Raising puppies and raising children have many parallels. When we start recognizing the similarities, many of us (myself included) have that “Ah-ha!” moment of understanding. If you have kids in your life – children of your own, nieces or nephews, or maybe neighbors or friends – then this article may offer you an “Ah-ha!” moment of your own!

Early Education and Puppy Training

When children begin preschool and kindergarten, what do these classes look like? Fun and playful, focusing on proper socialization and manners. Exploring new ideas and objects. The expectations for responsibility, reasoning, and decision making are appropriate for a young child. They are little sponges who soak up everything; they’re molded by their environment and their future is shaped by their experiences.

Puppy training is exactly the same. We put a heavy emphasis on proper socialization and engagement with the handler. They are introduced to manners and basic obedience. They are encouraged to explore new sights, sounds, and objects. Our expectations for responsibility, reasoning, and decision making are appropriate for a young puppy. They are little sponges who soak up everything; they’re molded by their environment and their future is shaped by their experiences.

As the child gets older, the academic challenges are increased along with expectations and responsibilities. Soon they’re in college, learning advanced studies and concepts. The same should apply to your dog.

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Service Puppy In-Training Atlas with Maria’s daughter and aspiring dog trainer, Charlee

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

It’s crucial that the educator – whether that be the parent, teacher, trainer, owner, etc. – can recognize the uniqueness of each individual (child or puppy). For puppies, this means recognizing if we have a confident puppy in need of more focus. Or do we have a timid or nervous puppy where confidence building needs to be addressed first?

Every child, adult, puppy, or dog is motivated differently. Dogs are typically motivated by one, two, or all of three things: food, toy/play, or affection. Motivation can be built (a non-food motivated dog can become food motivated); motivation can also be depleted. Do you know what motivates your dog?

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

“My puppy won’t stop digging holes in the yard!”

Okay… what would you do if your child were doing the same thing? The best way to solve this problem is to 1) not let them outside alone and 2) supervise them while they are outside so you can correct or redirect them from digging. The same thing applies to puppies!

Lack of supervision deprives you of the opportunity to intervene. Consistently rewarding good behavior and preventing or correcting bad behavior will create GOOD habits while simultaneously preventing bad habits from forming. We all know that habits are hard to break – instead of waiting to “fix” the bad ones, be intentional about starting with good ones!

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Charlee and Maddison, a Mini Aussie

Are we meeting their needs?

Young children and puppies have a lot of needs! They require frequent potty breaks, proper nutrition, adequate water, appropriate physical exercise, and plenty of mental stimulation.

When these basic needs go unmet, they cannot be expected to conduct themselves responsibly. If a 3-year-old stays up too late and wakes up too early, they will be an unbalanced emotional mess. Temper tantrums and meltdowns abound. We know why: they need adequate sleep.

The goal is to meet their needs on a daily basis – both kids’ and puppies’.  But, life happens. And when plans go awry prevents needs from being met, it is helpful to understand they are not acting in defiance or rebellion. They simply did not get what they needed. Be patient. Be consistent. Be patient.

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Charlee and Hadley reading a book to their “puppy student”

Freedom is earned and freedom can be taken away.

Freedom means your dog is making choices for himself; zero freedom means you make all of the choices for him.

When a teenager learns to drive, you don’t hand him a car and wait for him to figure it out. He goes through the training to learn how to drive properly. A dog needs to learn how to behave when you give him the house.

We limit freedom with our dogs by using the crate, place bed, obedience commands, and tethering. Anytime they’re outside of the crate, your dog can be on a leash – both outside the house and inside! This gives you the ability to supervise consistently and prevent unwanted behavior.

Just as a teenager earns his privilege to drive the family car, your dog will earn the right to hangout freely in the house. If the teen comes home with a wrecked car, the privilege is taken away. If your dog is left home alone and he chews up the living room furniture, he has lost his privilege of freedom.

Freedom in the house.

Freedom with toys.

Freedom to greet people.

Freedom to socialize with other dogs.

Freedom to jump up on the furniture.

Freedom to food.

Freedom to bark.

Freedom to dig.

Freedom to chew.

Freedom to sleep on the bed.

I get asked on a regular basis, “Is it OK to let my dog on the furniture?” Sure! I don’t care. Unless it’s a problem. Is your dog pushing YOU off your couch? Is your dog resource guarding the furniture? Is your dog jumping on the back of the couch to look out the window and bark at every moving object? Then it’s a problem and that freedom should be taken away. “It’s not a problem, unless it’s a problem.

Every dog thrives on structure and clearly-set expectations. Once your dog – or puppy – begins to understand and respect what you want – or don’t want – they can be allowed to make their own choices. The ultimate goal is giving your dog the freedom to do the right thing.

Raising children and raising puppies are synonymous in many ways. It’s helpful to see where our faults lie when we find ourselves thinking a puppy will magically “figure it out” on their own. Let’s set them up for success by recognizing their wants and needs, and the difference between the two.

Article by Maria Fell, trainer for Valor K9 Academy – Spokane and mother to Charlee (7) and Hadley (4)