what being the alpha dog has taught me (so far)

After four months of dog ownership, I am sure of one thing: getting a dog does not automatically make one a dog person. I give you Exhibit A: Marshmallow.

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Yeah, she’s cute, whatever. While walking her in the pre-dawn these past few months, I have heard from people far more “dog person” than I that I “must be taking tons of pictures.”  Uh, no.  The last picture I took of Marshmallow? According to iPhoto it was eleven weeks ago, and it’s really a picture of my child in which the dog happens to appear. (The above photo was taken by a friend of a friend whom I have never met but who is, apparently, a dog person, since she is taking photos of a dog not even hers.)

One dog lover actually suggested to me that I take Marshmallow’s picture in the same place every day, and then do a hallway panorama of her absolutely adorable growth. For just a moment, I felt guilty that I had been doing nothing of the kind- until I remembered that there was no such record of the growth of my children, either, and no one had called Protective Services on me yet.

This has been the one rule that has saved my sanity during the daily trials of puppy ownership: do nothing for a baby animal that I had not done for my baby humans.

When one “expert”  told me I couldn’t possibly make the puppy sleep down the hall in an confined environment, I reminded myself that all three of my babies had done no less.

When another told me to reject heartworm pills as the work of some veterinary devil, I reminded myself that I had heard these same arguments with my fully-vaccinated children.

So no, I won’t walk her twice an hour and bathe her in pressed lavender water. No, I won’t take her picture every single day.

I’m not saying that it’s not a fully valid choice to co-sleep with your baby, or to delay vaccinations. But if I have learned anything from ten years of parenting, it is that five experts will give you five opinions, and when you toss them all out the window and do what works right for you, that’s when you’ll start living. So we’ve been winging this puppy thing, and while there are a few more presents on the carpet than I’d like, she can “sit” and “stay” and I have managed to keep my “when did I get like this” moments to a handful.

But if my childrearing experience has caused me to cast a gimlet eye upon the Dog Whisperers of our world, those same canine experts have cast new light on a few ways my parenting of humans might yet be improved.  “Down,” my husband was saying to Marshmallow last night. “Down, I said. Get down.”

“You can’t do that,” I scolded, suddenly channeling Cesar Millan. “You give a dog a command just once. If you repeat it like that, you’re teaching her that THAT is the command, and then she’ll never listen.”

“Kind of like our kids?” he retorted.

Touché. It seems that my children think “Brush your teeth brush your teeth I said GO BRUSH YOUR TEETH” is the absolute minimum requiring any sort of response, and even that with a great roll of the eyes and an “I heard you the first time,” which is enough to send me around the bend.

But they better watch out, because starting tonight, I’m going to take a page from the Canine Catechism:

  • Give the command once, and only once. (Once is enough when you are the alpha dog.)
  • Don’t give the cue when disobedience is an option. When training a dog, don’t tell her  to “come” unless you can give a leash a tug to make it happen, if necessary. (If I’m yelling “brush your teeth!” at my kids- while they are wrestling in their room- disobedience is way too easy.)
  • If the command is not obeyed, gently but firmly place the dog into the correct position. (To do this, it seems I’m supposed to call my kids to the bathroom, THEN tell them to brush their teeth. This kind of sucks- I prefer to yell it from the couch where I’m figuring out what I want to watch after they go to sleep- but I have to admit that approach has a high failure rate.)
  • Give lavish praise when command is obeyed. (“What a good fourth grader! You brushed your teeth like your Mommy said!”)

I’ll let you know how it goes.

What has pet ownership taught you about parenting the human sort?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Missy May 28, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Adore this post. We are almost four months into puppy raising here, and doing a pretty dismal job of training her. Thankfully, she’s generally a good dog, but I know there are some habits we all need to break.

Just yesterday H and I had a heart-to-heart about a habit of his that needs to end, something keeping him trapped in the land between little and big kid. We talked about using consistency and hard work to break the cycle. About the time we were wrapping up this talk, the dog rang her “go outside” bell for the 700th time that hour and we both laughed – even the 7-year-old knows I need to employ the same consistency and hard work with the dog’s incessant want (not need) to go outside where her Stick-and-Bug-Buffet is. She’s a garbage disposal…

(P.S. – Our puppy sleeps in confinement down the hall, too. I believe that everyone in our house is better off for it. A free-range chew-all-the-things machine would not work in this house.)

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amywlsn May 31, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Thanks for the support. Though we are starting to rethink the sleep-in-confinement thing. If she’s in the crate, away from us, she barks at 5:15 am. If she’s in the boys’ room asleep on the rug, she’ll stay quiet for another hour, easy.

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Kizz May 30, 2013 at 4:42 pm

I have learned that it’s perfectly fine to walk the dog drunk but a terrible idea to take the child to school drunk. Kidding!

My first dog sat when you said SitSit. Had to be twice. I’ve learned. This one sits the first time. So kind of both dogs to have spent all this time training me.

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amywlsn May 31, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Interesting. As long as it’s consistent for your dog who cares what it is? Right now I’m having trouble with Marshmallow understanding that “down” means “get off me.” We had been teaching her “down” meant “lie down.” Can you change a command mid-stream? cause even if we all say “no jump” when she jumps, the average person who encounters her is still gonna say “down.” Damn you, inconsistency!

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