When It Comes to Raising Dogs (and Children)

By J M (Mike) Nelson

In my neighborhood, within almost every block, there is at least one dog subject to barking for extended periods, day or night. Occasionally there is a trigger effect that leads to a cacophony of barking. This does not reflect well on the neighborhood. If your dog is a neighborhood disturbance, then you are responsible, not the dog; the dog is just being a dog.

Dogs are descended from European gray wolves. Like humans, dogs exhibit several "breeds/races," but all the same species nonetheless, with only small genetic differences. Much like humans, dogs are predators and pack/family animals; each individual depends on relatives and close friends for stability and contentment, and each family/pack needs proper leadership to maintain stability.

In the wild, even roaming the streets, packs of dogs don’t bark much; they have a leader. The pack roams in search of food, eats in hierarchical order, and, save for challenges for status within the pack, remains relatively quiet. A dog presumes a pack environment, including in your home, perhaps especially in your/their home, and, given the opportunity, will attempt to exert leadership. Without your leadership, the dog will take over, and that is never pleasant, because the dog’s presumptions about leadership do not readily transfer to your home.

Humans also need leadership. Without leadership, children take over, often to the detriment of themselves as well as to family, school, friends, and acquaintances, perhaps even strangers. The results might include disrespect for others, even criminal behavior, all in an attempt to satisfy needs that have not been properly directed. In much the same way, without leadership, dogs assume the role of pack leader, and, lacking necessary leadership skills for human habitation, exhibit frustration, anxiety, fear, anger, and aggression. More limited by environment than the undisciplined child, the dog, captive in a human abode, must express emotions consistent with their nature; barking and growling are the most common. Marking territory is the most difficult to suppress.

Dogs also provide their owner with an assessment of their ability to nurture. If you and your companion are considering adding a child, get a dog; better yet, get a puppy, raise it via principles of dog psychology rather than treating it as though it were human, and, after a year or two, make an assessment.

If you have never raised your voice, spoken to your dog with anger or impatience, or hit your dog, and if after training, your dog is content, obedient, and submissive, doesn’t pull on a leash, doesn’t walk in front of you, doesn’t pass through a doorway without permission, never jumps on furniture without permission, shows no aggression over food or toys, and does not bark inappropriately, then, perhaps, you could procure a reputable book on child psychology and consider having a child.

Dog Psychology. A relative walked their dog with a long leash; it had a tendency to run ahead, occasionally into traffic. Their dog would blast through doors, pushing aside their elderly parents. They would yell at the dog. The dog did not understand the belated admonishment. It was an easy fix. I shortened the leash, and prevented him from entering a door first; if he succeeded, I led him back outside, continuing the cycle until he got the point: humans first; wait to be invited in. It took only a few minutes. Eventually, he was able walk beside me without a leash, and remained outside until invited in.

Child Psychology. My daughter would come home from school, dump her books on the dining table, and head to her room. She would get verbal admonishment, but there was no change in behavior until we changed our behavior. “Come down stairs, get your books, go back outside, walk to the corner,” we told her. “Now, come back in, and take your books with you to your room.” There was no yelling, no corporal punishment, just a calm, but firm, prescription. It didn’t take long for the behavior to change.

If you and your dog are not calm and content after a transitional period, take your dog to a shelter so that it might have an opportunity for contentment with another family. And, think twice about having children; they require much more complex attention than dogs. If you still need a pet, get a cat; their job is primarily to sleep and eat. Your only obligations are to keep them indoors so they don't kill songbirds, keep them well fed and clean their litter box regularly. Cats don't care about your character, and will never reveal it. In contrast, your dog reveals your character to everyone at every encounter.

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