Sick as a dog…

Well, I’m finally back at the top of my game, after over two weeks of being on-and-off sick as a dog, following a flu shot, which turned into what I called the “fake flu”. As if that weren’t enough, as I was recovering from that, I got a nasty cold that ended up derailing everyone in my household along with me. Fortunately, the kiddo got the least of it, and her reaction to the flu shot was not nearly as bad as mine. While I was barely able to keep up with my regular work, much less my writing, I did have plenty of time to reflect on illness and training.

Sick Dog image from

Being sick is no fun

Back in my single days, I remember getting ill with a flu that knocked me down for 4 days – VERY long, considering that I don’t usually get that sick, flu shots notwithstanding. On the third day, as I was lying on the couch wishing for the fever to finally break, my border collie, Claire, decided that she needed to play. When dancing her front feet on the couch next to my head proved ineffective, she took to dropping a Kong toy on my head. I’d like to say that was also ineffective, but I’d be lying, as it did serve to get me up and start a ball-throwing game in the yard with her despite myself.

While children may not be quite as bad – and mine does show sympathy for other people’s “owies” – most still don’t have a complete appreciation for Mommy’s (or Daddy’s) illness. On the day after our flu shots, our 2-year-old was feeling as down and out as I was, so we spent the day on the couch together, sleeping off the mild fever. Recovering quickly, she was raring to go the next day. Unfortunately for me, I came down with the bad cold several days later, and needed to spend another day off resting (which those who know me understand to be a rarity.) I am convinced that if it had not been for my husband’s intervention, our kid would have been dancing on my head to get me to play with her, too.

The fact is that parents – and particularly parents with additional jobs outside the home – don’t get the luxury of taking a lot of sick days. I have made meals, cleaned the house, fed the dogs and other beasts, responded to emails, and even taught dog training classes while feeling under the weather. It’s just something that I assume as my responsibility, and so I take it. I have a hard time explaining to people that I am a full-time mom during the weekdays and full-time business owner during evenings and weekends. Add dogs to the mix, and the schedule does not get any easier.

The upside is that I love all that I do; I love being Mom to our little girl, I love being a “dog-mom“, and I love the work that I do as a professional dog trainer and behavior counselor. So I suck it up and power through at times, with the trade-off being that I seldom feel like complaining about having to go to work, or having to clean up after a messy youngster. Life, overall, is good, and I am, for the most part, happy for the paths that I have chosen.

When Helping Isn’t Helpful

Our daughter is at an age now where she wants to be involved with pretty much everything that we do. She likes to “help” us with chores including sweeping, cleaning, making the bed, and feeding the dogs.  When walking the dogs, she insists on holding the leash. So I’ve adopted the “two-leash” system of dog walking, with her holding one and an adult holding the second leash, both attached to the collar. This morning, she even helped us set the course for an agility demo at a local dog event for the Humane Society Silicon Valley.

The two-leash system

The two-leash system assures control while allowing the child to “walk the dog”.

While I truly appreciate that she enjoys picking up after the dogs – something that she only “gets to do” supervised – her helpfulness can also slow things down considerably.  And at times, helpful could simply get in the way.  In feeding the dogs, for instance, if I’m in a hurry to get out of the house in the morning, I’ll often feed them in stealth mode before she gets up, so that she does not hear me and insist on helping, which can triple the time it takes to get it done.

Picking up poop at Grandma's house

Helping to pick up after the dogs.

The other day, after feeding our pack (they are fed in crates) I briefly left the room to let them finish. I heard a suspicious noise in the front room – anyone with a toddler understands about suspicious noises – and I went in to find that our 2-year-old had let my husband’s dog out of his crate and was taking his bowl out to put it away. We are very fortunate that a) he was done eating, b) he never guards food and c) he is the most tolerant of our dogs around her. Nevertheless, I made a mental note that the dogs in “closed” crates need more supervision.  Fortunately, the other crates have different latches that are difficult even for adults to open, much less a toddler. We’ve also discussed changing out my husband’s dog’s crate for a similar model.

The point is that even in the most benign of settings, a completely well-meaning child may put himself in danger. I recently read an article from Animal Behavior Associates describing a tragic situation in which a previously “good with children” dog was pushed beyond his limits. They go on to describe how this heartbreak could have been prevented; all in all, it comes down to more supervision, not just for the child’s safety, but for the dog’s as well.

Well-meaning dogs can also present problems. I have heard many stories of overly exuberant dogs accidentally injuring children by knocking them down or scratching them. And stories of dogs “protecting” (which is often actually resource guarding) children to the detriment of visitors or passersby.

Having children and dogs together is a decision that should not be taken lightly, regardless of how “rock solid” our dogs are, or how well behaved our children are. Good intentions are not always well-received by dogs or by children. We must remember that, as parents and dog guardians, our job becomes all the more demanding in order to keep everyone safe and comfortable.