We should raise children like we raise dogs

March 9, 2007 | By | 10 Replies More

How should you take care of them?  According to one book I’m reading, you need to give them lots of exercise and they need to eat good food.  You need to buy a good leash and collar.  No, I’m not referring to a childcare book–I’m talking about a book on dog care: The Complete Dog Care Manual, by Bruce Fogel, president of ASPCA.

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To use a dog book to raise a child, you’ve got to pick and choose the advice, of course.  You don’t put your children on leashes or toss them bones (except when they misbehave!).  It is interesting, though, that dog-raising books are full of good ideas that also apply to raising children.  And it’s especially interesting to compare the way we are supposed to raise dogs with the way many people actually raise children. 

My family has a dog (“Holly”) and two human children, aged 6 and 8.  I am thus an expert on this topic.

My dog-training book stresses that taking care of a dog requires a lot of work.  We need to invest a lot of time in order to have a healthy animal.  The dog book places a premium on early training?  “Your dog relies on you to train it from an early age to be trusting, even-tempered and sociable…” (page 48).  Compare this advice with the way many people actually raise children, ignoring them for long stretches and often abandoning them to the commercial wasteland of television.

Feeding is critically important, according to my dog book.  Dogs need

[A] nutritious, well-balanced diet [which produces] a strong boned well-muscled healthy coated canine.  Dog owners should avoid giving their dogs excessive treats or feeding them more often than they should eat, even if a bag.   This combination of facts explains why obesity is a rampant among dog owners. 

(Page 51)  Compare this advice to the donuts, sugary cereal, and bags and bags of salty oily over-processed snacks that so many people feed their children.  Just walk down the aisles of a grocery store to see the extent of this harmful practice.  According to the experts, we shouldn’t feed such garbage to dogs, but many of us actually feed such foods to children.

There is a lot of information on training in Fogel’s book.  The author emphasizes that animals need to be trained well when young in order to be sociable as adults.  Otherwise, all kinds of bad behaviors arise.  The same thing goes for children, too, but this advice is far too often ignored

If this comparison between dogs and humans appears unseemly, keep in mind that humans are animals.  “Human animals” I call them (instead of “human beings”), whenever I want to have some fun with fundamentalists.  There’s no defense to my characterization, of course, since we human animals eat, poop, breathe and procreate very much like other animals, very much like dogs.

What about exercise?  “If a dog is denied mental and physical activity, its energy may be released in destructive and unacceptable behavior.”  (Page 42).  To get real exercise, does a dog need to be driven across town every weekend to participate in organized sports?  No. Does a dog need to join an expensive health club?  Absolutely not.  To get exercise, all dogs need are brisk walks combined with a few very simple toys.  We excel at breaking these rules for human children, however.

How should one discipline a dog?  It is important that the dog understand exactly what it is that it has done wrong.  Telling a dog that it is “bad” generally is useless.  (Page 76).  There is nothing in my dog book that suggests that one should yell at a dog or physically mistreat a dog.  Well, children are not dogs, of course, so many people treat them worse than dogs, resulting in the need for a massive governmental intervention system.

There’s also a chapter on breeding.  “With a worldwide surplus of unwanted dogs, it is irresponsible to breed dogs without first arranging for good homes for the litter.”  In short, we are urged to make conscious decisions about a community’s carrying capacity for additional animals, and to plan if and when to have more.   But this sound advice applies only to dogs, not to children.  When it comes to humans, many of us refuse to make careful decisions on whether to procreate and many human animals advocate the use of unreliable information.

Incidentally, whereas people need a license to have a dog, none is required for having a child.  It is just assumed that people know how to take care of children, despite the fact that my dog book was published under the assumption that many people don’t even know how to take care of dogs.

There is nothing in my comprehensive dog book about trying to make one’s dog believe in invisible beings that don’t live on earth.  Nothing about terrifying one’s dog that it will go to hell if it is “bad.” Nothing about keeping a dog alive even though if it is in a permanent vegetative state.

But I digress.  In sum, my dog book teaches me that it would be barbaric to let a dog sit around eating bad food, and not exercising, watching TV, while failing to interact with it.  Pretty basic advice that many human adults are failing to follow.

I’m not really advocating using a dog book to raise a child.  For those who want child-raising advice, though, the huge number of titles is disorienting.  When my children were very young, I consulted about a dozen such child care books, all of them written by “experts.”  To my dismay, most of these child care books were purely anecdotal, lacking any scientific basis for much of what they suggested. 

To my amusement, many child care books can be classified into extremist-Democrat versus extremist-Republican approaches.  The former tell you that you should never say “no” to your child, lest you do permanent psychological damage.  The latter take the tack that you should constantly show your child who is boss, teaching obedience above all else, encouraging you to raise your child just like . . . a dog.

I’ve gotta go.  Time to walk the dog!

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Category: Education, Food, Good and Evil, Health, Psychology Cognition, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Sex

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (10)

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  1. cyber_rigger says:

    The problem is that children are MUCH BETTER (than dogs) at training adults.

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    Watch "If a man Answers" with Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin. Light fare and quite on-topic.

  3. Ben says:

    When I first got my dog, I didn't quite understand the fact that I was being borderline abusive in "training". Then I read a book similar to the one which Erich presents here, the title was "Civilizing Your Puppy". There was one line in particular which I remember made me shudder. This was it vaguely…

    "Never HIT, kick, slap, swat with a newspaper, flick, bite, grab, punch, tweak, pinch, rub its nose in feces or urine, smack, throw or otherwise abuse your puppy!"

    Whoa, wake up call.

    It pains me when I see other dog owners who do not understand this point of view, as I once did not, although to a lesser degree. I have met people who literally punch and kick their dogs daily.

  4. Vicki says:

    Unfortunately some god-fearing christians have equally bad ideas about dog training as they have about parenting. In the "Strong-Willed Child," he describes beating his dachsund with a belt and goes on to say basically that if you have to beat your dog, how much more must you have to beat your children because they can be even more defiant.

  5. Vicki says:

    That would be James Dobson, illustrious founder of Focus on the Family, and dachsund beater.

  6. Boelf says:

    The former (extremist-Democrat) tell you that you should never say “no” to your child,

    One thing I learned from a course on dog training is that when training a pet it should never win, and when training a guard dog it should never loose.

    My takeaway for raising children is that "no" and "cause I said" so should be used sparingly. When possible give them the room to explore the implications of their ideas and within limits to learn by object lesson the implications of their mistakes.

    I am quite please with the results of my three who are now between 19 and 26.

  7. Tim Hogan says:

    Vicki, I'm sure that all of Christianity is represented by Mr. Dobson, I'm sure.

  8. Vicki says:

    Tim, the interesting thing is that one of the most famous advocates on the other side of the spectrum is also an evangelical Christian: Dr. William Sears. He and his wife popularized the term "attachment parenting" which advocates continuous close contact in the "4th trimester", nursing on demand, co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding with child-led weaning, gentle discipline and no spanking. He writes both secular and christian-oriented baby care books.

  9. Erich Vieth says:

    When it comes to health insurance and high-priced medicine, many people treating their dogs like human children. Here's a story about a family that has spent more than $5,000 medicating their beagle-cocker-spaniel for the past two years. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20070310

  10. gatomjp says:

    The "Dog Whisperer", Cesar Millan, recommends that in addition to food and shelter, dogs require three basic things: Exercise, discipline and affection…but in that order. Affection before excercise and discipline confuses dogs who know deep down that affection must be earned. (In Millan's world discipline does not entail physical abuse of any kind. It is the setting of boundaries and the enforcing of those boundaries with a "calm, assertive" behavior.)

    It is the same with children, I believe. When a child is praised without having earned the praise, s/he knows it and either becomes distrustful of the person doing the praising or begins to expect something for nothing.

    In my experience it seems that today's young parents value affection over all and are raising a generation of uncontrollable hellians. There are no consequences for wrong actions. I have personally seen a father apologize to his 5 year old son when the boy burst into tears for being told to stop jumping on the furniture. That dad could learn a lot from Cesar!

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