I used to laugh at how people looked at their dogs as part of the family, but now I know firsthand how much they add to our lives. Yes, they’re poop machines, but they give us just as much reason to get out and walk as they do to smile and laugh out loud. There have been studies done that actually show the average dog owner is healthier, happier, and more social than their non-dog equivalent.
All these benefits come along with some work, but it beats having a hairless living room any day. And since I’ve put my own pooch to work “training” the children, I have even more reason to keep a pup around. My own results aren’t about to warrant a scientific study, but the differences I’ve seen have shown me that canine companions may have no limits.
Homework is a regular part of the weekday routine, but so are walks and playtime. Once school work is finished, it’s time to get in some exercise. I have my son and my daughter do this together to sneak in brother-sister time, so if one finishes before the other, they wait by playing with the dog in the yard. Once they’re both ready to go, they leash the pup up and head off around the neighborhood. Their arrival home is marked by filling up the dog bowls with food and water, and then they come to the table to eat themselves. We follow this routine every weekday, so I never have to ask, nevertheless nag (Halleluijah!). Now it’s just what we do, and it comes automatically. Everything from feeding and walking to brushing hair and teeth has a time and a place. I’m still an enormous fan of spontaneity and flexibility, but it’s offered us all automaticity that leaves little forgotten or put off.
I’ll adopt a hundred adult dogs before I’ll add an untrained puppy to the family, but even older dogs take work. We’ve done a lot of training with Scrap, and while he’s very intelligent, but he’s also quite spunky and energetic. Getting him to understand and pay attention can be easier said than done. This has been a great learning experience for the kids because they’ve had to put some thought into developing a training approach. They’ve also had to spend a lot of time doing the same tricks over and over just to try and get a result. They were easily frustrated in the beginning, but that gave us the opportunity to see that the best results come from giving our full attention and putting in our best efforts.
Even with our best, sometimes we need to stop for a break or need to consider another approach altogether. That’s okay though. What matters most is being productive and meeting our goals, and my children have experienced this satisfaction again and again thanks to Scrap. They’ve also learned that everyday obligations like training and walking can be given a fun twist. Our pup is now a master at Red Light, Green Light, and the kids still get a kick out of tricking him into stopping and going. Turning potentially frustrating situations into opportunities to learn and have fun is a valuable lesson that can be applied in even bigger situations. The kids have benefitted from this and, quite honestly, I may have gained more than they have.
My daughter is a bookworm of a 2nd grader who has fallen in love with chapter books. My son loves a good story too, but it’s not as pleasurable when it comes to him reading on his own. I had discovered classroom reading dogs after meeting one at our library years back, so I decided to give the idea a try at home. My son saw reading as a dreaded obligation, so I tried to switch this up by making a cozy reading corner with some cushy pillows and blankets. When my son asked with excitement what the corner was for, I told him I thought we should help Scrap work on listening by reading out loud to him. That boy was completely on board and immediately took to reading to help Scrap. Now it’s no longer “reading time” for the kids, but “listening time” for Scrap. We set reading goals according to Scrap’s “listening needs” (aka the kids “reading needs”), and our furry boy is more than happy to lay down and oblige.
Whenever the dog gets excited or bothered, I’ll ask the kids what’s wrong. I almost always know the cause of the behavior, but I put it on the kids to figure out what’s going on. I’ve pointed out things like tail wagging, flattened ears, and high barking to help them make a connection between certain moods and situations, and that’s really boosted their connection with Scrap. While they started out having little to no idea what was going on with him, they can now read his cues and compare them with the present situation to find answers. Now they can determine what’s up with Scrap within seconds.
Interpreting dogs may not seem like a very big deal, but I’ve also been able to connect this to communicating with people. When situations come up when we’re feeling frustrated, I try to tie it to a similar situation with Scrap. It has helped us all to see how feelings and situations get us to act in certain ways. It’s also helped us to make light of things that used to seem heavy. We crack jokes about how both my son and Scrap “bark” and jump up and down when they’re excited. We even laugh about how Scrap flattens his ears and turns his head when he knows he’s in trouble while my daughter tried to avoid admitting to things by jumping to other topics. This has offered some pretty amazing lessons in understanding how people are feeling and what their behaviors say. Of course, this has become a problem now that my kids are noticing my own “tells.” On the upside, they can tell when I’m about to bring down the hammer, so they’re quicker to listen and respond. Even though they’re learning my little “secrets,” it’s well worth it.
When it comes to tricks and training, the kids are always in charge. My husband and I definitely make hints and throw in suggestions, but I make sure that it’s their thing. Our friends and family are always curious to see the latest skill in development, so the kids regularly showcase their training routine and what they’re accomplishing. Some tricks have been harder than others though, and the kids have been ready to jump ship more than once. Whenever that comes up, I ask them why they think Scrap is having trouble. We ponder what the issue may be, how we may be contributing, and then we think of ways we can modify the process so it works for everyone.
On a lesser but equally impressive note, our dog has gotten my daughter to finally brush her hair every day. I know this is silly, but I’m forever grateful everytime we step out of the car without the surprise of a tangled mess of blond hair. This was a regular thing at our house until about a year ago when I started getting the kids to brush Scrap. Rather than telling them to simply brush the dog, I’d ask them if Scrap looked or felt tangled. A few good belly knots served as an example of why regular brushing is important, and getting in a few sessions of grooming before school had my daughter thinking of her own hair. After seeing success with this, I got Scrap his own toothbrush in hope of getting the kids to finally make brushing their teeth a habit. Their first session with canine plaque and steamy dog breath had them squeamish and giggling. Now they’re brushing their teeth every morning and night to keep away that “stinky Scrap breath.”
In short, our dog has changed our life in many ways. There have been a lot of messes and I’ve hollered at the top of my lungs and pulled at my hair more than once, but there isn’t a day that Scrap doesn’t have us smiling and laughing. As we age, we see that it’s the little things that really count. Having a trusted and loving friend for my children gives me a motherly satisfaction that’s beyond measure. And on the days when everyone else could care less that I’m home from work, Scrap is always waiting for me with a wagging tail and a slobbery smile.I’ll welcome hugs and kisses any day of the week. No matter how hairy they might be.