- Train to their temperament.
Due to COVID 19 sheltering in place, many of us have become puppy parents. As a parenting coach and temperament specialist, I couldn’t help but see the correlation between training a fur baby and a human baby. My little West Highland White Terrier, Milo has a BIG personality. When he first came home, I was planning to train him like I did my other terriers. However, this white fuzzy fur ball had his own unique personality that did not respond to the techniques I had previously used. The first time I tried to use the alpha roll technique, where you grab them by the scruff of their neck and roll them on their side like their mama would, he went absolutely bonkers! Any sharp tone or harsh correction causes this little guy to get more and more aggressive. Our dog trainer told us, “When you want him to do something you have to let him think it was his idea.”
Strict, arbitrary parenting works well with some temperaments, but others need a more collaborative approach. If they feel like the solution to the problem was partly their idea, they will buy into that solution much more readily. It will teach them how to be master negotiators which will lead to success in adulthood.
- They feel safe in the crate.
Milo fought against his crate at first. He thought he wanted freedom to roam wherever he pleased. He soon realized that Tucker, the blind 12-year old Cairn terrier was lurking around every corner and learned to love the safety of his own special space.
Kids need boundaries to feel safe. Some parents feel like they are being cruel when they lay down the law, but kids need to know that “Moms got this!” Some temperaments are challenging, and they require even stronger boundaries. Since 75% of women are feelers, they dislike the discipline part of parenting and fall prey to feeling guilty when they have to lay down the law. Women think they are being too harsh or worse yet, fear they are doing permanent damage to their child’s emotional health. The truth is, just like puppies, kids snarl or act out when they are afraid. They may act like they want to be in charge, but in reality, they are testing you to see if you can handle them.
They are too little to say, “Mom or Dad, I know I am a big personality and a lot to handle! Sometimes my determination takes over and I get into trouble. I act like I don’t want you to correct me, but I need to know you understand me and aren’t afraid to parent me. I need to know that you see the good in me, even when I am being bad.”
- A positive approach works much better than a negative one!
Rather than telling my dog “No” after he pees on the floor or chews on my shoe, it is much better to be proactive. I need to tell him what I want him to do rather than what I don’t want him to do. The commands need to be simple and clear. “Sit.” “Stay.” “Come.” The big one I am trying to teach him is “Drop it” because he loves to sink his little teeth into just about everything he comes in contact with, including my hand! He loves to tear up paper towels and never responds well when we take them away in the moment. Instead, I proactively teach him how to trade me the paper towel for a treat. We do this over and over, so that when the situation is real, he knows what to do.
This helps him feel successful because he is now equipped with learned skills. He has learned to love the praise and reward so much, whenever he goes potty outside or does anything I ask, he looks at me expectantly as if to say, “Am I a good boy?”
Maybe your child lacks empathy and every time you expect a “Thank you” a hug or an appropriate response to a situation, you are disappointed and correct or discipline your child. I worked with a parent who told her child to write, “I will show appreciation” 100 times, even though her child didn’t know how or when to show appreciation. Instead, teach your child the skills they lack and praise the skills they already have.
- Respect is mutual.
Our puppy has a dominant personality, so we were told to make him earn each privilege. In order to receive a pat on the head, he must sit, in order to be fed, he must lie down. This technique is used to teach a puppy to respect their owner as the leader of the pack.
In parenting, respect needs to be a two-way street. Before a child can fully respect his parent, he needs to feel like his parent respects him in return. Does the parent see his unique strengths and honor them or does the parent try to fit the child into a mold of their own unrealistic expectations? In order for a child to look at his own limitations and desire to grow, he needs his parent to talk openly about their own struggles.
- Schedules and down time are critical.
Little Milo was getting over-stimulated because we were playing with him too much thinking we were being great puppy parents. I felt bad putting him in his crate for so many hours in the day. We soon noticed however, that the times he bit us, were the times when he was amped up from too much activity. We put him on a schedule that involved playtime and crate time, over and over throughout the day.
Even free-spirited children need structure and extroverted children need down time. Introverted children will need this even more. Create a “calming corner” in your child’s room with blocks, books, puzzles and age appropriate activities. Instead of a time out for misbehavior, you can simply point out that they need some calm. Teach them how to be mindful of their emotions as they calm down so they can talk about them later if they desire. Some children need much more down time than others.
When your (fur) baby doesn’t fit the mold
I had two veterinarians tell me to use the alpha roll on my puppy. Another one told me to bop him on the bottom of the jaw when he bit me. These techniques may have worked for other dogs, but they didn’t work for Milo. I was worried I had a bad puppy that couldn’t be trained. He was not a bad puppy and your child is not a bad child. Your child may be a terrier like Milo. Parenting them according to their temperament is the best way to bring out their strengths and build a strong and lasting connection.