Train a Dog, Train a Child

We did something utterly insane a few months ago. We got a puppy. Some would argue that that is either insanely crazy or insanely wonderful. I say it’s both. Our daughters have been asking, or should I say desperately groveling, for a puppy for years, but we have always told them, “No.” “But when, Mommy?”, they ask. “When pink flamingos start driving Ubers”, I say. Okay, I didn’t really say that, but there were definite moments that those were my specific thoughts. 

Andrew and I grew up with dogs, and we are dog lovers at heart, but we also knew that having a puppy is a LOT OF WORK. We wanted the girls to be a bit older before we pulled the dog-ownership trigger. We felt it was important for them to learn about the amount of responsibility it takes to care for an animal, and we also wanted to have peace with the decision. So for many years it was a hard, NO. But then we met our match….

A praying child. 

Darn it! All those lessons we try to teach our kids about the power of prayer are obviously sticking! Lauren started praying for a dog and low and behold, our hearts started softening to the idea. Before I knew it I was on Amazon buying dog treats and portable dog dishes. Then entered Luna. Our mini double doodle. 

Luna’s mother is a mini labradoodle, mini goldendoodle mix and her father is a mini poodle. She’s cute as bug, full of energy, loves chasing ice cubes on the kitchen floor, and has a boyfriend at doggy daycare. (He’s a morkie named Turbo. We’re SO not ready for her to date yet.) 

And like most new “mothers” I dove into all the puppy training books and materials I could find in search of the best tips for cultivating the perfectly behaved pooch. Hmm. We’re still working on that last piece, but I will say I learned a lot from all of the different sources I drew on. 

One was the book, The Art of Raising A Puppy by the Monks of New Skete. There was so much wonderful information in this book and it became my nighttime reading for quite some time before we picked up our new addition. 

I also relied heavily on the trainer that had Luna before we picked her up. She gave us a great document of training tips and tricks to help address everything from barking to housebreaking. 

As I immersed myself in these resources I began to have a very interesting revelation. 

Training dogs is like training kids!

Wait, what? Did I just say that? How can training a four legged furbaby who can’t speak English, squats on your rug, and eats other animals’ poop be anything like training your sweet child, you say? Oh, sister. I thought the same thing until now. Let me break it down for you. Ready? Here we go…


1.“Look At Me”

Dogs: Multiple sources that I read talked about the importance of eye contact with your dog both when enforcing discipline and creating emotional connection. When teaching your dog a new trick for example, having them look at you first brings their attention to the upcoming task at hand. It also helps block out distractions like blowing leaves or squirrels that may vie for your dog’s focus. So I started saying to Luna, “Look at me”, to draw her eyes on mine before I attempted to teach her to do something. 

Eye contact with your dog can also be a comforting thing if they are scared or unsure of a situation. There are many times when I’m on a walk with her that she will look back and check to see if I’m still there. A different kind of eye contact can also be a way of correction when she’s doing something wrong. I have definitely given Luna “the look” when she trots into the kitchen with yet another hair scrunchie in her mouth that she sneakily stole off the living room hassock. 

Kids: This was the first training concept that made me start to realize that there was a similarity between training dogs and parenting. Moms, how many times have you told your kids to do something whether it was to set the table, or turn off the TV, and your request was met with zero movement and crickets? You know, that selective hearing that our kids love to turn off and on at their convenience. 

Well, I put on my dog training hat and changed my approach. Now whenever I have a request or a task for my kids to do I say, “Girls, look at me.” I get their eyes and then I give them the direction. OH MY GOODNESS. This was a game changer. Something so simple got them focused quickly on what I needed them to do and I was no longer Charlie Brown’s teacher (waaa waa waa waaaa) as their eyes glazed over looking off in another direction. 

It also made me think about the importance of connection with my kids. As much as I try to give them my full attention at all times, that just doesn’t happen. I’m still guilty of having one eye on them and the other either on my phone or on the stove cooking dinner. And I know that my inattentiveness and lack of full eye contact is not creating meaningful connection for them. So when they need you or just want to talk, give them both of your eyes. It matters. Oh, and the look of correction? Ya’ll don’t need me to go into that one. I think we moms all have our “look of death” pretty perfected! 

2. “Say It Once”

Dogs: This was a big learning moment for me. We had a local dog trainer come to the house to work with Luna when we first brought her home and she taught us something that kind of blew my mind. “Say it once.” She showed us that if we want Luna to sit, then we were to say her name, then the command sit, and wait. I had been doing this all wrong. My impatient self would say the command, and if she didn’t respond in the next millisecond I would say it again, and again, and again until she and I both got frustrated and nowhere. The trainer taught me that it’s better to give the dog a chance to think about what you’re saying and mentally process what you’re asking it to do. This teaches the dog to be a thinking dog. And doggone it (pun intended) it worked. 

Kids: My children have the advantage over most animals that they can actually speak English. Therefore, they know exactly what I’m saying when I ask or tell them to do something. But how many times have I found myself constantly repeating my commands to them simply because I am not patient enough to just let them do it?! I am now working on stopping that tendency and not repeating myself until I know they have had adequate time to process and act on what I’ve said. In taming my own lack of patience I hope to raise kids who can find peace in this fast paced, anxiety laden world. 

3. “Give Them Treats!”

Dogs: Well, this one is pretty obvious. Training your puppy requires a lot of positive reinforcement. This can come in actual edible treat form or in verbal praise and petting. I knew I was in full puppy training mode when I went to a semi-fancy event recently, and when I reached into my coat pocket I found a ziploc baggie full of dog treats. Yep. I’m that girl. 

Kids: This was a good reminder for me regarding positive reinforcement. So often as parents we are quick to jump on the things our kids do wrong. And yes, there are times when there needs to be a consequence for bad decisions or behavior, but it’s so easy to forget to praise them for the good things they do. This can be very valuable when you’re talking about parenting currency. 

For example, I have been trying to teach my daughters to be aware of others especially when going through doorways. We constantly stress the importance of simple etiquette like opening and holding doors for people. The concept was not hitting home and I continued to watch my kids fly through doors with no regard for the people behind them. It was driving me crazy! But then I noticed one of my daughters very slightly hold the door for another student when I dropped them off at school one morning. Now mind you, this was a barely there door hold and the poor kid may have gotten their bottom bumped by the door as it closed quickly behind them due to the lack of being held open properly by my child however, it was a start. 

Well, don’t you know I praised the heck out of that shoddy door hold when the girls got home from school. I made a very obvious point to say how incredibly proud I was of the unbelievably selfless act of opening the door for a fellow student, and how it made my momma’s heart beam with unexplainable pride for the stellar manners that my daughter displayed that day. *Cough, choke, sputter*. 

As I praised her for even that small step toward greatness I could see her little heart swell and by golly, that next morning you should have seen the door hold!! She swung that door open, stood by it straight like a Queen’s Guard at Kensington Palace and let not one, but THREE students walk into the school ahead of her. Praise Jesus! The power of a little positive reinforcement. Bottomline, be quicker to praise for the good things, (even if they’re small), and always look for opportunities to call your children up!

4. “Saddle Up Beside”

Dogs: Many of the resources I read talked about the right way to approach or greet a dog. One of the wrong things to do is to hover over it or come at it from the front, especially if it’s a dog you’ve never met. Instead it’s best to come to the dog’s side and not greet it face-to-face. This face-to-face approach could actually be interpreted as confrontational to a dog. 

Kids: I immediately saw the parallel with this one to parenting. Some of the best conversations that I’ve ever had with my girls are when I’m either walking alongside them strolling in the neighborhood, or snuggled next to them at bedtime. It’s when I have the approach that “I’m here to walk alongside you in this life”, and not the confrontational in-your-face posture that they tend to open up and be more receptive to teachable moments. 

5. “Rub the Heart, Not the Head”

Dogs: I never knew this. Some dogs don’t like to be pet on the head! Some much prefer to be rubbed under their neck and chest instead. I just always assumed that the act of petting a dog’s head was loved by all dogs and they found great pleasure in it. Now I’m sure there are many that love a good head petting, but I can definitely tell that mine is not in that camp! She will let you pet her, of course, but she really loves it more when you rub her under her chest. 

Kids: My desire, like most parents, is to have children who grow up to be smart, kind, loving members of society who use their heads to contribute their time, talent and treasure for the greater good. But what does that mean exactly? That’s such a vague statement. I too want them to work hard and do well in school and in life, using their heads and brains to make wise choices and add their creative flair to this world, but truthfully I care more about their hearts. 

I want my children to have a heart for God and everything that He is and stands for. I want their hearts to be open and receptive to His wisdom and His calling on their lives, and strong enough to withstand the opposition this world will throw at them because of it. I want their hearts to be tender to His voice and His gentle leading, and to break for the things that break His. I pray that their hearts will love others above themselves, and for hearts that put serving before being served. This is far more valuable in my eyes. 

So Lord, help me not to only pat their heads, but instead stroke and nurture their hearts for YOU. 

So there you have it. Train a dog, train a child. Oh, and mine just threw up on the couch. Totally not kidding. I’ll leave it up to you to guess which one. 

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2 comments
Kathy Moore says March 4, 2020

Jamie, this is so true! I really enjoyed this piece. Does it work on husbands? Look out Andrew!

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Suz Dahl says March 4, 2020

Hi Jamie,
What a great comparison and teachable ideas for pets & children!
And you gift for writing is heartwarming!
I enjoyed it and learned from it!
Thank you Jamie! ❣️

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