Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Good Dog, Bad Dog; Good Kid, Bad kid

Since Louie, an untrained terrier puppy, joined our household a few weeks ago, I've been revisiting th idea of training and noting where our training has fallen short with Fenja, our older dog, as well as considering what training we need to be doing with Louie in order to turn him into a dog that we can live with. As I've reviewed the dog training ideas I have used in the past, I've also been confronted with the difference in the attitude I have toward my dogs and their training versus the attitude I have toward my children and their discipline. While I have good intentions in disciplining my kids, the majority of the time I fall back into Scarily Punitive Reactionary Mom mode. I've thought in the past that My Smart Puppy, my favorite puppy training book, may also be the best parenting book I've read. Obviously, there are significant differences between puppy training and child discipline; I'm not trying to figure out which training collars and flavor of treats would work best for my kids. However, some of the best advice in My Smart Puppy has to do with the owner's attitude and outlook, and I think a lot of this can teach parents something, too. So here are some musings on some puppy training ideas that might bring something to parenting.

Each Puppy is Different
Temperament is inborn -- in children and in dogs. "The trick to being happy is not to get what you want, but to want what you get." This applies as much to kids as it puppies. Regardless of the child you imagined you would have, the one you've got now - with all his strengths, weaknesses and quirks,; is the one you've got. Accepting this and working with him rather than trying to mold him into an idealized image is essential for good discipline.

Do you love your puppy, or do you love loving your puppy?
Love means giving the puppy (or child!) what she needs for her growth, not what you'd like to give her or what would make you feel good about being a parent. Often times what she may need is firm boundaries - and this may not always make you feel wonderful or loved in return.

Get to Good
Focus on teaching what to do, not what not to do. While corrections may be necessary, they should not be the bulk of training or disicpline. Being told "don't do this" without being told what to do instead can be confusing for dog and child alike. Focus on teaching behaviors that you want, and then encouraging those behaviors.

Effective Corrections are as gentle as they can be, and as firm as they must be.
Intimidation or harsh punishments may make you feel like you've "done something" in response to he behavior, but it isn't like to help the trainee learn what to do and feel capable of and motivated to do it. Good corrections stop the behavior long enough so you can teach the wanted behavior in its place.

Your puppy can change, but you have to change first.
Doing the same thign you've been doing is likely to end in the same result you've been getting. If what you're doing isn't working, don't blame the dog or the kid , change what you're doing. For some reason, this is much easier for me to keep in mind with regards to the dogs than the kids. Louie has an accident. I clean it up and think, "He should not have been off-lead in the house. Also, he never is in the hallway or the bedrooms, so he probably doesn't even think of those places as 'inside.' I need to make sure to bring him into each of those rooms on lead and feed him there."

Rosie has an accident, and I freak out that once again she hasn't bothered to stop what she's doing and go to the bathroom. Unlike with the dogs, my first thought isn't of what I need to change about what I'm doing in order to help her be successful.

My title is intentionally a bit misleading -- the label "bad dog" isn't helpful in dog training because it doesn't help you to change anything about what you are doing, but only encourages you to become more frustrated and annoyed with your pet. Something similar may be true for children as well, along the lines of the famous Fr. Flanagan quote, “There are no bad boys. There is only bad environment, bad training, bad example, bad thinking.” We can't have total control over our kids (or our puppies!), but we can control our affect on the environment, our example and our training. I'm not sure why my first instinct when the dog misbehaves is to adjust my training, while my first instinct when the kids misbehave is anger, but I don't know what is going be my self-improvement priority for now. Hopefully in a few months, Louie will be better behaved, the kids will be decently well behaved, and I'll be at least a bit calmer.


  1. Great post, and good advice! My guess as to why we get angry with out kids and not our dogs, is that kids talk to us and interact with us, in many ways just like regular people (adults). When they misbehave it feels like a decision they've made to make our lives harder. Or something like that (it's hard to put coherent thoughts together when my daughter is standing behind me, impatiently waiting for me to be done and pay attention to what she wants right now - sigh)

  2. This is a great post!

    I would also suggest that most of us should apply that to ourselves; that is, instead of self castigation, merely correcting ourselves and moving on, and perhaps changing our environment so that our mistake becomes less likely to re-occur.


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