Good Mom, Bad Mom?

got cookies_sae hokoyamaA reader writes: My spouse, the “good” parent, gives our dog lots of treats. Now the dog has become a tyrant, especially when I’m trying to make dinner. Other than saying NO when she has maxed out her quota and then having to deal with nagging, or else yelling at this sensitive dog and becoming even more of the “bad” parent, what might you suggest?

This is a tough one, as is any instance where spouses’ parenting styles clash.

A couple of hints in your question suggest an area where I think you can make changes, though. One is your characterization of yourself as the “bad” mom, simply because you are a tiny bit more strict. And what, exactly, is her “quota”? Together, these tell me that you and your spouse, like many dog parents, equate giving treats with giving (or, perhaps, getting) love. And a nice mom (or dad) gives lots of treats while a mean mom stints on the cookies. That’s simply not true, regardless of what the dog says or how sadly she looks at you.

One place to start might be to not give any treats without a reason. That’s not as mean or as hard as it sounds. And even if you can’t get your spouse on board, you can convince the dog that making sad puppy eyes at you will not get her anywhere (and neither will “nagging,” whatever form it takes).

Come up with your own criteria. I ask that my dogs do something, bring me something, or submit to something they dislike in order to earn treats. This translates to cookies for bringing me the paper or my shoes or for picking up their bowls after eating; treats for coming in, sitting nicely, and stopping their insane barking when the neighbors walk by with their dog; and high-value treats for allowing me to do their nails and other hated grooming chores.

Some people set the bar lower, giving the dog a treat each time she comes in from going out to pee, for example. While I see no reason to do that, it does, at least, set a criterion. You do X, you get a cookie. That sets up a different expectation than: I am (or I am cute); therefore I deserve a cookie.

If all that seems too complicated, any time she bugs you for a treat, ask her to do something she already knows: sit and shake hands; roll over; high five. She will still be exchanging something for the treat, not just walking by and expecting rewards simply for existing.

Of course, she is not going to accept this new regimen without protest. You’ll need to hold firm for a few days or a week or so, ignoring her nagging, and she will ultimately resign herself to having to earn or pay for her rewards, just like the rest of us. She might still get freebies from your spouse — you probably can’t change that. But I seriously doubt that your dog measures her love for each of you by the number of free treats you hand out. A lot more goes into building a relationship than that!

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