8 Valuable Parenting Lessons I Learned From My Dog

How your pooch can teach you to be a better parent.

Our dog Duke has been so depressed this week. He's a lovable yellow lab who is always willing to run with the kids, chase a ball or go for a long walk by the river. Not this week. He lays on the couch, mopes to his bowl for his breakfast and then returns to the couch.

So, why is this week different? School has started and he is missing our daughter. He misses her so much that he sleeps in her room every night and jumps in the car with her every morning to take her to school. 

As a clinical social worker, I often think clinically about children and families. Duke has allowed me to see the world through his eyes this week; he is completely sad and miserable about the fact that part of his family is leaving everyday for a huge chunk of time. As the school year gets started, many parents are thankful for the reprieve and break from hanging with the kids all day. 

I've decided that we can learn a lot from animals about parenting. Plus, there is a ton of research to support the benefits of relationships between humans and animals. Here are just a few of the things that I have learned:

1. Animals are always happy to see you. No matter what has happened during the day, your animals want plenty of love and attention. Children often want the same things, but go about it differently. 

2. Pets are the ultimate forgivers and never hold grudges. As humans, we can spend all day thinking about what our loved ones have done to make us angry. Yes, animals have a memory, but really, all they want is for their humans to love them. We usually forgive them pretty quickly — we just need to apply that same rule to our loved ones. 

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3. A pet can help keep you and your family calm. Usually, a pet with a calmer heart rate than you can help you calm the heart rate of your child. What does that mean as a parent? When we get all worked up and angry, our heart rate increases. Our children are able to sense this because they are connected to us in this way. If our heart rate goes up, theirs will goes up as well. If there is a pet in the room who has a lower heart rate and is calmer than us, this can help diffuse the situation. Just let the animal do its job!

4. Pets do not yell. Sure they show emotion, but it's often less scary than what we humans evoke. I often tell parents that when your child is in the middle of an emotional crisis, the best thing you can do is use fewer words and show less emotion. Animals do just this.

5. Animals do not use words. This means they do not use words to continue arguing, to say hurtful things, or to totally lose it on their loved ones. Sometimes, silence really is the best medicine. 

6. Petting a pet can calm your amygdala. Petting your pet is a patterned, repetitive activity. Dr. Bruce Perry from the Child Trauma Academy, a not-for-profit organization based in Houston, Texas working to improve children's lives, talks about patterned, repetitive activities that mimick what an infant needs to soothe discomfort. We all need the same thing as we get older, but swaddling our older children and rocking them is not always realistic. Allowing them to pet and play with their pets gives them the same comfort as an infants get when rocked or swayed. 

7. Animals feel their feelings and do not lock them away. Just as Duke mopes around this week, he has given me permission to mope around too and feel the emptiness of the house and sadness that school has started. When we feel our feelings as our pets do, at the time we are having them and not later, we allow ourselves to be balanced and healthier. 

8. The love from an animal is pure. There are very few strings attached when an animal falls in love with us. Sure, they need shelter and food, but after that, all they want is love in return. They are forgiving when we do not always get this right; animals do not look to us to meet their emotional needs. Nor should we look to our children to meet our emotional needs. 

As you go through your next week, be more aware and tuned in to the animals in your life. See how they interact with their world and notice the lessons they are teaching. Above all else, notice how animals and your children interact. The bond they have is important and valuable. This bond may teach you exactly what you need to know about your child to strengthen your relationship.

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