I can’t count how many times people told me and *A* that the best preparation for parenthood is having a dog. I always thought this was ridiculous, possibly offensive, to compare the needs-management and parenting of a small human to looking after a squirelly, overly enthusiastic puppy. To date, that whole needs-management area of small humans on our resumes is still sorely lacking, but we’re working on it as best we can. The dog, well, you’ve met already, but we’ll give you a little more back-story. When we moved into the house where we currently live in March 2012, we decided that we might give dog-having (ownership just doesn’t seem the right word for this relationship) a try.
Enter Tucker, whom we adopted from our local Humane Society. He was being fostered by someone who kept other big dogs, mostly Boxers. When we met, he was about 8 months old and pretty shy, but friendly and eager to learn. We found out that he had a pretty troubled past – his first owner didn’t want him and threatened to shoot him – and we don’t know what he went through when he was a puppy at that place, but it must have been bad.
After living with us for more a year and a half, he is still pretty easily frightened and is sort of a drama queen. His nickname is Henny Penny (of sky-is-falling fame) – any day some little something is going to set off a disaster, he’s sure of it. We keep an informal, ever-lengthening list of things he’s afraid of – mentally adding things to it every time something new comes up. This morning, no joke, it was leaves falling from the trees when we were on our morning walk. He also refused to eat his breakfast bowl of dog food because our morning routine was different from the usual (I got up first, before *A* – and that was enough of a change for him).
He’s got issues, as my mom likes to say, but he’s a big, dopey, enthusiastic sweetheart who has no enemies and really doesn’t understand why we don’t want his 78-pound boney butt in our laps.
We also think he looks a bit like Dobby from Harry Potter (it’s the ears).
After a year and a half of dog-having, *A* and I have revisited this suggestion that people who want to become parents should get a dog first. Of course, there are roughly a bazillion ways that dogs and babies are different, and just because you have a dog doesn’t mean you’re ready to be a parent. But we no longer see it as totally ridiculous. It’s actually probably a good idea because a dog trains its humans. Again, this is coming from someone who has not experienced the parenting of a small human, so take these thoughts as you will. I shall explain what I mean:
The Top 5 Ways Dog-Having Trains Humans for Parenthood, According to Us
#5 – We Now Know All About Redirection: When Tucker is out and about, the invisible thought cloud above his head reads in uninterrupted, exclamation-pointed sentences “Shiny things! Squirrel! Blue bottle of paint! Goose poop! Falling leaf!” Similarly, from working with the Doodlebuggers (my preschool art class), I have observed that not only do preschoolers possess remarkably short attention spans, they are also highly attracted to dangerous things – their invisible thought clouds read in the same uninterrupted, exclamation-pointed sentences, too: “Light socket! Scissors! Glue! Mom! Weird guy with a beard trying to talk to me! Something to throw! Books to eat!” Tucker has taught us how to always stay on our toes – you never know what he’ll get into next and rather than always running around behind him shouting “No, no! Bad dog!” (which he would probably come to think of as his real name), it’s better to get his attention focused on something a little less destructive. (Well, where certain levels of destruction have occurred, he got a lesson in consequences, but that’s for another post…)
#4 We Now Know And Regularly Practice Playtime: Eh, when you’re a grown-up, you forget about playtime. Coming home to a dog that’s been in his crate for too long and whose energy is akin to that of a coiled-up spring really reminds you that you’re an old fogey who sits at a desk all day. A few months ago, he figured out that he could run all the way around the house (before, he’d run halfway around, turn around, and come back the way he came). Since this revelation, he regularly does laps. This is the same method my mom reports using on her little sister when she was in charge when they were kids. 🙂 Tucker loves playtime, though, and he can play and play and play for a looooong time. It’s good training – kids are the same way. And everyone needs to be reminded of the importance of playtime, right?
#3 We Now Know and Regularly Observe Routines: Generally speaking, I don’t mind change too much – I sort of hate getting stuck in a rut, but there have been times in my life where a routine has been very useful. Tucker, without speaking, demands them. He gets all out of sorts if he doesn’t know what to expect – he won’t eat, he won’t do his business outside – it’s like he goes on strike. The dog equivalent of baby crankiness, I guess. I used to roll my eyes at parents who interrupted events with statements of “Oh, I have to go…Little Baby Frou Frou can’t miss her nap or we’ll all pay for it.” I’ve observed a missed nap. It ain’t pretty. Routines it is.
#2 We Now Know About and Regularly Draw Boundaries: Walking in the woods is a much more pleasant experience when you’re not tethered to a dog, and your dog is not tethered to a human. With this (seemingly limitless) freedom, Tucker has had to learn how to behave. He gets to walk off leash if he comes when we call him and he doesn’t eat goose poop. He gets to stay in the living room if he keeps his hiney on his big green bed – everybody learned this rule the hard way after a particularly heinous incident involving my wallet and another one involving that bottle of blue paint I referred to above – it looked like he murdered a smurf. Similarly, kids needs boundaries to learn what’s okay and what’s not okay. As a counselor, *A* works with kids all day who have never experienced life with appropriate boundaries – it can get scary.
#1 We Have Learned to Be More Patient (Though We’re Not Quite There Yet): Like I’ve said before, we’ve been told that Labs like Tucker (he’s a Boxer-Lab mix) are typically not known as the brainiest creatures, but by the time they are 2, they are a little more settled and can listen a bit better. He turned 2 in June. We’ve noticed an ever-so-slight change, and we’re still waiting… In the meantime, though, he has taught us that he will do what we ask, so long as we remind him and be patient – something I don’t think he experienced in his early life. As far as kids go on this one, I won’t even begin to imagine the further lessons on the subject of patience we have awaiting us. I can wait. 🙂
So yeah, there are lots of ways that dogs and babies are so completely different that telling someone to get a dog if they want to be a parent can be misread. BUT – in the year and a half that we’ve shared with Tucker, he has taught us – trained us – well. And in several areas that we’re only going to get better at (from a small human’s needs-management perspective) when we’re parents.
image credits – All Tucker images belong to us. Dobby – http://notturn-alley.tumblr.com/post/61107277849; coiled spring:image by <a href=”http://stockarch.com/images/objects/coiled-spring-brown-3883″ target=”_blank”>stockarch – stockarch.com</a>