There Are No Bad Dogs, Just Bad Owners
We are a dog family. Our friend Darcy used to say that when she dies, she wants to come back as a dog in the Taylor-Klaus house. I guess you might say we take our pet rearing seriously. At the very least, we have taught our kids to be safe and conscientious pet ‘owners.’
Shortly after we began our married life, my husband and I rescued an adorable hound-like puppy. We named him Hobbson, for the wry butler in the movie, “Arthur,” but mostly because he looked like Winston Churchill. After all, who wants to name a dog Winnie?
We tested out our parenting chops with Hobbie. We laughed endlessly about the antics of a puppy and arranged our weekends around walks to the park. We went to owner training school (let’s be serious, we know who’s really being trained!), and installed a doggie door so that Hobbie could use our spacious back yard independently.
When Hobbie was six months old, we created Irish twins with the addition of a new puppy. Sasha was the world’s most precious, even-tempered Rottweiler, small enough to fit into the mailbox. Those two lovely animals raised each other well, despite our nervous, hyper-attentive new-parent over-involvement. We were raising 175 pounds of black-and-brown fur and teeth.
And then, we had kids.
Raising a kid is a lot like raising a dog, really. You are responsible for another living being, and for everyone and everything s/he touches. It impacts your time, your emotions, and your wallet. You can have the “nature” versus “nurture” argument all day long, but what you do as a parent, or alpha dog, makes a huge difference.
Animals change the playing field when you have kids in your home. A girl and her dog can have the most wondrous relationship imaginable, but it is inherently dangerous. Success comes when you create a conscious environment and keep a safety mindset.
At one point, I had my doubts. There was a particular episode in Sasha’s youth when I was afraid we had made a big mistake. She had discovered a Brillo pad under the house and appeared with it in her mouth. I tried to get the pad away, but I was honestly afraid she would bite me when I tried to get her to drop it.
I remember the face-off – 18 years ago – as if it were yesterday – the dog’s jaws clamped tight, dribbles of pink bubbles sliding down the chin and dripping to the ground. A stalemate. It is hysterically funny in retrospect, but at the time I was just hysterical.
I didn’t know what Sasha was capable of doing and I was afraid. I knew she loved me, but would she bite me for the temporary desire of the Brillo pad? It was certainly within the realm of possibility.
You never know with kids, I mean, with dogs. We love them, cherish them, nurture them. And then we wonder who they will be, what choices they will make, and how that will influence us. Will it come back to bite us?
As we raised our three kids – and several of our friends’ kids, too – into a household of dogs, we taught them to have a healthy respect for all animals, no matter how domesticated. My kids (and my husband) never met a dog that was a stranger, so we taught them:
- to approach new dogs cautiously
- to ask permission of their owners
- to hold out the backs of their hands to be sniffed
If I could be afraid of my dear Sasha, then anything was possible. My kids learned to proceed with caution before playfulness (not an easy task for a passel of ADD kids!).
It’s worth noting, here, that my friendly, playful spouse had learned that lesson the hard way. In fact, you might say a big black chow had to bite him in the butt to teach him what he needed to teach his kids.
While there are certain breeds of dogs that have a greater reputation for aggression than others – pit bulls are the most obvious example – there are no ‘bad’ breeds, only bad owners. When people raise their dogs without deliberateness - when they train them to be violent, or worse, treat them poorly – they perpetuate the stereotypes and exacerbate the danger.
Dogs are animals, and we must always remember that their basal instincts are not rational. How we raise them makes a difference. How we teach our kids to be with them matters every bit as much.
So, what do I know now?
- There are no bad breeds, only bad owners
- Dogs are instinctive creatures and we must be aware of that at all times
- We must teach our kids to be hyper-vigilant when meeting new animals
- Dogs offer a great way to teach kids to take on responsibilities at home
- What a dog offers a family is extraordinary, and is worth the risks. It’s critical to acknowledge the risks, and prepare for them appropriately
Oh, and one more thing. If you think you might want to come back as a dog in our home, you’ll have to take a ticket and get in line. Darcy’s got first dibs.
Elaine Taylor-Klaus is the co-founder of ImpactADHD.com, a virtual coaching community for parents of kids with ADHD. She is a regular columnist on ShareWIK.com and MySpecialNeedsNetwork.com, and writes for “Living Without” magazine. Elaine coaches women and parents from around the country, on the telephone, to live full and empowering lives. She works together with her husband, David Taylor-Klaus, in their company, Touchstone Coaching.
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