Don’t Tell Me How to Parent My Dog!


It’s an unwritten rule in society that we don’t tell other people how to parent — with the exception being when authorities step in to protect a child. What one parent considers inappropriate, after all, another might find hunky-dory. Also, if we don’t know the family, we don’t know their situation; Johnny might be having a meltdown in public for a reason outside of a parent’s control.

So if we agree not to tell others how to parent their children, why is it okay to tell me how to care for my dog? I believe there is more than one way to raise a happy and healthy pup, and unless I ask, I don’t want your input.

My baby boy, Riggins, on a trail.
My baby boy, Riggins, on a trail.

My dog, Riggins, and I have come across people who don’t think like I do and feel it is their right to inform me how to be the best parent to him. This has not ended well for them. Let me give you a few examples:

When Riggins was young, it became clear that the German Shorthair Pointer side of his family was in charge while hiking. He proved to be a skilled hunter and had his fair share of kills.

One day, while on a trail, my dog took off into the brush and came back with a little ground squirrel still alive in his mouth. Riggins pranced up to me and dropped the creature at my feet, his eyes saying, “You are welcome!” The ground squirrel put his little hands together and looked up to me, pleading for his life, but before I could get out the words “leave it” and grab Riggins, he had snatched the squirrel back in his mouth and gobbled him up!

Riggins practices hunting skills at home.
Riggins also hunts at home.

That was the last straw! Not only was Riggins killing woodland creatures, digesting them had to be unhealthy for him. I headed to my local pet store and purchased a retriever bell. For years, whenever we went hiking, he wore that bell. It gave a heads-up that he was coming. When he wore his hiking bell, Riggins wasn’t able to end another animal’s life.

One day while on a hike, a stranger came up next to me and told me I was hurting Riggins by making him wear the bell, as it could be too much for a dog’s sensitive hearing. That approach was the fellow hiker’s fatal error, and I really didn’t hear anything after that. NO ONE suggests that I’m not treating my baby boy like the prince he is!

Riggins shows of his hiking bell on a winter trail.
Riggins shows of his hiking bell on a winter trail.

Ignoring the two-legged annoyance wasn’t working, so finally I took him out verbally. After calmly(ish) explaining why Riggins’ had a bell on, I told him, less calmly, that his advice wasn’t just unneeded but unwanted. That hiker didn’t make it much farther before doing an about-face and giving up on the trail altogether.

Another type of person we meet on our hikes is the one who mistakes Riggins’ cooling vest for a weight vest. My dog is almost all black and, when it’s hot outside, wears a cooling vest to help him stay active and happy. Although there is such a thing as a dog weight vest used as a training tool, only a complete monster would make a dog wear such a vest in the middle of a SoCal summer on a trail with aggressive inclines.

Riggins hangs out on the rail with his cooling vest on.
Riggins hangs out on the rail with his cooling vest on.

I’ve been told I’m insane, that I’m cruel, that it is too hot, and even that I’m killing my dog. The fact that these things are said with good intentions and ultimately in Riggins’ best interest doesn’t help. My internal reaction swings from self-doubt and “Do I look like that bad of a parent?” to violent anger and “Don’t you DARE suggest I’d hurt my baby!”

Some days, I’ll just smile and say, “It’s actually a cooling vest.” Other times, I feel that requires more explanation than the person — who seconds ago assumed I had the same parenting skills as Satan — deserves.

Of course, there are times when I do put the consideration of others before my own. We’ve all seen a parent carrying a child kicking and screaming out of a store, restaurant, or event. I appreciate such actions and applaud them over the parent who ignores the fact that her precious angel is driving everyone else insane. I’m no fool and have had to do the same thing myself.

Troublemakers Riggins and Morgan.
Troublemakers Riggins and Morgan.

One night, I took Riggins and a client I was pet sitting to meet friends at a local dog-friendly pub. After the beer I had ordered arrived, I struggled to get the pups in my care under control. When it became obvious that my little darlings were not going to behave, I stood up, threw money on the table, apologized to those around me for my misbehaving children, and hurried them out into the parking lot and into the car, mumbling, “I can’t believe you would act that way in public.”

After all, a truly good parent doesn’t stick around to give others the opportunity to tell her how to do her job!

Have you been told by others how to parent your pooch? How have you responded? Or have you offered unsolicited advice? Tell us in the comments!

Read more by Wendy Newell:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of “always be closing” to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy’s new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

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