You take a class to learn how to drive, but you don’t take one to learn how to raise kids. You can choose to attend a parenting class, but it’s a choice, not a requirement. Unless you’re Britney Spears, that is.
To my mind, raising kids involves the manipulation of much more complex machinery than a car—the machinery that controls developing brains and bodies. I’ve never attended a parenting class, but I learned a lot about parenting when I went to dog obedience class.
A few months ago, the Edgy household adopted a puppy. Enviro-spouse, who is pet-challenged, had forbidden a canine addition to the fam. But that changed one day when I was driving our 5-year-old to school and he said, “Mommy, can we get a dog … when Daddy dies?”
Two weeks later, we adopted Biscuit, the Dorkie-Poo (Dauschund/Yorkie/Poodle mutt).
As soon as he was old enough, I took Biscuit to puppy obedience class, which is really human training class. As Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer,” says, “There are no bad pets, only bad pet owners.”
At A Good Dog’s Life canine training school, I learned a lot about turning my puppy into a good dog. I also learned a lot about turning my kids into good people.
For example, the three most important guidelines for training a dog are timing, consistency and motivation. Well, bingo!
A Good Dog’s Life trainer Susan Wilson says, “Dogs live in the moment, so you must reward them within 1.3 seconds of them performing the behavior you desire.” If your dog sits on command, give him a cookie immediately. Praise him effusively. He’ll quickly learn to associate his reaction with a treat.
This timing suggestion works with kids as well. My mother-in-law potty-trained her three boys using M&M candies. When the kid does his thing on the potty, pop him an M&M. Praise him effusively. He’ll learn quickly to associate bodily waste with chocolate. Okay, maybe that’s not the best example, but you get what I mean.
Secondly, we learned about consistency in puppy class. I think consistency is the biggest bugaboo for both parents and pet owners. If you don’t want your dog on the furniture, you can’t let him up on the sofa to cuddle when you’re feeling lonely, then turn around the next day and yell at him when he jumps up next to you. Neither dogs nor kids understand gray areas.
I mean, you tell your kids over and over and over to look both ways when they cross the street. You don’t want them to look both ways half the time, or even 90 percent of the time. You want your kids to look both ways all the time. If you’re consistent, maybe they’ll be consistent—one day.
Third comes understanding motivation. Rewards are powerful motivators, whether they be food, toys or praise. Wilson says you can tell your dog “no” all day, but it will only confuse him. You have to show the dog what you want and then reward the right behaviors. Sound familiar? Childhood educators call this positive reinforcement. My kids’ teachers call it the compliment jar.
So you reward the behaviors you want and ignore the ones you don’t. This is harder than it sounds. You have to remember to praise your kids when they make good choices (like putting their clothes in the laundry basket the 800th time you’ve asked them to). And you have to ignore them when they’re throwing a temper tantrum because you’ve put a pencil-point-sized piece of broccoli on their dinner plate.
There are two other puppy training guidelines that resonate with my parenting. One is to remember that you control the access to the “good” toys. Of course, once they’re adults, parents can’t always control access to toys, so we have to work early to teach our kids that putting down their first paycheck on a Porsche might not be the smartest idea.
Second is that training and socialization are lifetime commitments. Training doesn’t stop when puppy class is over. Once you’re a parent, you’re always a parent.
The Humane Society doesn’t accept kids.
Anne Fitten Glenn is a freelance writer based in Asheville. She covers a number of topics (including parenting) on her blog, www.EdgyMama.com.