How training a dog could make you a better parent
Good parents and responsible dog owners share many traits, including consistency, discipline and patience, but leadership is the overarching attribute, say highly rated dog trainers and other experts.
“We all want to be friends, but you need to be a leader,” says Laura Pakis, mother of two adult children and a 30-year dog trainer who operates highly rated Acme Canine in Lewis Center, Ohio. “You can love your child and dog all you want, but to make them a better person or dog you have to have them respect you.”
“My best trainers are mothers,” says Christine Hamer of Mount Vernon, Wash., dog trainer, mother of two and co-author of “Parenting with Pets: The Magic of Raising Children with Animals.”
“The reason, I think, is that good mothers know when to laugh with their kids and when to be serious,” Hamer says. “They tend to be fair, not overly strict, not aggressive, but they make the dog do as they’ve asked it to, just like you would a kid. There are a lot of not-good parents out there, and they’re not good trainers of dogs, either.”
Gabriela Urevitch, owner of highly rated Complete K-9 Academy, based near Sarasota, Fla., often works in client’s homes and can tell what challenges await her by how she’s greeted. “There might be a bratty kid who comes to the door and screams, ‘Mom! Someone’s at the door!’ and you don’t see the adult take charge of the situation," she says. "When the parent makes excuses for the child, when there’s a lot of yelling and chaos, there’s imbalance in the parenting skills. They’ve transferred that chaos and lack of leadership and structure to the dog.
“I tell them that if the dog understands what’s expected, he or she will be more confident and more secure, because he’ll no longer have to worry, ‘Can I steal this or not?’ Sometimes the owner lets things go, but other times will get so upset the dog is frightened into listening. Ninety percent of dogs in America live in that chaos," Urevitch says. "There are probably a lot of people who should never have kids for that same reason.”
Dog training as prep for parenthood
Some people believe that raising a puppy is good preparation for parenting, and, to a certain degree, experts agree. “The skills of patience, consistency, affection and leadership – needed to train a dog -- translate well to parenthood,” says Gail Melson, professor emerita in child development and family studies at Purdue University who also worked with Purdue’s Center for Human-Animal Bond. “Nurturing a being unlike ourselves, who’s dependent on our care, helps develop empathy. This is an important prerequisite for effective parenting, as the parent must be able to imaginatively experience the world from the child's very different perspective.”
Stacy Gotti of Dublin, Ohio, believes her experience with two English mastiffs was a warm-up for becoming mother to Carlee, now 8. “Having dogs first gives you a small inkling about what’s to come with children. They both require constant care and attention. As they grow older, you have to work with socialization,” she says, noting that there are plenty of differences. “When you first get a puppy, it’s so time-consuming. When you have a child, it’s like, wow, this is 10 times more work.”
Melson says the differences go deeper. “Of course, we’re speaking about different species. Dogs are pack animals, secure only when they know their place in the family social hierarchy. Humans have greater needs for autonomy, individuality and independence -- all qualities that evoke anxiety in dogs. Parents have different goals for dogs and for children and their behaviors reflect that. I hope I don't offend any dog lovers, but in general, dogs don’t have the same place of importance and value for parents as do their own children. In a raging fire, when only one can be saved, I assume parents will grab their child rather than their dog.”