Raising Dogs and Kids: Why There's No Difference
Stubbornness is just determination in an opposite direction. -
Me to my daughter, River, aged 8, after an adult called her "stubborn".
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.
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?
“Hang on lady, we going for ride.” – Short Round
So let’s jump in to how the PAW Method works, and how I apply it to both dogs and my own children.
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.
There are plenty of ways to give your dog the activity they need. 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.
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. Garden centers were a beautiful bit of greenery in the winter. 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.
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 work (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.
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.
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.
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.
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, a 12-year old is still a child, not an adult. 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. The more you answer your dog's questions, such as, "Are we going to die if the mailman comes to the door?", the more your dog will start to not only trust your answers, but actively anticipate them.
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