I don’t know what to do. I have 3 dogs that were every thing to my husband and I but since our daughter who is 2 that’s changed. I feel a sense of resentment towards the dogs. I feel my life would be so much easier and I would have more time to be a mom if it were not for them. I never thought I would feel this way. I feel horrible and at the same time the thought of getting rid of any one of them is heart breaking. We rescued all of them and I promised them a good life. They are large dogs and we have a small house right now. How can I feel different? It’s constant cleaning and yelling and I’m just going crazy over 3 creatures and a toddler. I need help!
I’m so sorry for your distress! You’ve got a lot to manage right now. I’m impressed that you made it this long without losing your mind already. That thought you expressed, “My life would be so much easier without these dogs,” runs through a lot of people’s minds at some point when things get really trying. In fact, I use almost that exact phrase when we talk about this in my class. The trick is to avoid being pushed into a permanent decision about your best friend(s) when you may be in a temporarily overwhelming situation.
This will be pretty much a whole chapter when I get back to work on my book project, but I am happy to try to summarize now for you. Other readers may have good ideas to add in the comments, too.
I think the transition into the twos can be challenging because your daughter is now more independently mobile and probably not as content to sit in her stroller and may want to do things on her time. There’s an adjustment period to having another opinion to contend with!
Get Other Help
It may be that your dogs are the only things causing you to be stressed out and overwhelmed, but in my experience, there are usually quite a few other stressors that pile up until you reach your breaking point and something has to change. At this point, it seems like you have few options. You can’t send the baby back where she came from, right? If your husband or partner isn’t helping enough, you can’t really get a divorce or break up very easily because that’s a lot of paperwork and if you had time for all that, you’d have time to walk the dogs. It ends up seeming very logical that the dogs have got to go if you are going to make it through.
But, let’s look at all the other things that can be adjusted.
- Do you have ANY time to yourself? How can you get some/more? You need to recharge yourself if you are going to hold everyone else together. For me, this meant that someone had to take the kids out of the house. A wise friend told me, “Pack some snacks and some stuff to do and send the kids to the park with your babysitter. They will be fine for a couple of hours.” Would it be better for you to get out of the house? Experiment!
- Do you have some regular babysitting during the day? Consider a “Mother’s Helper” for an hour or two in the late afternoon. This can be an early teen or even a tween age child in the neighborhood because you are not leaving the child alone to be responsible. The Mother’s Helper’s job is to play with your daughter and/or help you set the table or sort some laundry or get things out for dinner or help feed the dogs, etc. You won’t believe how helpful an older child can be!
- What about all the household tasks? Can you ease up on something temporarily? Family Pizza Night once a week? When my neighbor and I both had young kids, we did a summer of trading off meal preparation. It was nice to have a night “off” from cooking and it wasn’t that hard to double recipes when it was my turn to cook for both families. Even if you didn’t trade back, friends and family without dogs and toddlers can easily make a meal for your family to give you a break.
- It’s okay if your house is a wreck – it won’t be that way forever. Same thing if you let your daughter watch a few more videos than a “perfect” mom would. Here is a short article about not being perfect but being perfectly okay. I also enjoyed the book I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids for a funny insight into how everyone else is just trying their best, too.
- Are there toddler play groups in your area where your daughter can meet up with other kids and, more importantly, you can meet up with other moms in similar stages of parenting? MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) is a nationwide organization that might have groups meeting in your area for support. See link here. I’m not a big joiner or mommy group kind of person but I ended up taking my younger son to a free group (I called it the “Remedial Parenting Class”) and ended up attending for over a year. It was just nice to know that someone else was planning the activities for that day and there would be no mess to clean up at home. Hospitals and birth centers often offer supp0rt and social groups for parents. Postpartum support groups are usually open to moms of older toddlers, too.
- Please let other people help you. Don’t let it come to a breaking point where everyone is left saying, “If only I knew she needed help…”
Keep a Log for a Few Days
When things are distressing, it feels like it’s ALL THE TIME. Most annoying behaviors aren’t really going on all day — it just feels that way. That’s why keeping an informal log is invaluable. After a few days, you may see a pattern or gain some clues about what triggers the unwanted behavior. Here is a sample excerpt, but you can set it up any way that works for you:
Notice that it is important to “claim” the good times, too. Don’t just make a list of all the bad things that happen. Keep a marker handy and actually color in the squares when things are good. This will help you see the issues more proportionately.
For example, I ended up doing this with my younger son’s behavior when he was about 18 months/2 years old. My husband was frustrated with his behavior and said, “We need to do something with him!” I made a chart and we tracked for a couple of days. Looking at it, we saw that he was annoying for about nine minutes of the day, crumpled up the log and went about our life without worrying about it. Annoying behaviors SEEM like they are “all the time,” but maybe they are not. Either way, you need to know what you’re dealing with before you can find an effective solution.
How to Keep Dogs Busy
A big help in any situation is to be able to occupy your dogs for reasonable periods of time so you can attend to other things. (It’s the same with children, isn’t it?)
Our dogs often literally have nothing to do for most of the day. It’s not like the old days when dogs worked on the farm or wandered the neighborhood and came home tired and ready to relax. Trying to fit dog entertainment into an already hectic day can be a challenge, but it’s more a challenge of being organized than it being an impossible task.
“Food Puzzle” Toys
There are a number of different toys that you can use over and over again, stuffing with some portion of your dogs’ calories to make the eating last longer than two seconds to lick a bowl clean. The examples below are Kong toys. You can find lots of different “recipes” and ideas online to come up with just the right “mix-ins” to make it work for your dogs.
Engage With Your Dog(s) When You Can
So often, we expend WAY more energy trying to get our dogs to stop pestering us than it would take to engage with them for a short period. Even 5-10 minutes of a mentally stimulating activity can be satisfying enough that the dogs will go back to relaxing.
- Is there anyone who can take your dogs for walks or have them over to their house for a “doggie playdate?” Even just one dog?
- A friend walked my dogs for two weeks when I first came home with my baby. It was a godsend. It’s no different now that your daughter is two. If now is when you need the help, give friends and family a shout out for help with the dogs’ exercise and outings. (Because, really, it’s crazy to have to be responsible for exercising three large dogs on your own with a two year old daughter!)
- Even just scattering your dogs’ food around the yard for foraging will give them something to do. (The dogs may have to take turns, of course, to make sure each dog gets the right amount.)
- A taped up cardboard box with food inside might make a mess to clean up but keeps dogs busy and entertained.
- Beef marrow bones can be found at butcher shops in different lengths and can be reused by stuffing and freezing food inside or just wedging a hunk of something into the bone. (I hope it’s obvious that high value things like this need to be given safely – physically separated from where your daughter can access and probably with the dogs separated from each other so there’s no squabbling. Keep track and pick up all bones.)
- Training sessions (see below) can be very short – 3 minutes or less – and worked in whenever you have a free moment. Ten fast sits for each dog is very satisfying all around.
- Practicing recalls — calling your dog(s) back and forth is great fun for everyone. If you are doing this by yourself, you can toss a treat down a hallway to get the dog(s) “away.” As they eat the first (free) treat, call them back and give another one or toss that one in the other direction so you are standing in the middle as your dogs run back and forth.
- What else? I’m sure there are tons of other ideas that have helped people entertain their dogs with little effort. Embrace the idea of food as entertainment. It’s okay and it’s what your dogs would be scavenging for if they were out on their own.
(Good) Training Can Work Wonders!
Dog training has come a long way. Modern, reinforcement-based training can help improve pretty much any situation without being trying or stressful for dogs or people. Even a little at a time can make a big difference. There are lots of books (see below for a few references) and videos (see YouTube channels “kikopup” and “pamelamarxsen” for examples) and some humane societies offer free Behavior Helplines, plus tons of online groups.
With all that, I think it can still be VERY helpful to have a few sessions with an appropriate trainer who can come to your home and, not only help prioritize some training exercises, but also suggest ways to set up your routine or otherwise “manage around” the problem areas for immediate relief. I still need to write my “How to Choose a Trainer” section, but please look at the Training Philosophy page and know to look for a trainer well-versed in these skills. A limited focus on how to punish your dogs for what you don’t want isn’t going to get you as far.
Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky Bailey, PhD
This is my all time favorite parenting book. It’s practical, it’s reassuring and it’s kind. I felt like it really helped me get a grip on things when my first son was one and I was trading babysitting with a friend with a two year old. It was my good fortune to stumble upon this book at the library. At least half of this book is focused on how to maintain your own cool when things don’t go as expected with any creature. In fact, I’ve recommended it to many friends without kids because you could cross out the word “child” and write in anyone and the advice would still help!
Plenty in Life is Free by Kathy Sdao:
This book is short but so beautifully written that I had to linger over several passages. It may very well help you love your dogs again, annoying habits and all. Better yet, it includes terrific practical advice for shifting behavior from annoying to enjoyable, just by noticing and reinforcing the little things your dogs do right. (See section on SMARTx50.)
Happy Kids, Happy Dogs by Barbara Shumannfang:
Lots of practical ideas here and in the following book. I especially like Barbara’s information on how to establish a “Safety Zone” where you can put your dogs away behind a gate or closed door and they will be relaxed enough to enjoy the break.
Living With Kids and Dogs – Without Losing Your Mind by Colleen Pelar:
The title says it all, doesn’t it? See? You are not alone!
Chill Out Fido by Nan Arthur:
I know you may not be up for dog training projects right away, but when you are, this is a great book for do-it-yourselfers because it has all the real life skills you’d want any dog to have and the exercises are laid out step-by-step. Relax on a Mat is especially good!
What if You Still Can’t Keep the Dogs?
This is another area that needs its own chapter in the book. It comes down to needing to take care of yourself and your family. If it is too much to manage the dogs’ needs, you can’t beat yourself up over that. It’s okay to explore rehoming options. Dogs are adaptable and resilient. Give all the other options a try, if you can, because I think it’s possible to fall in love with your dogs again. I would be happy to discuss this more if you’d like to follow-up. Your situation is all-too-common and something I’d like my book to be able to help people with. I want to at least get this basic info out there to help you and anyone else in a similar situation.
I wish you all the best.