Ask the Dogfather: Is parenting a pup the same as parenting a child?

Jimmy Benoit and daughter Laina play with Wheaten Terrier puppies on Lucy Vincent Beach. — Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

Tom Shelby, who has trained dogs and their owners on Martha’s Vineyard and in New York City, answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. Got a question for the Dogfather? Send it to dogs

Dear Dogfather,

I am a new mother whose husband decided it would be nice to have a puppy that would grow up with our son. As I read about dog training, I keep thinking that some of the training suggestions would apply to parenting my child. Could this be possible? I appreciate any insight you can give me.


Dear Joyce,

I love this question, because my wife once said, “I think my husband is a better father because he’s a dog trainer.” She said this at a dinner with two other couples. One of the couples dismissed the comment as crazy because “parenting kids and dogs is not analogous.” I think the other couple felt the same, but they were politely silent. It gave me cause to think about it, a lot. Granted, there were several times that one of my kids may have proclaimed, “Dad, I’m not a dog” after I patted her on the head and said “Good girl” for something she did.

But there are real correlations between parenting kids and dogs. Tell your kid, “No cookies before dinner,” and keep making exceptions, and your credibility is lost, as the kid is flying on sugar as he arrives at the dinner table and doesn’t touch his veggies. Don’t allow the dog on the couch, and keep making exceptions — Well, there’s a saying in my business: “If you want the best seat in the house, tell the dog to move!” The kid-dog correlation: It’s called consistency.

We were in a Chinese restaurant with another couple and our kids. My friend’s son was stuffing his face with the crispy dry noodles, and when the second small bowl was empty he asked for more, to which his mother responded, “You can’t have any more!” When the kid started making a real fuss and demanded to know why he can’t have more noodles, instead of saying, “Because I said so!” or “It will ruin your appetite,” she lied and said, “Because the restaurant is out of noodles.” Meanwhile, noodles were being served to the tables all around us. Your Maltese seems to demand your attention every time you’re on the phone, jealous of the diversion of your attention. I had a client who worked out of her home, primarily on the phone. Her Maltese was morbidly obese by age 2 because she constantly tossed the dog treats to shut her up. The kid-dog correlation: It’s called confront the problem.

We had friends drive an hour and a half from Long Island to spend the Sunday visiting with us when we lived in New York. They weren’t with us 20 minutes when the father was unhappy with his son’s conduct and threatened to “go right home” if the behavior didn’t stop immediately. This ultimatum was issued to his son all afternoon, with the son knowing that there was no chance of leaving early to sit in traffic for two hours. How many times have you heard a parent threateningly say, “Don’t make me say it again” and it was the 10th time the parent said that? Why should a dog stay the first time you say “Stay,” if you repeat it 12 times? Or stay at all, if you don’t follow through and make him stay. The kid-dog correlation: It’s called: no idle threats; don’t repeat; follow through.

So, are my kids better off because I’m a dog trainer? Who knows? All I can say is they’re gainfully employed and reasonably sane. Good luck parenting your son, and don’t hesitate to come forth with any questions if you decide to get a dog.

The Dogfather