Raising Both Dogs and Kids

Stubbornness is just determination in an opposite direction. –

Me to my daughter  River (age 8) after her Grandma called her “stubborn”

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Here we go.  A combination post, if you will.  A few years ago, I had a friend tease me about my blog.  They tried to tell me that all my blog posts are is a bunch of Star Wars memes.  I was indignant.  They are most definitely not 100% Star Wars memes.  However, challenge accepted. Which brings me to my post for today.  I recently had a comment left on one of my posts.

I love reading your posts! Can you please write more about your approach to parenting? As a dog mom and toddler mom I need to learn your wisdom, because they all can be a$$holes sometimes and I know it’s bc they suck at being (adult) humans. – Hanna

 

“Learn my wisdom”?  Wisdom…well, that comes from experience.  Experience comes from mistakes. Lots of them.  I’m always more than willing to share my mistakes, experience and wisdom, but it’s definitely a trifecta.  So where we go: insights on what I do with my dogs and my kids.  Only, to keep things interesting (and geeky), let’s see what Indian Jones has to say about this.

"Hang on lady, we going for ride." - Short Round

“Hang on lady, we going for ride.” – Short Round

With regard to my blog, I constantly stress the PAW Method for working with your dog i.e., “Dog Training”, although I hate that phrase.  We don’t train kids; why would we train our dogs?  So let’s jump in to how the PAW Method works, and how I apply it to both dogs and my own children. The PAW Method stands for Piloting, Activity and Work.

  • Piloting: Answering your dog’s/kid’s questions
  • Activity:  Exercise Exorcise the demons
  • Work:  Bored dogs/kids are a scary thing. Keep them mentally sated.

This is a tri-pod, folks. You can’t remove a let and expect it to work.  You must make sure you engage in all three aspects every day.  Now, let’s go over what that means…starting with Activity.

ACTIVITY

 

There are plenty of ways to give your dog the activity they need.  Follow this link for some tips. Flirt poles are a wonderful addition to your repertoire. No, I guarantee it’s not what you think.  Give this post a read, and make your own dog toy guaranteed to exhaust them.    Treadmill training, agility (homemade course with just 2 simple jumps), dog parks, play dates, doggie backpacks….those are all great ways to get rid of your dog’s energy.  And the less energy they have, the less they can direct your way.

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The same goes for children, especially toddlers and preschoolers.  They are naturally geared towards movement.  When my kids, Eric and River were toddlers/preschoolers, first thing we did every weekend morning was plan out the Exhaustion Factor.  How were we going to get these two maniacs into a state of calm?  Exercise.  First thing we’d do in the wintertime was a 45 minutes at the indoor mall playground.  Sometimes just hiking around the mall would work.  Membership to the Cleveland Zoo’s Rain Forest was a great way to tire them out without having to freeze their tiny tushes.   We even sprung for a tiny trampoline for the kids when they were little.  The object was to make sure it was never the same thing every day.  The trampoline wasn’t out all the time.  It was a privilege, not a right.  Therefore, whenever I brought it out (roughly once a week), the kids were excited about it enough to play with it till they dropped.  We didn’t go to the mall every day, because then it’s just a routine.  We needed to keep it fresh. Summertime and nice days, it was hikes.  Sometimes just around the neighborhood, up for ice cream.  Or a walk to the local playground.  But it was key that,while yes, we brought a wagon with us just in case the kids got tired, they always started by walking.  The wagon was for a rest break, not for transportation.  It was always expected they would be walking as soon as they had their break.  The object of the activity was to make sure they were pleasantly tired, but not physically stressed out.  So yes, they walked everywhere if the weather was conducive. So dogs and kids have always had their activity early in the day, setting the tone for the rest of the day. I’ve set them up for success.

WORK

Everyone needs a job.  Mental work, if you will.

I have always made sure my dogs and my kids had plenty of the right kinds of mental stress.  For the dogs: agility, silly tricks, enrichment feeders, or scent detection (it’s easier than you think!) are all greats ways to get rid of their need for mental work.  At the very least, every day, my dogs eat their meals out of an enrichment toy.  Most days we go above and beyond that. They always had toys out to play with, especially when they were young, but only 1/3 of the total amount I own were left out at any given time.  In other words, swap out your dog’s toys frequently.  Most likely your dog doesn’t need new toys: he needs to be separated from most of his toys for a spell.  And then, like magic, what’s old is new again.  With dogs under a year, I typically switch out available toys at least 2x a day.  This helps to keep them engaged with appropriate items, rather than chewing the chair leg.

The same principle has always been applied towards my children. Chores are a big one in my house.  My kids have been doing dishes since they were about 3 years old.  Not well.  I knew I was re-washing all those dishes afterwards, but the expectation of doing a job to the best of their ability has always been ingrained into my children.  I simply will not accept less than the best they can do.  Weekends my kids were expected to really pitch in:  by 4 years old, assigned jobs tended to be vacuuming, cleaning the baseboards, laundry, etc.  In other words, these are all age-appropriate jobs for preschoolers, and they did the job, albeit not as well as I would.  But this isn’t a sprint: it’s a marathon.  So yes, doing dishes with my 3-year old could be tedious sometimes, but by 5 they could be relied on to do a good job.

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Nowadays, my kids are 12 and 14.  I can have dog training sessions all day on a Saturday, and come home to vacuumed and mopped floors, and all the laundry done in the house.  These things have been expected for so many years now, it’s about as normal a part of the day as having dinner together.

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Of course, I don’t rely on just chores for mental work. Books were a huge factor.  Playing games with them, but also making sure they understood that I was not their sole source of entertainment.  Occupy yourself, or if you can’t, here’s another chore you can help me with so I have more time to play with you.  Most of the time, they chose to learn to occupy themselves to avoid extra chores.

Doing the dishes

Doing the dishes

And while we didn’t have a tv in our house until the kids were about 9 and 11, they did watch shows.  Specific shows, not just idly switching channels.  We had a specific time we’d look up Wonder Pets episodes on YouTube, or play the favorite Little Einstein dvd.  Sometimes it was a treat for an extra-great job doing dishes.  Sometimes it was so I didn’t lose my mind.  Because Mommy needs a break!

Come up with a recipe box of mentally engaging activities for both your dogs and your kids.  Bonus points for things they can do together (like agility – great for kids and dogs).  Pretty soon when your kids state they’re bored, you can direct them to the box of activities.  Read a Dr. Suess book from back to front, write your alphabet using different colored crayon for each letter, etc. were all a part of my “enrichment” recipe box for my kids when they were bored.  They’d be directed towards the box to find something to do.  If they couldn’t find something there to satisfy them, there was always the chores recipe box.  Usually my kids would self-entertain from the enrichment recipe box ;)

 

Your dog doesn't want to be Pilot.

Your dog doesn’t want to be Pilot.

PILOTING

Okay, I’ve saved the best for last.  Piloting is merely answering your dog’s/kid’s questions.  Dogs and kids ask a lot of questions, but not all of them are vocalized.

  • Your dog stealing food from the counter: “Can I eat this?”
  • Fido pulling on the leash: “Can I lead on this walk?”
  • Your spawn kids tearing around inside the house: “Is this acceptable in the house?”
  • Little Jimmy hits his sister: “Is this how I get the toy I wanted?”

Obviously these are questions that need to be answered. I guarantee this is the part where you are all struggling with both your dogs and your kids.  I see it all the time: I come into a training session to work with an unruly dog, but the parents can’t even work with their own kids.  Kids yelling, shouting, interrupting, and being openly hostile to their parents.

Mom: Sarah, but your toys away.
Sarah:  I don’t want to!
Mom: Sarah, we have a guest here to work with Fido, so please put away your toys.
Sarah: *continues playing with toys*
Mom:  Sarah, please put your toys away, otherwise the nice dog trainer can’t work with Fido.
Sarah: *continues playing with toys*
Mom:  I guess we can train Fido in the other room.

Ouch. So many unanswered, unaddressed questions in this one.  And at no time did Mom Pilot little Sarah.  Mostly because Mom doesn’t want to be “mean”.  So let’s break down Piloting. Essentially, nobody’s flying the plane.   Piloting is a contest, but we all truly want whomever is best to win.  I call that money in your “Piloting Piggy Bank”.  How much money do you have to spend answering your child/dog’s specific question.  From dogs barking to your kid asking for a later bedtime, each question you asked is worth a certain dollar amount. Some questions cost more to answer than others, but essentially whomever has the most money in their Piloting Piggy Bank for that question wins the right to answer that question.

Hint: You won’t always have the most money for that question. For example:
Me to Sparta during a hike: Hey, Sparta, did I get us lost?
Sparta:  Yes, you did.
Me: Can you get us home?
Sparta: Yes, I can.  Follow me.

. ^ ^ ^ True Story: we did get lost.  I definitely didn’t have enough Piloting money to get us home, but Sparta did.  So I let her Pilot me.

But for the most part, you as an adult human, navigating an adult human world, will have the best answers.  So give them.  You aren’t being mean, you’re being a parent to your fur-kid and your crotch fruit child.  And let’s face it:  just like our dogs, some of our human kids have more money in their Piloting Piggy bank than others.  Prime example is my daughter, River. With her, a “because I told you so” isn’t acceptable.  She was constantly trying to figure out if I had enough money in my Piloting Piggy bank to enforce the answers I was giving. And I love and respect her for it.

The most recent bout we had was with her grades.  River is extremely intelligent, witty and very capable.  I consider her above-average.  Therefore, I expect above-average grades from her.  In other words, nothing below a B- is acceptable.

River also happens to be lazy.  If she personally can’t rationalize why something is important enough to put effort into it, then she doesn’t see the logic of why she should.  But here’s the thing:  she’s 12.  By definition, 12 year olds are still children, not adults.  There’s no reason why she should be able to see everything as a logical adult.  So while River is currently writing a book on WWII, and has most of Patton’s speeches memorized (she’s definitely one-of-a-kind), unless it has to do with history or cats, she sees no reason to spend time on it.

That includes math.

Fortunately, her school grants access to kids’ grades parents in real-time.  Meaning, I can see my kids’ current GPAs, test results, and whether they turned in their homework in real time.  So I enforced a rule that if you ever fell below and 80% grade in a class, you lost all electronic devises until that grade was above c-level again.

Meanest. Mom.  Ever.

 

So, River slipped to a 78% in math.  I enacted my rule, and she was without her laptop, phone, video games, etc. I’ll be honest, it broke my heart.  Every day she’d come home from school asking to me to check her grades to see if it had gone up.  But if nothing was graded, then there wasn’t anything I could do.  It took over a week for a grade to be entered that brought River’s average for the class above 80%.  But I’ll be damned, she handled the entire ordeal very gracefully, because it wasn’t the first time she’d be subjected to the consequences of her own actions.  She didn’t balk, nor did she cry foul.  I didn’t make up punishments on the fly.  She knew in advance what the consequences of her (in)actions in math class would be, so there were no surprises.

And of course I wanted to give in.  But again, this is a marathon, not a sprint.  I’m not selfish enough to coddle her or give in simply because I don’t like to be the “bad guy”.  I’m not going to claim it’s always been this easy allowing her to experience consequences, but I realize that the consequences she experiences now will never be this easy for her again.  In other words, holding her accountable now sets her up to have integrity in the future. Plus, I could let her know just how damn proud I was of how she handled herself while she experienced those consequences, as well as how thrilled I was once she brought her grades back up.  Her report card was magnificent, and she was rewarded heavily.

It’s not much different with your dog.  Your dog is sentient, not some dumb beast.  Set your boundaries, and then adhere to them.  You’re not bad, and you’re not mean.  You’re simply the Pilot.  Discourage behaviors you don’t like with a negative, and encourage behaviors/actions you like with positives

Now, the difference between dogs and kids is actually a little bittersweet to me.  My dogs will always require a human Pilot, as they live in a human world.  I’ll always be there to answer their questions.  Our children, on the other hand?  If we raise them well, and do our best, hopefully one day they will soar on their own, able to Pilot themselves.  Our job as parents is to make sure help them learn to soar under their own strength by letting them borrow ours until they can fly on their own.

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

The Art of Not Panicking

Me: River, are you nervous about your first day of school?
River (age 9):  I’ll wait until something happens to be nervous.  No sense wasting it on nothing.

River

A photo came up in my Facebook memories a few days ago.  It’s of River starting her first day of school just after we moved, so she didn’t know anyone.  I’ve long stated that my daughter is the most emotionally healthy person I’ve ever met in my life.  This statement is just another profoundly logical quip from my girl.  Interestingly enough, that statement played out for me today in a completely different capacity.

I’ve long stated that there is no difference between how I raise my kids and how I Pilot my dogs.  Each is in a world that they aren’t quite equipped to handle on their own, and each ask a lot of questions.  If you don’t answer the questions, well…

 

 

 

The good thing is that the more you Pilot your dogs/kids, the easier it is to Pilot them.  In other words, you followed through with your answer this time, it’s more likely you’re will follow through the next time.  It doesn’t matter what the question is:

River: “Mom, can I stay up all night and play video games?”
“No, and if you do, you will lose your computer for a week.”

Guess who lost their computer for a week, and guess who now knows I will follow through with that answer.

or

Sparta: “Mom, is that other dog going to kill us?”
“No, I will protect you and make sure you are safe.”

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

We don’t die on the walk, so guess who believes me next time we see another dog on a walk.

Each little question we answer for your dogs/children is worth a certain amount of money in our Piloting Piggy Bank.  It starts to add up.  So the next time my son asks a question worth a dime, it’s easier to answer because I’ve already got the quarter to spend from the last question he asked (and I followed through on). Now that total is $.35!  Cha-ching!i  

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

And saving money is So Very Important, because eventually, you know that rainy day is going to come, and you’re going to need it.

That day came for me today.

“Hi Ms. Stack, this is Jody from River’s school.  River is having a seizure.  We’ve called 911.  Please come up to the school immediately.”

Yeah, not the call I was expecting this morning.  So I went into my usual crisis mode.  In other words, the PAW Method I constantly preach.  It’s not for working with your dog: it’s for working with your life.

1) Control Yourself.  I’ve had a lot of practice with this one over the years.  Panicking is a luxury, and is very selfish in the end.  You are either robbing energy that can be used towards resolving a situation, or you are forcing others to use theirs to calm you down.  Take a deep breath, and FFS, Put on your big girl pants and deal!  As I like to tell my clients, this isn’t about you, this is about the situation, and the situation ain’t luxurious, it’s crisis.  Wallow in luxury later when you have time to unpack the day’s events.  It’s okay to get upset… just not now.  Put on your Piloting uniform. You have a job to do, so put on on lipstick, pour yourself a drink, and pull yourself together.

2) Control the Situation.  When I got the call, I was on the road with friend about to go on a road trip.  Controlling the situation in that moment meant not adding stimulation to the situation.  Can I drive on a 4 lane road, about to hit a traffic circle while taking a phone call about my daughter’s condition?  Nope.  I pulled off onto a side-street to take the call.  Don’t let panic dictate your timeline.  Control the present situation as much as you can.  Sometimes it means crossing the road when you see another dog coming, or sometimes something as little as making sure you have backed Fido up a few extra feet before answering your front door.  Situations are on my terms, or at least as close to my terms as I can get them.  Once you get the situation under control, let it go.
Could I do anything else from the car while I was driving to my kid’s school?  No.  So didn’t attempt to.  As River said previously about being nervous, “I’ll wait until something happens to be nervous.  No sense wasting it on nothing.”  Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but the more you accept that, at least for the moment, you’ve done everything you can to control the situation, stop.  You’re done.
3. Add More Stimuli.  In this case, getting to the school just as they loaded my daughter into the ambulance provided me with more stimuli.  She was still unconscious, but I could still Pilot myself.  How did I do that?  By allowing others to Pilot me.  You know how I always say Piloting is a big piggy bank, and whomever has the most money wins?  Guess what?  At that moment, surrounded by the school nurse, principal, and 3 EMT’s, I had the least amount of money.  So I had to look to them to answer my questions:
- What’s her current condition?
- Can I see her?
- What hospital is closest?
- Is her current state typical for a seizure?
The more questions that were answered logically by someone who had already controlled themselves and the situation, the more I trusted in their answers.  In less than 15 seconds I had faith that these strangers could indeed save my child.  All based on how their Piloting skills.
A lot of people are amazed by how quickly I can get a frightened dog under control, and feeling calmer and safer. It’s the same principle:
helpers
Seeing scary things, being in a scary situation, it’s all the same.  You are looking for a Pilot. The EMT’s were helping to Pilot me and answer my questions, so that I could in turn answer River’s questions. Act the same way nurses do. After all, this wasn’t my first hospital run with my kids.  Read about why the best Pilots are always nurses here.
During our ride to the hospital, I had to Pilot River while they put an IV in her (“It will hurt, you will cry, and then we will go out for McDonalds.”) I had enough money in my bank to tell her she had to hold still.  To tell her to look at me in the eye, not the EMT’s as they did it.  And guess what:  she survived the ordeal of the IV.
River finally came around at the hospital.  More questions, but again, I had the money in the bank.  CAT scan (“It will take about 5 minutes, it doesn’t hurt.”).  IV coming out (an honest “I don’t know if it will hurt.”). And finally, after many hours, we were home.
So now she’s resting, and we have a slew of tests ahead of us.  She’s got a diagnosis of epilepsy.  More questions, starting with, “What’s a seizure?”.  Honest answers, including “I don’t know” when I truly don’t know.  But Piloting isn’t about coddling, nor is it about being a domineering authoritarian:  it’s about recognizing that unanswered questions lead to anxiety and fear. It’s about respecting an individual (dog or human) enough to answer their questions with honesty and confidence, and not trying to circumvent difficult answers with easy lies (“This won’t hurt at all”), or high-pitched baby talk (“It’s okay honey you’re fine”).  Hint:  If someone says “you’re fine, it’s okay” you know that it’s not.  Don’t lie, no matter how much you don’t like giving the answer.  Most of us are made of sterner stuff, and can handle the truth.
River: Why am I here? Where am I?
Me: You had a seizure.  You’re in the hospital.  Do you know what epilepsy is?
River: The shot my cousin has to get if she eats peanut butter?
Me: No, that’s an epi-pen. Let’s talk about seizures and epilepsy.  And then you can ask the doctor or me any questions you have.
River: Can I get McDonald’s?
That’s my girl.
Keep calm and pilot on
Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio