All I Need to Know About Parenting I Learned In Puppy Kindergarten

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How Raising a Puppy Gave Me a Crash Course in Parenting  

I’m convinced that bringing home a puppy before getting knocked up was the perfect practice for that giant leap into parenthood. 

For my husband and I, our pups were our first babies. Fast forward about a decade and we’ve reached the sequel — only small, dependent humans starring in place of our furry friends. Despite the switch in cast, you can’t deny the parallels in the plot.

Cosleeping is a Sleep Savior

Okay, so maybe I’m starting out with a controversial one. But what makes the most sense to me in the first few months with a newborn is to do whatever is necessary for the maximum amount of sleep. Usually that meant the baby slept with me.

But I knew this already because we did it with Toby. How could we expect to get any sleep when all we could hear was relentless wailing and incessant clamoring against the wire bars?

Sure, crate train him so your house doesn’t get destroyed when you’re out. But at night, just let the darn puppy sleep in the bed. That’s where they’re safe, secure, and SLEEPY.

I will add that we did need to upgrade to a king sized bed within that first year…labs grow FAST!

Bribery is okay

At our first puppy class, the instructor suggested picking a special word to make your dog come to you, like “FRONT!” We reserve this one for times when they may be in imminent danger, like running into traffic or about to ingest a gallon of dark chocolate and raisins. If she obeys the command, she’s rewarded with a SUPER SPECIAL treat, like a hot dog!

Imminent danger in the toddler world often presents itself as more of a fear for my own life: airplane rides, road trips, doctor’s waiting rooms, etc. To keep my boys line in these potential war zones, I give in and let them have the hot dog; i.e. an ipad, the iphone, whatever they covet hard enough to prevent hysteria and major annoyance to everyone in our proximity.

A Puppy Responds to Positive Reinforcement

Puppies live for our attention. And they’ll get it any way they can, even if that means being naughty — sound familiar? So to connect the attention they crave with the behavior I desire, I offer an unexpected bone when Toby calmly sits and waits instead of tackling us when we walk through the door. And I’ll initiate a barrage of “GOOD GIRL” in my cheeriest tone if Annie walks politely next to me on the leash.

A stranger reminded me this works with children, too.

While out to breakfast one morning as a family, a woman approached our table. I guess I missed the subtle sparkle in her eye since I was already assuming she was on her way to scold us for the crumbs under our feet. Instead, she bent down locking eyes with my wary 4-year-old, held out her palm and revealed the prize that catches the attention of every tiny person on the planet — a bright shiny sticker!

“I CAUGHT YOU…being good. Here is a special treat.”

So simple yet easy to forget. We spend much of our time “catching” our kids in trouble that we miss the moments they’re simply being “good” and letting them know how much we appreciate it.

Say Farewell to Freedom

No more coming and going as we please. Forget leaving town for a weekend on a whim (not that we did that often, but just knowing we could, in theory…)   

Instead we research kennels and doggy daycares and interview potential dog walkers hoping to provide optimum comfort for our pets when we must leave them behind. And sometimes that means deciding it’s worth it to stay home!

Replace those searches with daycares, nannies, and preschools and what do you know? We’ve done this before!

Embrace Our New Relationship as Parents

When Toby entered our lives, it wasn’t all about us anymore. Now we live with a hyper, hungry beast with a tiny bladder who needs to be let out, fed, and exercised. That small bladder meant frequent trips outside in the middle of the night.  And so began the art of negotiations…taking turns for overnight duty, and the bleary eyed begging to please take my turn and I PROMISE I’ll get up with him in the morning.

I have to roll my eyes at my former childless self for finding it an enormous burden to stand outside for all of the five minutes while the puppy relieved himself. I thought THIS was exhausting?!  Clearly there’s a parallel here, but the comparison is admittedly a reach.

Still, sharing the burden of caring for another being gave me a glimpse of how my husband would approach the challenging adventure of raising a child together. Lucky for me, he’s a natural.

So while I’ll always be working on being a better mom, the next time I’m fighting the familiar cycle of guilt and self-doubt I can take a look at my puppies who are all grown up now and think, we must be doing something right.

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