7 Signs You Might Be a Codependent Dog Mom, According to Pet Behaviorists

Let’s face it: in today’s day and age when dogs are bright spots in this world, it’s only natural that we’ve become consumed with our furry friends. They’re sweet, loyal and give those great kisses when we’ve had a particularly bad day. 

That’s why it’s no wonder that the term “codependent dog mom” (and dad) has emerged. In general, a codependent dog parent is someone who has, what may be thought of, as an excessively close, and even dependent, connection with their pup. Their emotional needs and self-worth are wrapped up in the dog too. 

Now, while codependency in any relationship isn’t really ideal, we’ll say this: there are worse things in this world than to be a codependent dog parent. Dogs are awesome, so we get it. But there can be negative outcomes if your connection is a wee bit too tight, both for yourself and for your pooch. Here are some signs that you might be a codependent dog parent, along with less-than-ideal effects to keep in mind. 

Related: 10 Little Ways To Show Your Dog You Love Them

7 Signs You Might Be a Codependent Dog Mom

1. You have trouble carrying out care they don’t love.

Rachel Lane, MSc, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA of Pups on the Coast Dog Behavior & Training says that if you’re a codependent dog parent, you may struggle to perform and/or feel guilty about carrying out normal care and routines for your dog if you think your dog doesn’t like it. For example, this can include not brushing your dog’s teeth because the dog doesn’t want their teeth brushed.

“Not brushing their teeth is not in the dog’s best interest, but because the dog doesn’t like it at the moment, the person may not do it,” Lane explains. “Instead, the dog will suffer from health issues later in life, such as gum disease, which could lead to extractions.”

Related: How To Decode Your Dog’s Body Language

2. You cancel plans to hang out with your dog.

Shannen Standiford, UW-AAB Trainer & Behavior Consultant says that canceling plans to hang out with your dog can be a sign of codependency. She says that guilt may kick in every time you have to leave your pup home while you go out to dinner with friends, for example. Unfortunately, this can result in separation anxiety for the dog when you do leave the house, and you may experience separation anxiety too.

“Once in a while, using your dog as an excuse to skip a night out, or go home early, is normal,” Lane says. “Doing it on a consistent basis where it’s impacting relationships is not.”

Related: 6 Signs You're Actually *Too Affectionate* With Your Dog, According to a Pet Behavior Specialist

3. You can’t let anyone else watch your dog.

If you’re a codependent dog parent, you may have “an inability to sit back and let someone else” care for your dog, as Lane says, adding that at times, this can even include your partner. You may believe that you’re the only person capable of doing the right things for your dog.

Related: The Real Reason Why Dogs Like To Sleep in Their Owners’ Beds

4. You’re really in tune with your dog’s emotions and feelings.

This isn’t a negative trait to have if you’re codependent with your dog. It’s simply a sign that you two are super close.

“Understanding their feelings and emotions is a huge part of the ‘dog mom’ life and shows that you’re dedicated to your dog reaching their full potential,” Standiford says. In turn, your dog likely picks up on your emotions and feelings too. 

Related: What Your Dog's Personality Says About You, According to Pet Behaviorists

5. You helicopter parent them.

Lane says that a codependent relationship with your dog can result in “intense hovering,” “helicoptering” or “overly controlling behavior.” 

“For example, when your dog is playing with another dog, you may walk around behind them, hovering over the entire interaction,” Lane says.

Related: What Your Dog's Favorite Toy Reveals About Its Personality, According to a Vet

6. You neglect other relationships.

Perhaps you’re so darn close with your pup that, well, human relationships don’t really matter all that much. Lane says that being codependent can make you neglect those relationships, or make you feel like you don’t need other relationships because you’re content with the one you have with your dog. 

And while having a relationship like that with an animal is amazing and rewarding, it can be worthwhile to also foster those connections with your fellow humans.

Related: Do You Have a 'Velcro Dog'? Here Are the 15 Clingiest Dog Breeds, According to a Vet

7. Your dog is your entire identity.

Lane says that your dog may become your identity. You may like feeling “needed,” and your dog can become your whole life. You may be unable to separate yourself from your dog as two separate beings who have two separate lives. You may even depend on your dog as a symbol of who you are as a person.

Related: 10 Sweet Signs Your Dog Thinks of You as Their Mom and Dad

The Outcome of Being a Codependent Dog Parent

Standiford says that there can be “tons of training mistakes” that can result from being codependent. Some of the most common mistakes that she has witnessed include:

  • Not getting the dog used to being alone throughout the day or not crate-training.

  • Not having boundaries or structure with your dogs and allowing them to do whatever they like in their day-to-day routine because people may tend to "feel guilty" about any boundaries.

  • Having high expectations that your dog should be able to do everything with you, like go to busy restaurants, travel and get along with every person or dog they meet.

Standiford says that these examples and more tend to be “done with a good heart,” but can have some adverse effects.

“Some of the most common effects would be dogs who develop separation anxiety, dogs who push boundaries, which in return can cause bad behavior in the home and dogs who are always being pushed over thresholds and put in distracting environments they're not quite ready for,” she observes.

Lane adds that dogs who have codependent owners are often anxious (but she specifies that not all anxious dogs have codependent parents).

“Their owner can become so focused on how they feel that they stop taking their dog’s needs into account,” Lane says. “Sometimes these dogs are forced into situations in which they are uncomfortable. They are sometimes not really treated as if they are dogs, so they also may not get enough species appropriate enrichment.” 

Related: Aww! 10 Adorable Signs Your Dog Loves You, According to Experts

Is There a Better Way to Interact with Your Dog?

While we fully, and definitely, support having a close connection with your best furry friend, there are some things you can do to prevent heading into codependency territory.

First of all, Standiford says that it can help to understand animal behavior, something that she says is a “huge step in the right direction.”

“While there is definitely some relation and similarities in both human and dog behavior, it's important to remember your dog is not a baby or your child,” she clarifies. “This is not done to diminish or discredit the relationship you have with your dog, as so many people feel the same emotion towards their dogs as they would a child. This is to know more about your dog’s needs and understand that they definitely differ from a human’s needs. Dogs should have structure and boundaries while receiving love and positive reinforcement to foster a good relationship.”

Standiford goes on to say that one of the best things you can do for your dog is to hire a trainer or behavioral consultant who follows positive/evidence-based training methods.

“Even if it’s just for one session, you can help improve your relationship with your dog and understand their emotions, which can have a huge impact over the years,” she says.

Next up, discover the #1 sign your dog is stressed.