A dog, like a child, is only as good as the adult teaching it what to do and what not to do. As of late, I have noticed some terrible parenting that makes me think of all the training I went through with my therapy dog and how some of those commands can benefit some parents. Whether you hang around with a canine or a small human, you still want a well-behaved companion.
When I first got my dog, we immediately took him to obedience training. This led us to a renowned therapy-dog program, Pet Partners. As someone who lives in a crowded city where we interact with others regularly, I feel it’s just as important for a dog to be a good citizen as it is for a child. I just wish parents felt the same way.
Therapy programs love to think of all the what-if scenarios in order to prepare you for any unexpected situation. Not taking food that isn’t offered is one of them. For instance, many times while visiting a facility, a patient might be holding a sandwich but not paying attention to it. My dog is trained not to take it. In fact, even if a kid hands him food, it is his responsibility not to take it unless he gets approval from me. Because patients have been known to hide medication in food, this is about more than just manners — it can be life threatening.
Where it would have served a parent well: The pub on my corner
I was having dinner with some friends. We were seated near a family with one child happily enjoying her bottle while firmly placed in a baby seat, and another roaming around the restaurant, as kids often do. This boy, however, was helping himself to items off other people’s tables. Nobody complained until the boy took a soda from an adjacent table and started drinking it in gulps. The man at the table knocked the drink out of the boy’s mouth so violently it made him cry, then scooped up the boy and yelled, “Whose kid is this? He just drank Jack Daniels!”
On day one at any dog-training class, they extol the virtues of “stay” and “come.” The instructor urges that if you take nothing else away with you, please make sure your dog obeys those commands. Picture a child throwing a ball into traffic — “stay.” Or a dog getting off his leash — “come.” In a facility, if there is an emergency, you want to make sure the dog stays put.
Where it would have served a parent well: The pier at Hudson River Park
On a sunny crowded afternoon in New York's Hudson River Park, as runners are sprinting by and tourists are making their way to the Intrepid, a mom has stopped to sit on a bench with a friend and her toddler. As they do, the toddler tries to run away. The mother intercedes, only to have him attempt another escape. This time he’s more successful, running straight toward the edge of the pier. The mother, panicked, begins to yell, “Someone stop that child! Get him! Get him!” Luckily, a jogger who almost ran into him saved the day. “Stay” and “come” would have been very helpful in that moment.
While my dog is highly trained, we still can’t control the world around us, from undisciplined dogs running up to us on the street to cars going through red lights to any number of unpredictable occurrences that can happen in a hospital visit. Most facilities require that therapy teams turn off their cell phones during a visit, simply because we need to be attentive.
Where it would have served a parent well: The F train
Nobody would have even noticed the young dad on the train if it hadn’t been for his son wandering around the car as the father tapped away on his cell phone. Distracted parenting can be just as bad as distracted driving, especially nowadays. When the car doors opened, the boy walked right out. A woman began shouting, alerting the father, but it was too late. The doors closed, leaving the boy alone on a subway platform.
Aggressive dogs can be very dangerous, and some breeds are worse than others. If your dog has what’s called a “soft mouth,” a bite won’t do as much damage as a dog with a more powerful jaw. Either way, you don’t want a dog that bites. It’s axiomatic that aggression is a trait not tolerated in any therapy-dog program.
Where it would have served a parent well: The library
My dog is part of the R.E.A.D. program at our local library. In all the years we’ve been going, we have only encountered amazing parents with lovely children — until last week. A 4-year-old who had shown up to read to my dog had to endure her tyrannical older sister. The parents left both children with us, which usually means they will take turns reading, but what ensued was upsetting. The older girl hit, slapped and pinched her younger sister numerous times. A staff member at the library interceded, but it should have been the parent — a parent who presumably knew her older daughter had this problem.
Moms have previously embraced dog-training techniques for child rearing — this concept is not new. Psychologists say that training a child is important for one major reason: Parents are busier than ever, so less time with their kids dictates the need for better-behaved children in those moments when they do get to spend time with them.
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