By KATHY WILSON
First I need to give you some backstory. Four months ago my divine, sweet, beautiful and extraordinarily lazy chocolate Labrador was hit by a car and killed almost instantly.
In our family’s grief I fell victim to the coping mechanism known as “late night internet searches on rescue puppy sites.”
The short version of the next part of the story is (… and trust me, I’m sparing you hours of tears and trauma here) we became the owners of a rescue puppy. One who had been one of a litter of eight – only 4 of whom had survived.
We had a hole in our hearts I reasoned. This puppy clearly needed a home. A good match I thought….
Except that this puppy was not a small rescue puppy. Oh no. That would have been too easy.
Our rescue puppy is a Rhodesian Ridgeback/boxer/mastiff cross. Her photo on the website showed her all floppy ears and scared eyes
My son and I went out to “check her out” one day and took one look at her wormy, malnourished body and knew we weren’t coming home alone.
I don’t know how much you know about dogs but it turns out that Ridgeback dogs are enormous. Boxers are delightful but energetic and the only story I’ve ever heard about a mastiff was one that could pop a fully inflated football in its jaws…
So she’s maybe going to be big. ( I know I know….seriously you can’t tell me anything I haven’t already told myself.)
Despite (or maybe because of) her early malnourishment, Ellie is doubling in size ever 3 weeks or so. The stunted puppy we brought home has turned into a healthy monster that eats everything going.
So….. I hear you wondering. Nice story but what has this all got to do with parenting???
With Ellie’s arrival, I was suddenly faced with the task of teaching self control and manners to an animal that may grow up to be larger than a small pony.
In panic, I spent hours researching how to train dogs and then implementing the different strategies. The happy news is that it is working (mostly) but it has recently dawned on me that it has also changed the way I parent.
Let me be clear. I don’t treat my dog like my kids or my kids like my dog but it turns out there are some amazing similarities between the two.
Here’s 5 things I have learned from the experience
Dog training tip number 1: The dog wants me to be the boss.
My dog research has shown me that dogs are pack animals and if no one is showing themselves clearly as a leader then they feel obliged to fill that role. That means vetting anyone who comes into the house, letting them know who is in charge and and (in some cases) can lead to aggression.
Last night we had a party at our place with 50 people. I put the dog in her crate until everyone arrived and then let her out. Suddenly she wasn’t the bouncer checking credentials at the door but just another guest happy to mingle. She seemed thrilled that I was in charge and that I’d okayed everyone to be there.
It left her free to be all care no responsibility.
My parenting tip from this? Kids want to know you have it covered. You’ve had more years on the planet than your kids and have learned a lot. Own it.
Dog training tip number 2: Reward the puppy for what she does right – do your best to ignore what isn’t so great.
So I didn’t fancy turds the size of a large tub of yoghurt spread around my lawn for my kids to step in (and perhaps disappear in (yep – the dog is going to be that big)
Again the Google machine helped here. Turns out you can teach dogs to do their business in one designated spot by rewarding them hugely when they do it in (or near) where you want them.. I ignored the big, ugly repulsive stuff in the wrong area and rewarded when she did it in the right spot.
Bingo. We have one tucked-away section of our yard that I deal with once a week (with nuclear grade protective gear) and the lawn is free and clear.
My parenting tip from this? Ignore the bad stuff as much as you can and celebrate the hell out of the good stuff. Still testing this one out but it seems to be working so far.
Dog Training Tip Number 3: Never, ever expect your dog to perform on demand to make you look good. You are destined to fail.
You know how there is always someone in the family you want to impress?
In my case it is my sister. She has always had lovely calm dogs who are delightfully behaved in every way.
I’d spent weeks training Ellie how to be calm when someone entered the house and for days before my sister was coming over for dinner I did extra work, even asking the neighbours to ring the bell for practice.
My sister arrived and the first thing Ellie did was put two, huge muddy paws on her chest. Never done it before. Nope she had been waiting for just the right moment to show it off.
My parenting tip from this? I found myself, muttering things like “she’s never done this before…” “don’t know what has got into her…” and had a sudden flashback to saying the same things several years ago when my son was caught doing something bad at school.
Bottom line. Kids and dogs will embarrass you wherever and whenever they can. The more important it is to you the more hideous will be the behaviour.
Dog Training Tip Number 4: The calmer you are the better everything will go.
All the information I found on the internet repeated that if you are feeling tense, angry or irritated, don’t train your dog.
The dog will pick up on it and behave accordingly. I tried it and it’s true. Dogs can sense your emotions and it makes them anxious. Anxiety makes it difficult for them to concentrate and remember even basic task they are very familiar with.
My parenting tip from this? On the days I invest the time to sit down and listen with my kids with them, the whole energy changes. When I am not trying to cook a roast and fold the washing at the same time, they can tell the difference. They are more likely to talk about what is on their mind and even more likely to help out around the house (okay – I’m making the last bit up but it is theoretically possible).
Dog Training Tip Number 5: Falling off your bike and skinning your knee is no fun.
Ellie is built for running and jumping. Unlike my gorgeous lab who was happy to lie in the sun all day, loving us all with her eyes, running is in Ellie’s blood.
She has a huge muscular chest and when she hits her stride she is just about the fastest dog I know.
So, the only way I can get close to wearing her out is with her beside me on my bike. Which is how I found myself this afternoon hurtling downhill on my bike. Dog was on the left (which my research assures me is the right place for her). Just as we hit full speed, a scrub turkey appeared on the right hand side of my bike. Need I go on?
After I got up and dusted off my pride I realised that it had been years since I’ve fallen off my bike. My parenting tip? Much more sympathy is required next time I scrape one of my kids off the ground. It really hurts.
Kathy Wilson runs a meditation website that sends subscribers daily 10 minute meditations from experts all over the world sent to their inbox daily. You can check out her website or visit her facebook page here.
For a list of where you can go to rescue a dog, try here.