Dog owners: It’s okay to ask for help

On the commercials, pet ownership looks so easy. Carefree, smiling families with goofy dogs trotting alongside them off-leash or sitting attentively in the stands while the kids are playing soccer. Reality can be a bit of a different story.

When recently in a pet supply store, I came across a woman with a boisterous young Boxer and the two of them were involved in an intricate waltz involving a retractable leash, an overexuberant puppy, and a rather overwhelmed owner. By the time they made their way to the register, a display of dog cookies was just one of the casualties and she was exasperated. I had left my own dogs at home and had just a single item, so I thought I would try and offer her some help. Her response was one I’ve heard a dozen times.

“Need a hand? I can hold him while you check out if you want…”

“No, thanks — I have had dogs all of my life.”

Every time I hear this, I am just as frustrated as I was the last time I heard it. I wanted to tell her I didn’t mind helping out, but, at that point, it certainly would have only frustrated — and maybe embarrassed — her further. But how can we make our fellow dog owners understand it’s okay to ask for help?

Maybe it would help to put things in perspective. My mom has been a parent for, what probably feels like, “all of her life.” As a mom, she wore hats of taxi driver, scheduling queen, nurse, referee, and counselor — among other things. But I doubt my mom would say — when it came down to a serious illness, behavioral problem, or schooling issue — that her experience made her a professional doctor, psychiatrist, or teacher. In fact, one of the things that made my mom a great parent was her willingness to bring us to professionals when we needed help beyond her capability. So how does this apply to pet parents?

Having had pets all your life can teach you about the joy they bring us, but a qualified professional can bring even more to your relationship.

The average person can probably figure out the basics of teaching “sit” or housetraining. But what about when a pup growls at you when you approach his food bowl? Or when he pulls endlessly on the leash? Or plays too rough at the dog park? Sometimes you just need to talk to a professional. And that’s okay. It won’t make you an incompetent pet owner. I might even venture a guess that working with a certified professional dog trainer or qualified animal behaviorist will make you a better pet owner than you were before.