How having a dog prepared me for a toddler

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You may have seen the blog I wrote back in 2011, How having a dog prepared me for a baby. Well, that baby is now three (and a big sister), and I’ve been thinking lately about how being a pet parent was also good practice for being a toddler parent. Read on for just a few reasons why.

Champ has become an expert in photo-bombing pics of my kids.

Housetraining and potty training are EXACTLY the same. In both, you want to set the dog/toddler up for success. So it helps to get to know their schedule, anticipate when they’ll need to go, and put them in the right spot so you can reward the desired behavior. And getting angry about an accident will get you nowhere.

Intermittent reinforcement is the best way to teach a behavior. To this I should add, “for better or worse.” This principal is used in dog clicker training, in which the trainer gradually phases out the food reward for a desired behavior. But on the flip side, if your dog begs at the table and you give him a scrap of food one in 20 times, guess what he’ll never stop doing? And if your toddler has a temper tantrum because she wants a cookie and you give in one in 20 times … I think you get the picture.

Limits will be tested. Both dogs and toddlers will test you to see what they can get away with. With both, it’s tempting to let them do whatever they want (“Champ looks so comfortable on the bed”; “One more cookie won’t hurt”), but remember that in the long run, both dogs and toddlers feel more secure with firm, consistent limits.

Playdates help. Dogs and toddlers are social animals. If you’ve only got one, keep an eye out for other dog/toddler parents. Odds are, they’d love to set up a date so your dogs/toddlers can romp around for a few hours. And you know the saying “A tired dog is a good dog”? Well, I would add, “A napping toddler is a good toddler.”

Your furniture will be tested. If you’re a dog parent, hopefully you’ve already learned not to get too attached to your rugs and upholstery. When you’ve already cleaned puked-up grass off your living room rug several dozen times, a little Play-Doh is nothing.

Patience and a sense of humor are key. With both dogs (especially younger dogs) and toddlers, you’ll have moments when you’ll ask yourself what you signed up for. Your energy and tolerance will occasionally be pushed to their limit. But just when you’re feeling ready to give up, you’ll get a sloppy kiss from your little (four- or two-legged) munchkin, or catch a glimpse of them sleeping peacefully, and you’ll be filled with so much love that you’re ready to wake up the next day and do it all over again.