Everything I needed to know about parenting I learned from a dog trainer
Did I mention we got a puppy? Yeah, I haven’t been the best at blogging lately. It happens. (if you don’t care about my new dog story, jerk (jk), just scroll down to my lessons learned part at the bottom).
We got this little guy from Austin Pet’s Alive.
His name is Tybalt. He’s a Catahoula leopard dog. He was 9 tiny pounds when we got him, now he’s 40lbs, but will probably grow to be about 60.
He is getting along with the girls really well, like he doesn’t even mind getting drawn on with markers, or having stickers put on his belly, or having his face grabbed and told he is SOOO CUTE for no freaking reason whatsoever (I don’t even know, I’m working on it with them).
And he and Junebug are getting along okay as long as he doesn’t go into Junebug’s closet (also known as my closet).
Basically, he is an awesome dog. But he is a puppy. So we can’t leave our shoes lying around. And we spent a few months cleaning up lots of puppy accidents. And wondering what we were thinking. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, I can see it. Junebug is six and a half and I totally seemed to have forgotten his puppy stage, other than it a vague memory that it sucked and he ruined a pair of kate spade shoes, a laptop (via the cord), and a chair. But we trained him with no kids in the house. This is way harder.
So we called for back up. We trained Junebug ourselves, but he’s just a little guy (and like I said, we had less on our plates as we were childless and all). Tybalt is bigger. We can’t screw this up because if jumps on someone or can’t walk on a leash, he is going to be a big liability. We called Karma Dog Training. In addition to doing puppy kindergarten classes, they do one-on-one stuff, and board and train programs. So we signed up to have one of the trainers come to our house and help Tybalt (and us so we can keep working with Tybalt after she leaves).
So first of all, kids and puppies: basically the same thing. Pretty much interchangable. Right? Right. Okay. Now that that is settled. Let’s move along.
Accentuate the Positive
First, training a dog, like raising a child, is best done through positive methods. I choose Karma Dog Training because they also believe that you never hit the dog, scream at the dog, or even spray it with something nasty. That doesn’t mean we never tell him no or let him know he did stuff wrong. Although other effective strategies are to simply ignore misbehavior. And you should definitely never reward misbehavior (which isn’t as obvious as it sounds because rewards don’t just come in the form of blue ribbons; rewards can also mean affection, attention, giving into inappropriate demands, etc.) But for the most part, training is all about very explicitly and thoughtfully reinforing appropriate and on-target behavior.
Get over Yourself
Second, when he does do stuff wrong, we don’t assume it is because he is a jerk. Saturday we worked on “go to your mat.” A command where you get the dog to go lay (lie? eff it, English is the worst) on a mat on command. The purpose is to get him out of the way, for example, when company is coming over or when the kids are eating a tempting treat nearby. He was doing really well. This dog is kind of a genius. I’m not even saying that because he gets it from me. It’s just true. But all of the sudden he was sucking at it. And I was like, what?! why?! If he were a kid, some parents might interpret the behavior as being deliberately disrespectful. Maybe the kid needed to go sit in time out. Get a spanking (cringe). Because you listen to your parents when they tell you to sit on a mat! or whatever! But the trainer said, he probably needs a break. So I took him out to pee and throw a ball around. What I’m saying is, maybe your kids aren’t little monsters. Maybe you just need to take them outside to pee and throw a ball around!? Because when we came back inside Tybalt was showing that mat who is boss. Actually, what I’m saying is, maybe it’s not always about you. Most kids and dogs want to please you. So if they aren’t, before you assume they are just disrespecting you (or being sinful and broken), consider that they are maybe just tired, hungry, or overwhelmed. And instead of punishing them, maybe help give them the words to express that and ask for what they need. (I mean, unless they are super little, then just, you know, help them out with the food or nap or whatever.)
Third, rewarding approximations. First, we rewarded Tybalt for putting one foot on the mat; then two feet; then all four; then sitting on the mat; then lying down on it; and so on. We started with tiny expectations and worked our way up. And we gave big rewards for the big milestones (like getting all the way on the mat, or lying down on it). So many times when we want our kids to do stuff (or even ourselves!) we expect it all to happen all at once and then we get upset that it isn’t working. Why aren’t they cleaning their whole room or doing this whole giant chore the first first time we ask? Maybe they don’t know how? Maybe they think it sucks? Either way, if you reward approximations, you can make a lot more progress. I wouldn’t necessarily use small pieces of chicken for a child. But gratitude, attention, praise, stickers, time on the iPad, special privileges (i.e., the ability to choose special treats or the cereal you buy or something like that at the grocery store). Think baby steps. Like just getting them to go into the room you want to clean. Just choosing a place to put the toys (or dirty clothes, or crayons, or whatever). Breaking the task down in to tiny steps, with frequent (but somewhat unpredictable rewards, that after the behavior starts to become stronger, come in longer and longer intervals).
So there you go. Puppies and kids. Everything you need to know.