for release January 11, 2002
by Melodie Davis
How Puppies and Toddlers are Alike
While it is exciting to think of surprising your child with a pet for Christmas, I hope you didn't do it.
We have been trying to train a puppy since last summer, and we are still very much in that spirited, rambunctious, pull-your-hair-out puppy stage. Fable, a 7-month-old German Shepherd-collie or sheltie mix has reminded me in many ways that puppies and toddlers have so much in common.
Toddlers and puppies think the whole world revolves around them. If you are scrubbing the toilet bowl, a dog thinks it's so he can budge in and take a fresh drink. If you are sorting newspapers, it is so they can grab a paper and go off to play. If you are making a fire, they have to be right there with their nose in the middle of it, even at the risk of getting burned. If you pick up a stick to clean up the yard, they think you want to play stick. If you are taking clothes to the washing machine, it is so they can grab a washrag and run off thinking you'll be in hot pursuit.
If you sit down to read the paper, they think you have sat down so they can bring their favorite shoe for you to play tug of war. And if you scold them, they look like their heart will break. Their world is all play and me, me, me. If company comes over, they get all excited and may wet even though they've been trained for months. They may get carsick. A puppy may be learning various rules but they are always testing the limits of those rules.
Of course toddlers, who are ultimately far more complicated and interesting than any puppy, are also undergoing their developing sense of independence, learning that they are different and separate from their mother or primary caregiver. Puppies on the other hand, don't seem to suffer ill effects from separation anxiety for much more than a day or two.
One of the main rules we try to teach our dog is not to come in the kitchen when we are eating. In our house, the wood floor of the hallway changes to linoleum in the kitchen, with a sharply defined plate covering the gap between the linoleum and the wood. The dog better not nudge over that line on the floor or she will be "shamed." Fable was able to learn the rule fairly early in her young life, but she still pushes the edges on occasion.
On one such occasion, my husband, Stuart, and a good friend were lingering longer than usual over their after-dinner conversation. I had cleared the table, and even placed the dog's scraps in her bowl. Still, Fable waited impatiently in the hallway for Stuart to get up from his chair.
Finally, she inched her nose into the kitchen just enough to give Stuart a small shove in the seat of his pants. Of course we erupted into laughter.
Toddlers, too, are the source of much enjoyment and laughter. And like puppies, they benefit from knowing exactly where the lines are. Not that you don't ever deviate or bend the rules. I always thought toddlers did better with regular schedules, mealtimes and bedtime routines. Of course, the holidays throw all those things out of whack for toddlers and puppies. Toddlers and puppies thrive on predictable routines, and being given plenty of time to adjust to the next activity.
When we put up the Christmas tree, Fable got very excited because she knew something special was going on, and I was reminded how they say not to get a new pet at Christmas time (even though thousands do just that), because of all the excitement, guests and general hubbub.
If you did add a pet to your household at Christmas, now is the time to try to quiet things down and establish boundaries. The same for young children: now is the time to get them back on whatever is their regular schedule-or use it as a good time to adjust to a new schedule. For instance, if their nap schedule was thrown out of kilter with visiting relatives, maybe now is the time to wean them from two naps to one. I heard of one toddler who planned to leave his pacifier as a gift for Santa-and so now is learning to how to adjust to "life after pacifier" in the New Year.
I like the return to routine that happens after the holidays. I haven't had to give up my pacifier, but it is time to get back to my regular diet and exercise. And no more letting the dog fudge over the line in the kitchen!
Do you have any puppy-or toddler stories to share? Send to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
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