Right! So I probably got your attention with that title. Do you think it's silly that I would suggest a child was not like a dog? Seems like an obvious statement, doesn't it? What if the title read, "Why Dogs are NOT Kids." Does that ring as strangely?
In today's culture, it doesn't seem to, but it should! Kids are not like dogs and dogs are not like kids. Both ways of saying it should ring equally true. They are different species, after all. So why is it that on one side of the equation, it seems ridiculous to compare them, but flip the coin and it's an entirely different perspective?
I read an article recently about the centralization of children as the driving force in a family. It claimed that this was the change that's come about for the millennial generation, citing it as the source of entitlement that's so often associated with this generation. I was intrigued to hear the author's opinion about how this change, from Mom and Dad being the most important figures in a household, to the children being the front and center has rolled out over the last couple of decades.
It occurred to me that this change has also influenced the way we treat and deal with our dogs. Some of these changes are definitely for the better, but they also cause confusion when it comes to communicating effectively with our dogs. I recently posted about whether dogs should be allowed on furniture, a hotly debated topic amongst dog lovers. As with a lot in dog training, there is no right or wrong and the article was quite non-biased. It talked about the pros and cons of allowing dogs on furniture and ultimately suggested that it's an individual choice. It was more about educating why you should and shouldn't rather than stating an opinion on which way you should lean. Some of the comments that I got from the post were surprising. One comment in particular stuck with me and I was reminded of it when I read the above mentioned article. It directly compared dogs to children and suggested that if kids were not made to sit on the floor, dogs shouldn't be either.
The world is full of opinions. I am not here to try to convince anyone that mine, or even ours, is the opinion to choose. Our role in posting advice is just that! Taking our 35 years of experience in the dog training business, and our hundreds of years of collective experience and rolling out some good advice and ideas to help others with their journeys in dogdom. We don't usually post anything as absolute, because we know that there are few things in dogs that are, but today, we break that rule. Loud and clear and in writing, we announce - Dogs are NOT children. This is an absolute! This is a fact. Dogs are DOGS! They are canines and their thought process, physiological being, emotional states, coping and reasoning skills, and they, just they, are different. Regard a human or a dog with any of the 5 senses and it will still be a fact. Dogs and humans are different. Period.
Now, I'm not saying don't love your dogs. I'm not saying you can't keep an emotional spot for your dog to be your "fur baby". Those of us who have opted out of human children can still use our nurturing sides to love our dogs deeply and without emotional boundaries, but they are still dogs. They absolutely should be members of the family, but identified as what they are, not confused as "humans with fur." When we see them as dogs, we have the best hope of enriching their lives as they enrich ours. When it comes to teaching and learning from them, we need to remember that they have differing wants and needs than children do. They have shorter life expectancies, so when human toddler turns 2 years, they've barely begun, but when a dog turns 2 years, he's on the verge of adulthood.
I think it's safe to say that most parents want their children to make good choices and when they don't, there may be consequences. If your son came home with a bad report card at 16 years old, you're not likely to hug him and hand him the car keys. There are consequences to actions and he may be grounded or have his video games removed in hopes that this negative punishment (taking something away) makes him think better of not putting in the effort in school. Would you do the same with a dog? After a bad day in obedience class, do you think removing Fido's squeaky toys for the week will help him learn to pay better attention next class? I distinctly remember a phone call from someone who claimed that when her puppy had a house training accident, she didn't put any carrots on his kibble that night, but after weeks, it still wasn't working. That was many years ago and I'll doubt that dog has stopped peeing in the house if she continued to use a human style of consequence to teach a puppy. The puppy would never make the connection that the missing carrots were related to him piddling where he shouldn't. I'm sure most of you are giggling at this idea, but it's the thinking we fall into when we forget that dogs are not children.
When approaching management of a dog, it's important to think of things in dog terms. Taking away a dog's toys will not stop them from rooting through the garbage. Withholding their dessert will not help them get better grades in obedience school. When you're dealing with a dog, you need to be certain you are using tactics that will make sense to a dog. Consequences need to make sense to a dog if you are hoping to alter behaviour. Rewards need to be valuable to the dog and also need to be timed properly to make an impact. Management like crating and leash training are imperative for keeping dogs safe and privileges, such as freedom or being up on furniture should be considered depending on the dog's current behaviour and cooperation. They are dogs and we'll get much, much further and build much better relationship if we remember that! Thinking of them as children and trying to shape their behaviour as such does you both a disservice that could lead you down a very wrong path. Think of dogs as they are: magnificent, loving, intelligent, honest and loyal - and they are dogs!