Parenting Lessons From Dog Ownerships

  • Blog
  • 23/03/2016

Are you a leader or a follower with your dog?    

Are you a leader or a follower with your children?

I think there are some parallel principles to being a pack leader with a pet dog to being a parent leader with children. While clearly dogs and children have different needs and developmental trajectories both need good leadership for them to thrive. I think the current child focused trend has produced a lot of parents who are followers, not leaders. They parent in reaction to their child’s emotional state as distinct from parenting from managing their own emotional state and from clear leadership principles. Its not easy to reverse this trend when it is mirrored in schools and health professionals offices.

I respect the central ethos of the training principles of Dog Whisperer, Caesar Milan. Watching his television series illustrates clearly that the most important work in assisting a problem dog is for the owners to address their anxious way of relating to their dog. The work of change comes from the owner not by focussing on changing the dog. The following 10 questions from Caesar Milan are a checklist to ascertain if you are your dog’s pack leader. this gave me the idea to write some parallel questions for parents and their children. See what you think of such parallels?

You know you are a follower in your pack if you can answer yes to any of these questions:You know you are a follower  with your children if you can answer yes to any of these questions:
1.       Does your dog wake you up?   If your dog wakes you up, it means he doesn’t respect you. In order to correct this behaviour, you will need to change your dog’s habits to let him know that you are the one who will wake him up. So if your pup tries to wake you up, simply ignore him. And then when he finally exhibits the desired behaviour, reward him for following your lead.1.       Do you wake up according to the demands of your child?   If your children expect you to rise and schedule your night waking and early morning according to their requests it indicates they have not learned to respect your schedule. Even if you need to check briefly on them when they call on you at night, you can demonstrate that it is not yet your time to be out of bed. When they show respect for this schedule you can demonstrate your appreciation for this.
2.       Do you reward your dog at the wrong time?   Don’t pet your dog when she does something wrong. This affectionate act — or reward — nurtures the very behaviour that you don’t want and will only convey that it’s okay for your dog to act that way. Instead, learn how to master affection.      2. Do you give your child rewarding attention at the wrong time?   Focussing sustained attention on your child when they have not behaved appropriately is nurturing their irresponsible behaviour. They will become accustomed to your engagement when they are misbehaving rather than being given time to reflect on their poor choices or naughtiness.
       3. Do you feed your dog before you feed yourself?   A dog mom makes her babies wait to eat. So it should be no different with you as a Pack Leader. Instinctually, dogs know that the Pack Leaders eat first. So feed yourself before you feed your pup to show that you’re the leader.     3. Do you allow your children to help themselves to a family dinner (pizza, desserts, treats) before you have commenced eating or given permission?   A parent is in control of serving food. Hence it provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate order and leadership.
    4. Does your dog enter or exit rooms ahead of you?   Just like with food, dogs instinctually know that the Pack Leader is in control and should be the one to lead. Dogs don’t walk ahead of their Pack Leader, so you will need to change your role if you’re the one following your dog around the house.    4. Do your children rush ahead of you when visiting others? Do they rush into lifts and buses without waiting for others to exit? Do they rush to play without helping you unload the shopping?   Being clear about expecting your children to wait, help, and not rush to their play is a clear way of holding leadership in an everyday activity. “I expect you to help me unload the car before starting anything else.” Or “Hold on now, I am not going to tolerate you rushing in before others have left the bus.”
    5. Does your dog jump on you?   Jumping is a dominance behaviour. Enough said. So when your dog jumps on you, he’s asserting his dominance over you. But you can’t just jump on your dog, so you need to let your dog know that his jumping isn’t okay and learn how to manage jumping issues.    5. Does your child push into your physical space? Shoving or pulling or poking you?   By stepping back and creating your space boundaries, you are demonstrating helpful leadership. By not giving any attention or responses when being prodded and pushed you make clear that this is not an acceptable way to get something from another.
    6. Are you your dog’s source of excitement?   Without rules, boundaries, and limitations, you make yourself out to be a playmate instead of a leader. Remember, your dog needs to follow a Pack Leader to feel secure and to be balanced. Strive to be your dog’s source of calmness and direction by creating your dog’s calm, submissive state.    6. Have you oriented much of your life towards providing play, activity and entertainment for your child? Do you demonstrate through providing constant novelty activity that it is your job to keep them entertained? Are you always too busy and stressed? Or do you set aside other life responsibilities to attend to your child’s activities.   Remember your child needs you to provide opportunity for them to practice slowing down, Periods of quiet, calm, alone time. This starts with a parent who practices this in their own life on a daily basis.  
    7. Does your dog have the run of the house?   She is on your bed, on the sofa, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, and going berserk at the front door if anyone dares to ring the bell. You need to set boundaries for your pack, so she knows what is and isn’t allowed. Follow these tips for building boundaries with your dog. Claim your space; teach your dog to wait; correct at the right time.    7. Do your children have the run of your house? Do they come into your bedroom without knocking? Do they come into your bed when they choose?   Do they leave their stuff anywhere? Think about how you can be in charge of when your children enter your space and how they take up the household space. Parents who have no boundaries when a child is anxious contribute to a child becoming increasingly anxious and unable to self-regulate. You have the capacity to say “I will tell you when it’s OK to have special story and play time in our bed.” Or “I will not be serving dinner until that mess has been put back where it belongs.”
    8. Does your dog turn a deaf ear to your commands?   If you haven’t trained your dog in basic obedience, you are losing pack leadership points. Work on teaching your dog these five essential commands to establish yourself as Pack Leader and curb behaviour issues; Sit, come, down, stay, leave it.    8. Does your child ignore your requests?   Improving your leadership in all the above areas makes it much less likely that a child will ignore you. If you just try to get a child to do what you want without working on broad leadership behaviour it is likely to become a  futile power struggle. An instruction that depends on the child’s co-operation is less effective when re-building your leadership than a request where you can control the consequences. E.g. – when you serve food, go out, provide a lift, take them to a favourite place, pay for something.
    9. Do you yell at your dog?   Yelling is actually the best way of making sure your dog 1) never listens to you, and 2) develops fear and anxiety because of your unbalanced energy. So instead of yelling at your dog — which gets you nowhere, fast — try being calm and assertive.    9. Do you yell at your children?   Highly reactive parents equates to highly reactive children. Yelling is actually the best way of making sure your child 1) never listens to you, and 2) develops fear and anxiety because of your unbalanced energy. So instead of yelling at your child — which gets you nowhere, fast — try being calm and assertive. And when a child is demonstrating their own calm self-management come alongside them and calmly show an interest in what they are doing.
    10 .Does your dog pull you on the walk?   This is the ultimate sign that you have yet to master pack leadership. On top of that, if you don’t walk your dog daily, it’s hard to establish your leadership. That’s why mastering the walk is essential to every Pack Leader.10. Does your child dictate what you do on an outing?   Rather than every outing being focussed on the child’s interests include something you need to do before going to their preferred activity. They can benefit from developing capacity for delayed gratification and respecting your priorities.
Remember, when it comes to pack leadership, you are the one in charge. By setting boundaries now, you and your dog will be in great shape towards building your relationship and strengthening your bond for years to come.Remember, when it comes to parent leadership, you are the one in charge. You are not becoming a follower of your child’s moods and wants. By setting boundaries now, you and your children will be in great shape towards building your relationship and strengthening your bond for years to come.

count your “yes” answers.Here is Ceasar Milan’s checklist scoring:

0 yes…………………………………… You are the Pack Leader / or parent leader (it may well be a mythical being who can completely answer yes to every question all the time)

1 – 10 yes…………………. You are not the Pack Leader / parent leader YET.

Change does not happen overnight but in small steps of self-management. The effort is on changing self for the benefit of the dog and the child. I know I have often failed to be a calm assertive leader as a parent and dog owner. Rather than beat myself up I can get back on track with my own leadership project.

*10 signs that you are not yet a pack leader – Cesarsway.com

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