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post #1 of 4 (permalink) Old 01-07-2004, 02:05 PM Thread Starter
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Myths About What Dogs Can Teach Children

Myths About What Dogs Can Teach Children
By Andrea Bushala
From Redbook Magazine; February 2004


There are reasons a dog is called man's best friend, not mom's best friend.
Unfortunately, most of those reasons were somehow concealed from me by the
pet-owning population. Anyway, something happens when your children start to
grow up. As soon as I no longer needed to constantly hold on to them, my
hands felt too empty. So I grabbed on to a leash-attached to a puppy-and
kissed what was left of my sanity good-bye.

Now I approach people frolicking with their dogs as if I'm in some type of
daze. It is the same incomprehensible gaze I cast at parents of older
children when I was out with my newborn. I want to run up to complete
strangers and yell at them for not warning me about what was coming. I
wonder what everyone else knows that I can't seem to figure out. I am
waiting for the joke to be over.

Having a dog is hard. Having a dog with four young children is nearly
impossible. I feel as if someone in our family is not going to make it out
of this zoology experiment alive. In an effort to help other parents of
young children make a more informed choice, I've taken the top eight reasons
people with children get dogs and given each a bit of a reality check.

1. Having a dog teaches children about responsibility.

Sure it does. It teaches children that no matter how much responsibility Mom
already has, she can take on more! Just because she gets up at the crack of
dawn and runs full blast through the day, stopping only long enough to gulp
down a Go-Gurt and change a tampon, doesn't mean she can't carve out three
to four hours a day to train a puppy.

And if the days don't keep you busy enough, there are nighttime outings. You
will have to get up and make yourself presentable enough to stand outside
for as long as it takes the puppy to figure out what you both are doing in
the yard at 2 a.m. Let me clue you in: Defecation won't be his first guess.
On a puppy's list, making poop comes after licking your toes, chasing
nothing, barking at snowflakes, licking your toes, resting, running as if
possessed by the devil, and resting.

No matter what people say, if you have young kids, all the responsibility
will be yours.

2. Owning a dog can help kids develop self-discipline.

Who are we kidding here? If discipline still means self-control or
restraint, a puppy couldn't be a worse role model. In my world, a puppy is
the antithesis of self-discipline, a bunch of neurological impulses gone
haywire. In observing a puppy's activities, I defy you to show me the lesson
in self-control.

3. Having a dog helps kids understand about loving relationships.

A loving relationship is a concept best taught by adults; good relationships
usually don't involve quite the disparity in power that exists between dog
and owner. I suppose you could let your dog and child figure out
"relationships" together if you don't mind that, say, someday your son will
bring home a girl on a leash and she will do anything he says as long as he
has liver snaps in his pocket. And hopefully, in a healthy relationship, one
of the partners will not consider "hairball", "fleabag", "rump sniffer" and
"mutton breath" terms of endearment.

Lastly, a real relationship should be based on two people truly wanting to
spend time together, not being with one another simply because it's their
day on the job chart.

4. Having a dog prepares kids for life situations.

What life situation-besides owning a dog-would involve your child and
someone who is completely non-verbal, has a very limited emotional range,
often eats food that is still wrapped, requires de-worming, bathes once a
month, sleeps most of the day, and has a flea problem? Having a dog really
prepares you for only one life situation: owning a dog.

5. Taking care of a dog helps kids develop social skills.

Excuse me, but what social skills are we talking about here? Using the
toilet as an open bar? Sticking your nose in your friend's butt as a
customary greeting? Chewing on smelly sneakers? Falling asleep while others
are talking? I'm leaving the teaching of social skills to my kids where it
should be..with parents, teachers and other responsible adults.

6. Dogs provide lessons about life, including reproduction, birth,
illness, death, and bereavement.

So far in my house, we have had just two such life lessons. Category number
one: reproduction. The first time a non-neutered male dog in the
neighborhood mounted our puppy, we had the chance to explain to our children
what he was trying to do. The only response was from our son, in his very
best football-rally voice, asking "You and Dad do THAT?"

The second category is illness. Even with a healthy puppy, the first few
months are spent split between getting puppy shots and turning in stool
specimens to the vet. It's amazing
what you can get comfortable with carrying around in your purse. If your
puppy is from a pet store (a place you should never buy from), expect to
deplete your children's college savings within six months. Because we bought
our dog from the pet store, we came home with six pounds of fluff who
already had worms, fleas, a double ear infection, and bronchitis that turned
into pneumonia. We were in the vet's office so much that they now keep my
credit card on file.

7. Dogs teach children to respect living things.

I'm not sure young children are able to distinguish between living and
non-living things. (And I am sure that unless they paid for something with
their own allowance, neither is treated with much respect, anyway). My
children are just as likely to cut their dog's hair as their Barbie's; it's
simply a matter of who happens to be closest to the scissors and who puts up
the least resistance (if the puppy is really tired, she's the one getting a
trim).

Our 6-year-old loves to ride her bike but if the dog is nearby and my
daughter needs to go only a short distance, riding the latter is her
preferred mode of transportation. And just last week my 4-year-old asked if
our dog had a brain. When I answered "yes", she then asked if the dog was
smarter than broccoli. Respect is a lesson that comes a little later in
life.

8. Dogs teach children to be empathetic.

Dogs teaching empathy is the equivalent of having someone who is tone-deaf
teaching you to sing. Dogs are, by design, unwaveringly inconsiderate of
other's feelings. Lack of compassion is how they have survived since the
beginning of time. Packs of wild dogs would never have thrived if they had
to slow down because some dog in the rear was having a bad day. Dogs don't
see themselves as inconsiderate just because they help themselves to all the
grilled swordfish (and garnish) before the guests get to the table And if
you don't consider all the time they spend marking their territory in an
effort to keep other dogs away helpful, then clearly you can't appreciate a
true act of kindness.

If your children haven't learned to be compassionate and sympathetic to
others through their daily interaction with you, don't expect that a dog
will be able to make that connection. You're better off forgetting about
empathy overall and just teaching your kids to be really good at sports.
__________________

Wife to an amazing man,
mom to three wonderful kids (9, 5.10, 4),
2 dogs, 3 hermit crabs and 2 bettas

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post #2 of 4 (permalink) Old 01-07-2004, 02:19 PM
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post #4 of 4 (permalink) Old 01-07-2004, 05:30 PM
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