Who would have thought bringing a puppy home could teach you so much about parenting?
A few months ago, we brought home an Alaskan Malamute pup at the pleading request of our daughter. She felt like the ugly duckling in her class – the only dark-skinned one with black hair in a class. When disagreements arose, the mention of her skin color seemed to be the card that trumped it all. She was gutted.
So we gave in. Maybe because we felt her pain – the pain of rejection and not fitting in. We thought the puppy would be the friend she needed when she was feeling down.
When we first visited Benny, our Malamute pup, we loved cuddling him and the other the pups in his litter. They seemed like stuffed animals that were alive. But by the time he came home at 10 weeks, Benny was no longer a cuddly pup. He wanted to run, play and bite.
We tried putting a lead on him but he thought it was a game to prevent us from doing it. We fooled him for a few seconds by putting treats in front of him.
Benny had no idea that his job was to walk alongside us on his leash. He decided that he didn’t like the lead and plopped himself on our driveway and wouldn’t budge.
One of the key reasons we bought into getting Benny was the exercise that our daughter was going to get. And now he thought it was great fun to chase and bite.
Were it not for the friendly dog trainer God sent our way, I don’t know how we’d get along with Benny. One of the principles that our trainer taught us was that you can’t make a dog do anything. You can only control yourself. It was all about learning boundaries and teaching our boundaries to Benny.
When we violated Benny’s boundaries he bit us. When I saw Benny biting the kids, I tried to distract him by offering him treats. The trainer told me that in doing so, I was training Benny to bite my kids. I was rewarding his bad behavior.
It made me think about my parenting style. I hate seeing my kids suffer and will do almost anything to alleviate their pain. So I jump in and try to fix the situation. But often this prevents my children from learning to work through their challenges. Life is full of challenges, and I won’t always be around to help them.
Some days, my kids will rattle off disrespect without giving it much thought and often I let it slide. But I’m learning to walk away and saying, “When you are ready to talk to me nicely, let me know.”
When Benny growls, he goes out, but if he is a good dog, he gets lots of treats and praise. At five months, Benny is much calmer and will go walks without biting. We are working with him not to guard his food and growl but to trust us – his food provider.
As a Malamute, he comes from one of the most stubborn breeds in the canine world. And as with a stubborn child, consistency in his daily schedule is key to maintaining harmony in our home.
Our daughter is learning to work with her pup and we are learning to better parents and reaping the joy that comes from owning an Alaskan Malamute.