Parenting Tips via Dog Training
I told the trainer our 3-month-old puppy, Buddy, was biting at my pants legs and hands way too much. I told her he got out of control a little too often and was starting to bite very hard.
She taught me a way to hold him against me, to calm him and teach him that I.Am.Alpha.Mami.
A week later, I told her it only helped a little and when I let him go, he usually went right back to crazy.
“Are you holding him long enough?”
“What is long enough?”
“You have to feel that the tantrum is totally over before you let go, or he will think he won.”
You know when you blow up a balloon, and let it go before you tie it? You know how it floats all around the room, making farty noises, all sad and pathetic before landing flatly on the floor?
Well, that was me.
I purposely selected a dog whose ancestors were bred to do nothing more than look cute sitting next to the Emperor, but because the Universe likes to mess with me, I get a Terrier-like, 5-pound fuzz ball with a Napoleon complex.
Friends who know me well, and who have witnessed the brain-lock and exhaustion regular parenting can give me, are laughing their rears off over my getting a bossy dog. It just freaking figures. A friend who has the same breed, a Maltese-Shih Zhu mix, is laughing the hardest. Her dog is an angel. So is her kid. #$%^!
I wanted easy. But, I got a dog that requires I constantly and clearly point out the boundaries, and stick to them. Just like my beautiful, wonderful, head-strong human child.
Anyway, when Maria was 3, I went through a series of parenting classes — and not court-mandated thankyouverymuch — that taught me to praise the positives, ignore most anything that did not involve blood and guts and to set immediate consequences. Most importantly, to just shut up. To stop repeating myself, state what I want and proceed.
Not unlike raising a dog, I am learning.
OK, so listen up, I am not saying my kid is like a dog, or that my dog is like a kid, but the things the trainer is telling me are not at all unlike what the parenting class taught me. And for goodness sakes, every time I give Buddy a treat for peeing in the right spot, I am reminded of giving Maria Yogos every time she pooped in the potty.
Raising Buddy, my first dog as an adult, is providing some good reminders for my parenting, and beautifully, it is showing Maria why I am a boundaries-firm mother. She is watching the repetition, the praise, the rewards and connecting it with parenting. She kinda gets that she, like Buddy, can be a relentless boundary-pusher.
So, how is dog training like kid-raising?
- You pull on the leash? I match your resistance. I don’t yank. I just wait. And, I win.
- I tell you to sit once. I hold the treat just out of your reach. I wait. You sit. You get the treat.
- The higher pitch your fit is, the calmer I get. I can outlast you.
- I reward the fabulous things you do, and I don’t rub your nose in your mess. (This perrito of mine is so lucky he isn’t being raised old-style Cuban!)
- I cut the blah blah blah nag nag nag you can’t understand, or ignore, and stick to the simple commands: Sit, Drop it. Leave it. Down.
In the last week, I have watched several episodes of Cesar Millan and I googled him, and hey, I’m not the only loca using his tips both for the dog and the kid. Mira here in the NYT and here and this podcast and this book: The Dog Trainer’s Guide to Parenting. (A friend loaned it to me!)
And, in terms of the positives, raising a dog without violence, without threats, is a good reminder to me that yelling, or throwing my own patatu fit, isn’t productive.
I’m not that much of a gritona, but I can be a fierce growler. The training books say not to call your dog’s name out in anger. Whoops! In truth, my kid has heard an angry MAHHHH-REEEE-AHHHHH! a bit much. Working on that.
But, eh, maybe I will give myself a treat and a praise for not giving either of them a chancletaso or adding a “coño” after their names.
Mami deserves a “Good, girl!” pat once in a while, too.