Everything I Ever Needed To Know About Parenting I Learned In Puppy School.
One Saturday afternoon, our family went out to eat and came home with a dog. My sister was “starving” during our 30 minute wait for a table and wandered down the street to a Walgreens for an appetizer. Somewhere between her tub of chicken salad and our actual meal, I ended up fostering a dog from a pet rescue that was hosting an adoption event outside the drug store.
Side note: Can we please stop using the words foster and adopt when it comes to animals? And while we’re at it, let’s stop using rescue, too. In high school, my friend used to steal those “Who rescued who?” magnets from the back of people’s cars and I’ve never been prouder of anyone in my life. And if you’re thinking she’s a delinquent, you should know she’s a surgeon now. Anyway, I’m getting off track…
We came home from dinner with a literal doggy bag of food, foster papers, and a second puppy. Going from one dog to two is not unlike adding another baby to your family, so we promptly enrolled both dogs in obedience school. My husband and I lasted exactly two sessions, unable to deal with the very real Best In Show vibe happening among the dog mom and dads in our class. But in those two sessions, I heard the most valuable parenting advice (for both dogs and children):
They pick up on your reactions. If you see a big dog approaching and you panic, they will panic. If you calmly squat down next to them and say, “Don’t worry. It’s okay,” they’ll stay calm.
This is definitely not new advice. We’ve all heard how “kids are sponges” and “kids pick up on your mood,” but those mottos were too abstract to ever affect me in the moment. There was something so powerful about the image of a big dog approaching. Anytime I find myself in a stressful situation with Levon, I immediately recognize it as the big dog. I remember that my reaction is going to inform his, and it helps me react thoughtfully. Or at least somewhat responsibly. When I see him start to panic, I get down on his level and simply say, “It’s okay.”
For the record, it works with the dogs, too.
What’s the best piece of parenting advice you’ve ever heard? Share with us in the comments.
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of Raise, stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to Raise, she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.