• Drew Webster

Dogs Open Doors... to parenting

Want to be a great parent? Consider becoming a great dog owner first. Many couples get a dog before having children as a surrogate child, it's like a practice run. Today it is common for young couples to choose pets over having children (or to delay having children until they are older). According to a recent article in the Washington Post Millenials are choosing pet companions often over traditional partnerships and having children. The dog becomes the first dependent creature for the couple to pour their affection, time and money into. They can proudly display bumper stickers like "Dog mom", "My kids have four paws", and "My Rottweiler is smarter than your honor student" on the first day, it's true, there is no waiting period. It is now a natural part of the serious coupling behavior of our culture as any other aspect.

So whether you are taking a practicing run at building your parenting skills on a companion animal or cohabitating with both children and pets in the same living space it's important to consider that the way we teach, care for and train our animal's matters. There are a plethora of ways to teach a dog new skills, routines and obedience concepts but I'm here to tell you methods matter. The methods you used to teach your dog can be applied and modeled to your children like compassion, empathy, learning system and the way that you treat others. The process has to have more emphasis than the result. Results come, trust me, they do. Training is all about building a language and getting some serious "milage" on your training

I can always tell how adults in the home talk to and treat the animals if there are children in the home, they tend to mirror their parent's relationship and interaction with their dog in the home. As parents and pet guardians we can all too often get trapped in a punishment loop. If we try to stop undesired behavior (with dogs or kids) by yelling, taking away privileges or worst threating or actually using violence the sad reality is it works, well at first. Usually, the shock and serious tone in our voices can interrupt behaviors, but the more we do it, the less impactful they become. The tides have turned in a lot of American homes on how to "discipline" children but unfortunately for a lot of companion animals, there is a culturally acceptable level of punitive treatment which often results in harsh training tactics, physical and verbal violence. Much of the cultural norms around punishment come from a terrible public misunderstanding of dominance relationships and social hierarchies in dogs and this is often the justification for mistreating a dog in the home.

Choosing compassionate techniques and understanding the way animals learn is key to be a great canine guardian (or fur mom, or dog dad, or whatever). Remember, in parenting it's not what we say but what we do. Our actions DO speak louder to words. Children model what they see. Showing kindness to an animal in the home can model respect, treating other beings with kindness and using positive reinforcement to build desired behavior is essential to teaching the relationship aspects you want your children to develop with others.

Your example can open the door to conversations regarding equity, exercise, nutrition, fairness and so many other essential life lessons. Through activities like appropriate play, exercise, and training activities you will have the perfect opportunity to model the kind of person you want your children to become.

Working with animals will teach you patience. In my professional and personal life, I have parents, and canine guardians tell me how patient and how calm I am while working with their animals. This was a skill I learned, mostly from working with non-human animals.

There are no short cuts, you have to put in the time to get the results.

Many of us parents are in truth, just figuring it out as we go along. Ask yourself, what if the information we got at first wasn’t the best information or what if we need to make some changes to our parenting tactics to achieve harmony in our home and optimum results. We’re so driven by a result we often forget it’s the process they can have the most significant impact on our relationship with both our children and our animals. Modern parents have come to the conclusion that parenting techniques that their own parents may have used may were not the most well-informed techniques (is that too generous) and often reflected cultural stigma about discipline and behavior, and while times have evolved for children people being tough on dogs continues. It's time we change.

So where do people turn for help, usually, sadly, television and google. Leaving people with not only bad or limited info but we know now we are being fed what information on social sites that affirm our current beliefs and pattern behavior. Confirmation bias keeps us from learning something new and challenging the existing dogma. Quick fixes for behavior usually lack in lasting results. That doesn't mean you can't ask for help or turn to a professional, but make sure the whole family is on board, working together and understands it's the process that will give you the lasting results.

Training an animal can be a humbling experience, I can’t tell you how many mistakes I have made it comes to working with animals. Admitting those mistakes is not always easy but admitting them to a child can be a really valuable way to model how you want them to be forgiving to themselves and to others if they’re not perfect the first time. Learning perseverance will be essential and teach everyone that the time and work we put into our furry friends can have a long-lasting impact on our family. Just remember it is the process not the result that builds lasting relationships and strengthens the bond.



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