Many doggie owners attend obedience school in the hope that they can learn how to convert their unruly, undisciplined, and, generally, uncooperative puppy into a happy, loving, well-behaved member of the household. In other words “obedient”.
Kids and puppies have a lot in common. Neither instantly obey our every command, they seem to leave a mess wherever they go, and they beg (or whine as the case may be) in order to get exactly what they want. They can be so doggone frustrating at times.
Nevertheless, everyone and their dog seems to benefit somewhat from attending a doggie obedience school. Maybe, just maybe, some of these same techniques would serve to enhance our parenting skills. You be the judge.
- Don’t rub a puppies nose in its mistakes. It used to be that if your puppy made doo-doo on your Persian rug, you were advised to rub its nose in it to teach it a good lesson. Dog experts now say this method is old-fashioned and ineffective. In fact, motivating through criticism and humiliation has rarely been effective for any species. For kids, it’s highly discouraging to be constantly reminded on one’s mistakes. Its been said that “a wounded knee will mend but wounded pride may last a lifetime.” Children respond much more favourably to good doses of encouragement and understanding.
- Don’t hit a puppy with a rolled-up newspaper. Forcing cooperation through fear and punishment is rarely effective in the long term. Ruling with force only serves to impress kids with the value of power and control over those weaker than themselves. Natural and logical consequences have replaced reward and punishment as a means to help children to learn from their mistakes without affecting their self-esteem or fostering resentment and rebellion. Kids learn best if they’re allowed to make the occasional mistake without the fear of some harsh punishment. In fact, kids with “the courage to be imperfect” will often accept and overcome many a challenge. Save that newspaper for lining the dog’s kennel
- Exercise a puppy daily. Kids, like puppies, need lots of exercise. Obesity among children aged six to eleven has increased by over 50 percent in the last 15 years. One obvious factor is the high fat content of many of the foods aimed at children but the greatest threat appears to be the intrusion of television and the computer into our children’s lives. Canadian children watch an average of 26 hours of television per week. This is slightly greater than the amount of time they spend in the classroom. This is a lot of inactive time that used to be spent running and jumping with Dick and Jane. Lets turn off those TV sets and get the kids outside. In fact, go out with them and take the dog for a walk.
- Keep your puppy inside the fence or on a leash. Puppies have a natural curiosity and love to wander. If allowed to do so they can get into mischief or even get hurt. The same applies to our children. This is why limits are important if children are to learn the rules of social order in a safe environment. Boundaries provide a sense of security while teaching self-control. Too short of a leash stifles creativity and fosters rebellion. Let the leash out enough to ensure safety but sufficient to allow for exploration and a degree of self-reliance. Allow your children lots of choices and try not to hamper their imagination. Put your foot down, however, if little Johnny starts chasing the mailman
- Give your puppy lots of praise. Puppies live to please and are most happy when praised. Kids are the very same. Don’t just concentrate on accomplishments, however, as this leads to a self-esteem tied to success and the act of pleasing others. Use encouragement to acknowledge and reinforce effort, at times, not matter how small. Encouragement literally means “to give courage.” A courageous child is able to face life and all its challenges straight on without undue fear of making mistakes or of failing.
- Train your puppy in a consistent manner. Puppies get hurt and confused if they can chew on an old slipper but get punished for chewing on that new pair that your mother sent you for Christmas. Children, too, get confused when we are inconsistent or if parents contradict each other. Structure is important and children feel more secure knowing where they stand and what their limits are. If toys must be picked-up before they go out to play then stick to it. There are, of course, times to be flexible and occasional exceptions may be okay, but these should generally be few and far between. Puppies and kids love a predictable lifestyle.
- Be firm but not harsh in your discipline. Puppies respond best to firm, calm commands. Yelling and threats create fear and the strong desire to hide under the bed. Voice tone is important and can convert a simple correction into a frightening and humiliating event. Parents are most effective when they express their firmness in a kindly manner. Firmness establishes and maintains limits while kindness models respect and protects their fragile self-esteem. If both your child and your dog are living under the bed, they may be trying to tell you something.
- Maintain your position of authority. Dogs are pack animals and will follow their designated leader. Parents should maintain their position as leaders in the family. In fact, a good role model is critical to a child’s healthy development. Being Mr. Nice Guy is not always appropriate and at times we must say “No” or make unpopular decisions. It is important for children to at least know that they are being heard and that you are considering their opinions or requests seriously. It is respectful and often helpful to explain the reasons for a particular decision. It sure beats “Because I said so”. Kids have a right to be treated with respect and will often respond in a respectful manner even if they don’t agree with you.
In the cold, hard light of day maybe doggie obedience school does have something to offer to parents wishing to enhance their parenting skills. After all, you don’t have to tell your neighbours or relatives where you learned how to raise such adorable, cooperative children. But if you do find yourself barking out orders or saying things like “Heel, Johnny, heel” then quite possibly your parenting skills have literally “gone to the dogs”.