Lessons in Parenting From a Dog Lover

When my twin sons hit the terrible twos, a part of me wished they were more like dogs. Dogs can be left alone for hours, don’t need a babysitter, don’t talk back and definitely let you sleep more. Of course I’m not serious…but if you’re a parent with a toddler, it only takes a few sleepless nights to get to that point.

Kids and dogs do have a few things in common: they’re both adorable, lovable, and they need your care and devotion. Cesar Millan, “The Dog Whisperer,” is one of the world’s foremost experts on dog training, but how do his principles hold up in the parenting world?

Exercise Makes Them More Trainable: In Cesar’s book “A Member of the Family,” he stresses the importance of exercising your dog every day. Exercise isn’t just for physical health, but for mental health too. If you don’t exercise your dog, it won’t be trainable. As it turns out, kids (and adults for that matter) are much more attentive and productive with regular exercise. Proper exercise is effective enough to replace ADHD medication in some cases, according to the “APA Handbook of Behavior Analysis.”

Firm Boundaries are Crucial: Boundaries are at the top of Millan’s list. Without firm boundaries, a dog will spiral out of control faster than you can say “Milk Bone.” Granted, you can’t put an E-collar on your child and press a button when they misbehave, but you can focus on immovable boundaries that lead to a happy, balanced adult life. Without boundaries, children feel a sense of turmoil and often grow up lacking self control, points out Dr. Lynne Kenney for Sharecare.com. Set strong boundaries now, and your child will be able to self-set them in the future.

Leadership Is Essential: A dog without a pack leader is like a plane without a pilot. Cesar Millan drills the importance of being a leader to your dog. Without a pack leader, it will feel insecure and may act out, sometimes violently. A leadership role will help your children and pets feel secure and cared for. Leadership isn’t about ruling or punishment; it’s about being a role model, guide and protector. You might not ever have to stop your dog from browsing petsafe.net when they’re supposed to be in bed, but many of the same principles still apply.

They Need A Schedule: Cesar himself compares dogs to kids when it comes to scheduling. Dogs become irritable and act out when they’re not on a schedule. A dog’s schedule isn’t quite like a kid’s, but in both cases a schedule purveys a sense of security. Your child’s body, mind and life changes rapidly enough on its own. You don’t need to add any more uncertainty, writes Dr. Laura Markham for Ahaparenting.com. A routine doesn’t mean there’s no time for spontaneous fun; it means that if something does happen, they know their world won’t come crashing down.

Consistency is the Linchpin of Sanity: Consistency is the thread that holds everything together. Cesar Millan points out that even if you let your dog eat off your plate “just this once,” it could set a precedent that isn’t easy to shake. If behavior is unacceptable once, it needs to stay unacceptable forever. You’re going to have to let go of your child someday, and they’ll take a lot of your values with them. Safety, discipline and health related issues should never be compromised. Consistency means ensuring your choices and lifestyle match the values you teach them, without exception. Raising healthy, happy children is a thousand times more difficult than rearing a happy dog, but the parallels are worth noting.

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