly blame someone else for the fact that he’s going bonkers and after hearing her voice and how sweet, kind, compassionate she is about the entire situation it instantly shot me back into reality. Man, It’s gotta be really hard for her to tell me things are not going well while we are abroad and she’s worried about her dog and pax getting along. 

I wonder what it’s like to be a dog in a new space. Does it feel like you’ve been abandoned so you poop on the rug? Do you feel constant anxiety waiting for your parents come back? If there is another dog do you have to become the alpha to let them know who’s boss but it’s really just due to your anxiety? 

As a dog Mom it’s challenging not knowing what he is thinking or feeling. I also wonder if I think too deep into all this and need to recognize that he’s a pup NOT a human haha. Being a psychologist I am fascinated by human behavior and in this case, dog emotion and behavior. It’s such a blessing to be tuned into these things...anddddd it’s a curse to be so tuned in as well.

Thank goodness for the dog Mom community- I am grateful. I am grateful for those who can relate, offer advice, laugh it off with me. I am grateful for the other dog mom’s, like my friend, Raechel, who went to pick him up and is with him now. 

Learning lesson here: When you interview dog babysitters- make sure that you are HONEST about your dog. Make sure that their dog and your dog are compatible. Make sure that you explain the needs of you dog clearly. Example: a walk around the block might tucker out one dog where another dog needs to scale a mountain. Most importantly you need to self-check and own your dog’s faults, be authentic, and over communicate your needs. 

That’s all for now... the truth is out there! 


Building your tribe!


When you go to the park and all you wanna do is take cute pics of your pup, it helps to have someone who just gets you. Dog mom's just understand when you are making silly noises, waving toys above your head, teasing your pup with treats in order for them to smile and look at the camera. These people are called your tribe, your squad, your betches, your pod, your crew. I've had the pleasure of meeting more people especially women over the past 6 months than I have in the 5 years I have lived in San Diego. Having a dog is like being in college and you have automatic friends. I have had the fortune to connect with women around the world through instagram and here locally in San Diego. To get more involved with doodle pods on instagram start an engagement group! Find other pups that you feel you relate to (by their content, pics, breed, etc) and send a direct message! Ask them if they would want to join an engagement group...what is an engagement group? These groups can consist of 16 people max and the common goal of the group is to comment and like in order to gain more following on one's instagram page. Instagram works off an algorithm that is based on the more activity on your post, the more your picture will be seen. So once you've reached out to as many other accounts as you like (0-16) set some ground rules. Some groups will be more loose with no deadline on needing to like and comment or others will say must comment and like within 24-48 hours, etc. Each group can come up with their own rules! Hopefully, the group will become more than just an engagement pod. Use it to ask questions, lean on your peers, get advice about posts, etc. 

Building a squad outside of the internet takes effort! But you gotta dog so you have to put the effort in anyways. Join local and national doodle (or your breed) Facebook groups. They should have dates of doodle romps or dog play dates. Exchange numbers, set up playdates, and push yourself out of your comfort zone. We take Pax to a local park every single day. The same people are there and our conversations started with hey how are ya what's your dog's name to what's your number let's grab a glass of rose! It's so easy to make friends with other dog parents because they care about their pup's well being just as much as you do about yours! Break the ice, ask a question about their pup (people love to talk about themselves!) and start to build a conversation. Here are some ice breaker tips: 

  • Oh you're pup is so cute, what is his or her name?

  • Hey I feel like I've seen you here before and no this is not a pick up line :)

  • Our dogs play so well together how old are they?

  • What kind of dog do you have?

  • Bring up something you are struggling with and ask another parent if they have ever experienced the same.

  • Ask about dog friendly bars/restaurants in the area and if they have any recommendations.

Check out the following:


  • Petco (They have open puppy classes on the weekend)

  • Facebook groups (local and national doodle or your breed groups)

Remember building relationships take time and connecting to people who are in the same place in life as you are and that you can relate to is very valuable!