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Parenting lessons from my puppy :: WRAL.com | #parenting


Our kids had begged for a puppy, pledging to do their part to care for our newest family member. Their hearts were in the right place. I’ve had dogs before, so I was not naive about the amount of time and energy involved in training them.

But what I’ve learned this time around is how dog training lessons give insights into parenthood. It turns out you can teach an old parent new tricks.

#1 You don’t have to shake hands.

Our puppy is always willing to sit because she knows that she will be rewarded with a treat. She has trained me very well.

But even the promise of a doggie biscuit will cause her to lift her left paw only about a third of time. This was frustrating to me until my 4-year-old daughter clarified, “Daddy, she doesn’t have to shake if she doesn’t want to.”

Children are often asked to give hugs and kisses on command. I feel it is important to communicate love and appreciation for others, yet it’s not fair to expect kids to be touched against their will. They should be in charge of their own bodies. I’m particularly sensitive to this need for girls, and my daughter named it!

This leads me to another life lesson…

#2 If you want something, speak up!

Our puppy’s piercing bark drives me up the wall; I’ve been known to tell her to shut up!

But when she starts barking, my son gets quiet and still. More often than not, he settles her down by getting her breakfast or letting her outside to pee or sitting down to snuggle with her on the couch. He knows what to do.

“Dad,” my 6-year-old son said, “I can speak dog.”

Others have noted the irony that parents spend the first years of their children’s lives coaxing them to walk and talk, then the following years barking at them to sit still and be quiet. In truth, my kids can whine with a grating intensity that exceeds any canine I’ve ever met.

But I know it’s crucial for them to communicate their needs, including from a young age.

When I was growing up, my mom said that it was holy to know what you want. Granted, the world does not revolve around you and your parents are not genies in a bottle!

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share your feelings and desires. We have different desires and needs, which reminds me …

#3 You sleep in your crate.

I correct my children when they refer to our puppy’s “cage.” We are not locking her up. Her crate is not a form of punishment, but rather her own space where she can feel safe.

My 9-year-old recently crawled into the empty crate and pulled the door behind him. “Dad,” he grinned, “the crate is great!”

He’s a poet and an introvert!

Between his two young siblings and our rambunctious dog, there’s a lot of energy pulsating through our house. After supper, our oldest often retreats to his room. I love spending time with our entire family together. Yet, I’m learning to give him space when he needs to recharge in his crate, I mean, his bed.

#4 It’s the journey, not the destination.

The kids and I took our pup on a walk through the woods. She tugged on the leash, desperate to show those grey, bushy-tailed acrobats a thing or two, while the kids left the trail to investigate mushrooms, ferns, and rocks. I was growing impatient until I realized that we really didn’t have anywhere to go. This walk wasn’t about getting our steps in or reaching some distant milestone. I could relax, enjoy the moment, free from expectations, and … hey look, squirrel!


Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the author of Gently Between the Words: Essays and Poems. He is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. He and his wife, also an ordained minister, parent three children and a dog named Ramona.



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