28 April 2010

Pets as social skills teachers, Part 2

MilkBone125-border.jpg Note: This post is part of the It’s Good To Give series, which is sponsored by Milk-Bone. I generally stay away from sponsored content, but this campaign, with its focus on service animals, happened to dovetail with my long-standing intention to write about pets as social skills teachers. (Milk-Bone supports the Canine Assistants program.) Now that that my son's homeschooling, I'm seeing our dog's effect on him even more clearly. I feel like it's an important story to tell, and I'd love to hear yours.

Here's Part 1 (be sure to read all the wonderful comments there as well).

It was one thing for me to decide that getting a dog would be a good idea for our family. It was another to find the right dog. In many ways getting a new dog is like having a kid: you never know what you're gonna get. Sure, you can pick the breed and sign up for training classes, but you roll the dice when it comes to your dog's basic temperament.

I needed a dog that didn't shed (remember, I'm married to Mr. Allergy Man and I'm no housecleaning wiz), was great with kids, was easygoing, and was already housebroken (because I was done with poop in the house years ago and I'M NOT GOING BACK). The rest of this paragraph should detail the exhaustive research I performed in order to find said right dog.

[cue vaguely Bossa Nova-inspired elevator music]

I found Teddy on Craigslist and, based on a two-paragraph posting, decided he was perfect and drove out to pick him up that night.

That's right. I basically got our dog sight unseen. It was a risk, but one of those gut-level moves that I just knew was right. Teddy was a year-old Lhasa Apso/Yorkie mix, and his family was made up of two full-time working parents, three kids under five (with another on the way) and three dogs. They decided that they needed to simplify (!) and so were finding Teddy a new home. And that home was ours.

As I brought Teddy home, I was flooded with all the worries that had kept me from getting a dog all these years. What if he wasn't happy in our home? What if he barked all the time? What if I made a rash decision? The deed was done, and only time would tell. Besides, it's pretty hard to be worried while a dog's licking your face.

As it happened, my worries were unnecessary. Teddy, now a three year-old dog, is a loving, loved member of our family. Even Mr. Allergy Man is smitten (especially after Teddy has had a bath).

TeddyAnd our son? He has the friend who's always there, and who always understands. Because Teddy's communication is non-verbal, my son has a much easier time interpreting what he's trying to "say." It's plainly obvious based on his body language. Happy smile, wagging tail? Happy dog. Concerned look, sagging tail? Sad or scared dog. Warm body cuddled up with you on the couch? Love. Pure, unadulterated love. Nothing complicated about it.

Teddy's integration into our family life hasn't been without its hitches. There has been poop in the house. We've had to find dogsitters and vets. When our son loses his temper (which is less and less these days), Teddy hides. But as soon as things are calm and quiet, Teddy's back with wags and kisses. The daily dog walking has become an island of peace in my life. And Teddy's presence, even when they are not actively playing or interacting, is a grounding source of unconditional love in my son's life.

E is for Ethics The other day my son and I were reading the book E is for Ethics (a lovely book that came for review but which I had never gotten around to reading). Inside is a chapter about the concept of "understanding." I asked my son: "Can you think of anyone in your life that has shown you understanding?" Only one name came to his mind: "Teddy."

That's when I knew, without a doubt, that getting Teddy was the best thing we could have ever done.

Pet-owning Parenthackers! What's the one piece of advice you'd give someone who's considering adopting a pet of their own?

 



Your comments

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Like having children, committing to a life with a pet means you are opening up your door to a little bit of chaos. If you can embrace that and find the benefits in that, then go for it.

Perfectly said, Tim.

Make sure your dog has two methods of understanding basic commands. Both of mine are trained to voice and hand signals. They also have different release words, which has saved my bacon on more than one occasion.

And their bacon, too!

With dogs, at least, training is key. I've had to learn to embrace the role of "alpha" -- it's not really my nature to operate that way, but that's what a dog needs. When a dog knows exactly what it can and can't do, everyone's stress level goes down.

(One could say the same for kids, but I think it's more nuanced than that.)

Oh, goodness these posts are making me feel guilty! I have a dog-loving spectrum kiddo who i'm sure would LOVE to have a dog. And it'd probably be so good for him. But I just can't handle it. For about a trillion reasons.

So for now we make playdates with dogs for him.

Be sure you, the parent, is willing to take on the responsibility of the pet your purchased for your child. The homework my daughter had in grade school made it possible to take care of her pets. Three years later, there is no time left for them, due to school, so the responsibilities fall to me. My daughter helps when she can, she does not shirk, but there is physically not enough time in her day. Now my children understand why I said no to dogs and cats, instead we got (pre-owned)guinea pigs that live fewer years. I cannot tell you how many parents keep asking me if I want to adopt THEIR kids guinea pigs, because the parents are tired of them!

Do not feel guilty! Knowing your limits is SO important, especially when you've got a spectrum kiddo!

I second.

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