Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What I know about Parenting I learned from puppy kindergarten

As our baby continues to grow into toddlerhood, I've begun to realize how having a baby is kinda like having a dog... What I learned as a dog owner in puppy kindergarten (or dog training class) has translated into my parenting skills. I'll break it down into a small list to help make my ideas more clear and to possibly keep me from rambling. Read more, plus watch a hilarious video on the topic, after the jump.

 Like Cesar Millan says- your dog can feel your anxiety, they need to know that you are the pack leader. Thus if you tense up on the leash when another dog approaches, your dog senses this, they take a cue from you and will also tense up and all hell can break loose.

The same is true when putting your baby down in their crib, or in their stroller, or in any situation where you think they might throw a fit of refusal... if you are anxious and nervous about their reaction, you've already set yourself up to fail. They are looking to you to be reassured. And if you are anxious or wary, they will pick up on this and react accordingly. This also speaks to your level of expectation.  What are you expecting of your child? By holding them to a higher standard where you let them know that you trust them to behave, they will more often step up to the goal you have set for them.

2) Puppy Walk:
Many dog training books talk about taking a "puppy walk" with your new dog when you first get them (I think this works best with puppies, as opposed to an older more experienced dog that could bolt). The idea is to go into the woods, or a field where you can let your puppy off their leash to explore and to ultimately build trust between the dog and the owner/pack leader. As the pack leader you walk ahead and wait for the puppy to look up and see you, they will eventually catch up to you. Spice it up a bit by hiding behind a tree and having the puppy find you. This will teach the puppy to always stay close. Of course too much of this one tactic could really mess with your dog, so use it sparingly and with a sense of fun.

I have done this with our daughter on a MUCH smaller scale. And I've never set out to micic this walk, but if we are walking outside (and she isn't in any danger of being left behind, or scooped up) I will just wait for her to catch up to me. I don't interrupt her discovery time, or narrate what she and I are doing, or tell her to hurry up... I simply just let her have her own time and allow her to realize she needs to catch up. (Plus I'm trying to encourage her to have a little more independence since we have this "by your side" thing a little too perfected! So maybe not the most perfect comparison!) 

This brings me to my next point----->

3) Only saying a command once:
Another thing we learned in Puppy class that translates to parenting is limiting your commands and also not repeating yourself.  The idea is that once the command is spoken to your dog, you must quietly wait for them to respond. By repeating the command over and over again makes the word useless after a while. Makes sense, if you yourself are constantly nagged about something the less likely you will fulfill the request being made of you (at least that's how I am!).

THEN, if the puppy is still not responding, you must come up with alternative motions, or words. Again to not jeopardize your initial go to command. And the last thing a dog owner should do is over use the dog's name in a negative way. By doing so you could potentially make their name meaningless to them or negative and thus not useful should you need them to come to you quickly.

Translation: Kid's, especially toddler's, take a while to process their world and surroundings... thus I have been trying to wait longer for our daughter to respond to my request. She's usually right on the ball and helping out, but on days when she seems to be testing her boundaries, I am mindful to not turn into a nag. Since in the long run my requests could potentially fall on deaf ears. Plus, ultimately I want her to think for herself and to develop her own inner voice to guide her.

4) Reinforcing good Behavior:
Recently our dog has been barking more, be it her new housing situation (doorbell), or a reaction to baby stress, it was and still is something I want to work on with her. Just because we finished our puppy class four years ago, some skills and habits should still be perfected.

I'll admit I've only really been on top of her reactionary behavior on walks (since I'm not always near by when the doorbell rings etc) but the theory is the same... When the dog is exhibiting it's naughty behavior such as barking, one should not shout "No Barking! No Barking!", because all the dog hears is you barking back and in turn they think you are labeling what they are doing. Instead what I've read is that you should calmly say, when they are being quiet and good, "No barking, good, no barking" then when you are out and the dog does bark you can say, "No Barking, good no barking" and since they learned that this is what being quiet is called, they will more or less hopefully do just that. (A little treat on the side is always good at the beginning to help reinforce the new behavior, but I don't recommend giving a treat of food to the baby in this comparison!)

Translation: A month or so back, our toddler started making these random shrieks- in her highchair, in the car, etc... and I have not always handled it well. We tired the mild over explaining to her that "We don't scream honey, blah di blah di blah" and then when that didn't work, we ignored it (for a whole 20 minute car ride she shrieked and we scowled, not a good solution). And once I lost my mind and screamed back, which did not work, but thankfully she only laughed and didn't hate me forever.

So now we've been trying this - "Good no screaming, nice quiet voice..." Thing and it seems to work on occasion, plus it helps that she might be growing out of this phase. After a random baron owl shriek, we still explain to her, in whispered voices, that we don't scream inside, that it hurts the dog's ears, that it hurts mommy's and daddy 's ears too.. that she can be loud outside... And this explaining is finally getting through. The same tactic has worked when we were trying to teach the baby to be gentle with the dog. When she was exhibiting the correct gentle way to pet the dog, we would say, "Good gentle, nice gentle." Then on the off chance where is appears that the baby is approaching the dog too fast or frantically, when we say "Be gentle", it clicks and she immediately slows down, changing her approach and is gentle with the dog. Thus we weren't constantly saying "No" to her, but instead through this tactic we were providing positive learning experiences that had a sense of permission and acceptance to them. (Again back to the trust issue mentioned above.)


SO there you have it, a look into my wacky parenting brain... It's funny how we can draw from other experiences to help us in new territory. I feel this way about bedtime, the skills I've learned about having a successful bedtime have translated into our daytime hours and vise versa. I'll elaborate more on that some other time.

Below is a hilarious video that came out in 2008, the year we got our dog. It plays on this idea that having a child is like having a dog. And it's something I always tease myself about when making these puppy kindergarten- parenting comparisons. (Warning the humor is a little dark.) Thanks for reading or skimming this post! You can check out more of my Motherhood Musings HERE.

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