A Dog Is Not A Child Or A Possession

Every so often someone feels compelled to tell dog people that they own their animals and did not give birth to them.

And dog lovers respond with outrage.

I sit back and think they’re both wrong. My dog is not my child or my possession.

Golden Retriever sitting on man's lap in beach chair.

On the other hand, I do like to sit on laps. And I make a great paperweight.

What Is My Dog?

Sometimes I will tell Honey to “go to the dad.” But I don’t think of her as our child.

And I’ve never personally been comfortable with saying I own her. It just doesn’t feel right to me.

So what is Honey to me?

The list is varied:

  • companion
  • family member
  • friend
  • excuse to vacuum at least twice a day

But mostly I think of her as a partner. We work together even when our only job is living a good life.

By thinking of Honey as my partner instead of my child, I see her as an adult with her own needs and desires and motivations.

Yes, I do teach her like I would a child. But now that she’s five years old, Honey knows how to act. She rarely needs me to watch her behavior the way I would if she were my five-year-old child.

Partners

I hate the word “partner” for romantic couples. It sounds so business-like.

But I like it for dogs.

I love that humans and dogs evolved to work together. Probably the only other animal that has as close a working relationship with humans would be the horse.

And that’s so special.

Honey the golden retriever with agility equipment.

Yeah, I know many dogs run agility courses to keep their humans from getting fat. But I’m thinking you should find another dog to do that job.

Dogs work with humans in protection, guiding, and providing medical support.

Honey worked with me in fostering dogs for the SPCA. She was my full, adult partner with every pup who entered our home.

And I could not have done it without her.

I passionately believe that people who partner in a job with their dog have the strongest relationships.

A Dog With A Job

Obviously service animals have jobs.

I think companion dogs need jobs too. Their jobs may not save lives. And they may not buy any kibble.

But doing a job with our dog builds the bond.

Honey the golden retriever leaves the Chesapeake Bay.

Yeah, if you want to build a relationship with me, you’ll stop trying to get me to swim.

We no longer foster. But Honey still has plenty of other jobs:

  • being a dog ambassador for people we meet
  • teaching little children the right way to greet a dog
  • retrieving objects
  • learning agility
  • being good company

She’s not so hot at other jobs that dogs do, like providing protection. But you can’t have everything, right?

Are Pet Parents And Dog Owners Bad?

So do I think people who call themselves their dog’s mom or dad are evil? Or that it’s wrong to call yourself your dog’s owner?

Heck no.

Because while I think words are important, this is one instance where actions speak louder than words.

The person who calls out, “Ok Baby, come to Mama,” before taking their dog to tracking training or for a long walk that encourages sniffing is respecting their dog’s needs.

And the owner who tries flyball or cart pulling with his high-energy dog is treating his dog like a partner with motivations and desires of his own.

In fact, I don’t care if you dress your dog in costumes, make her homemade meals, or build custom furniture for her to sit on.

The only thing I care about is whether you’re meeting your dog’s physical and emotional needs and building a relationship that’s loving, stimulating, and enjoyable for both of you.

Honey the golden retriever looks at a log.

I have a strong physical and emotional need to try to pick up that stick.

And anyone who feels the need to write essays telling people they aren’t dog moms might have too much time on their hands.

Maybe they should get a dog.

Your Turn: Are you a dog mama or papa? A dog owner? Or does some other phrase feel right to you?

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Dog mom I suppose. Not owner for sure. I think we are just a pack, and we all have our roles in that pack.

  2. I agree with your last thought…too much time on their hands. Why would people care what I call myself? Our relationship without dog’s is so varied. Our Sally was much more a partner with us – she went everywhere, did everything. I feel much more protective and caretaker to Maggie because of her fear issues…and Jack, well Jack is just a kid that follows me around and loves everything I do.

    • Fascinating that you look at each of your dogs so differently. I guess that’s the perfect example of putting the relationship ahead of the language.

  3. I like partner too. It’s all semantics really and I remind myself to be offended by how people treat their dogs, not by what they call their dogs. I know people who say owner and their dog has his own bedroom – with bed, bedding, dresser for toys, etc. LOL

  4. As you know, I addressed this topic myself on Rubicon Days. I don’t refer to myself as a dog mom, either. I like guardian, because I am responsible for their well-being for their lifetimes; I also like partner, and since I’ve adopted the collective term of endearment “Ginger Sisters,” they are beloved family for an only child.

    • I’ve really loved seeing you refer to Boca and Ruby as the Ginger Sisters. It’s a unique term for a unique pair.

  5. Definitely a dog mom and Titan is my son. I don’t have human children so my furry ones fill in. I don’t treat my dog any differently than I would my own child. Yes, people get all weird and stuff when I say furson or furchild but that’s their own prob. :)

    • I think it’s great that people have such happy thoughts about parenting that they can apply it to their dog. I’m more ambivalent about it so it’s not a good fit for me.

      But what’s there to argue about when someone adores and takes good care of another life? :)

  6. I’m a “Dog Mom”. I pay no attention to those people who have nothing better to do with their time picking fights with other people over something that has absolutely no effect on their own lives. I used to point out to them that they had no business trying to push their BS on other people. But then I decided they weren’t worth all that negative energy. They can do/say/think what they want. I have better things t do than worry about their nonsense. To each his own. My thing is that I am responsible for my dogs’ welfare, health, happiness, and behavior for their entire lives which entitles me to call myself their Mom, Grandma, Aunt, or any other title I choose. And I’m not comfortable with “owner” either especially when it comes to another living being that shares my home and gives unconditional love.

  7. Thanks you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

    From a mom who has two dogs and a child. :)

    • I’d really love to read your thoughts now that you have a little boy in addition to the pups.

      But I’m sure that doesn’t leave you any free time for writing. :)

      • I have always found this conversation interesting and often find myself (silently) chuckling when I read a blog post where the writer has gone on a tyrannical rant on why they call their dogs their children and why they have every right to do so. I honestly do not care what people call their dogs; pets, kids, companions, fur babies, hairy little monsters… To each their own. I often call my dogs my “fur babies” and have proudly said that I am a “dog mom”, but when I am asked how many children I have my answer is, only one, and his name is Christopher. I do not have three kids who’s names are Chris, Luna, and Penny. I have one child and two dogs. To me, there is a difference. In fact there is a huge difference that I experience on a daily basis on why I don’t classify my dogs as children. An example might be right now as I type this, my two hairy girls are currently sleeping on the floor and I am trying to breastfeed my baby to sleep. Sorry if that was TMI, but that was the first example that popped up in my head.
        I will say that I really dislike it when folks go out of their way to shame individuals for how they choose to define their relationship with their dogs. I think the type of relationship and its value is more important than a defining word like “child or pet”.

  8. What an interesting conversation. I know people who think of dogs as things and can’t figure out why don’t just sit there and look good, like things. You can’t “own” them like a car or a pair of jeans. I know people who treat their dogs exactly like human kids. People do not give birth to dogs. We fall somewhere in between. While I know I didn’t give birth to these “kids”, the term “pet” seems so cold and unloving considering the feelings and appreciation I have for my dogs. Dogs are intelligent, loving, loyal beings that have their own ideas and emotions and desires. I think it is a fact of life that someone has to be in charge. Our society is not set up to let dogs live independently very well so someone needs to be responsible for feeding, shelter, healthcare, like a parent. But they are not things to be owned. Honestly, I find myself calling the dogs “kids” and calling myself their “Mom” but at the same time saying that “I have” them. Maybe the terms aren’t what make it right or wrong but the meaning behind those words defines the relationship. Maybe people need to be a little less hung up on the words.

    • You’ve certainly captured how complex this issue is in your comment, De.

      Dogs are so much more than objects. And I feel sorry for both the dogs and the humans who think of them that way.

      Yet our relationships to our dogs is often less ambivalent then our relationships to our parents or children. So yes, it is all about the relationship.

  9. I couldn’t have said it better than your statement,
    “The only thing I care about is whether you’re meeting your dog’s physical and emotional needs and building a relationship that’s loving, stimulating, and enjoyable for both of you.”
    Well done, Pamela! :)

  10. I consider myself “owned by a lovely (sub) standard poodle” and I’m ok with that concept. :) My buddy, my pal…who enriches my life and whoever he encounters daily.

  11. I’ve never understood what all the fuss is about truthfully. I think of my own dogs as companions and members of the family, but I’ve never called them my kids. (Even before I had kids.) I love them dearly. I certainly can understand people referring to their dogs as their kids. It doesn’t affect me in the least. Like you, what matters to me is if the dogs are well loved and given proper care. It is tricky on my blog because I feature dogs who live with their moms and dads and ones who have owners. So far I haven’t had anyone complain because I used the wrong terminology when referring to their relationship with their dogs. I think “pet” is a lovely word. It conjures up a special relationship between two beings. Perhaps because I’m not a writer, semantics don’t matter that much to me.

  12. We do not like the owner thing at all. For us, we are Mom’s girls, her babies, her best friends, her family. Yes, we are all adopted, hard to believe I know. Mom always wanted a boat load of kids and has none, so we have replaced that concept and are fur kids. She tries to do the best she can for us and get us everything we need or could want. It makes her happy to see us thrive. We don’t care what people call themselves really, but as you say, it is important they care for their pets propery.

  13. I am not Rumpy’s mother. I am the pack leader. I agree that words matter, and it seems for many people today parenting means giving in to a spoiled child’s demands. It would be irresponsible of me to act that way with a dog like Rumpy. Rumpy is a happy, sweet, loving dog. He is also headstrong and manipulative.

    I think of my relationship with my companion animals as symbiotic. We need each other. They need me to buy food, open cans, freshen water bowls and scoop litter boxes. I need them to remind me that there is more to life than work, that humans are not the only living creatures on this earth, and that love exists (I especially need that one on days I have to remove kids from their caregivers).

    A parent’s responsibility is to teach and nurture a child. Companion animals and I teach and nurture each other.

  14. Wonderful post. :-) I call myself a dog mom because I don’t have any human kids, hubby and I decided we probably never will. I think the whole mom/dad thing for us started out as a joke. We got tired of answering people about “when are you going to have kids?” I started telling people “I already have 4!” Just to get a chuckle, two cats, two dogs.
    I don’t like saying that I “own” my dogs, they are not property, they are my family, friends, and definitely partners. I am also pack leader a.k.a. “mom” I create rules, boundaries, meet their emotional, physical, and learning needs. And expect good behavior from them when out in public.
    I’m proud of my dogs and their behavior and if I’m not then we work to fix it. I like the term “partner” because we have strong relationships with each other, and I think “partner” is a great description for inter-species relationships. But what I don’t like is being berated over the head for not pushing my “kids” out of my uterus. LoL :-)

  15. I think the most interesting thing about the topic of using certain terms for pet ownership is that it became an issue at all. I couldn’t agree more with your conclusion; when we start to worry so much about what others are calling themselves perhaps it’s time to look at ourselves and figure out if there’s a more productive way to spend our time.

  16. I’m a Doodle Mom – why do I call myself that? Because I take care of my Boys, my Doodles, my Buddies, my furry friends.

  17. I like the word partner. I am not a furry child, but I am a valued member of the family.