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Karen B. London
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Mothering Kids and Dogs
There are so many similarities
In some ways, I treat them all the same.

As Mother’s Day approaches, I am thinking back to when I first became a mom. It’s hard to remember much because massive sleep deprivation made me so tired that my brain failed at recording all but the occasional bit of information. Some of what I do remember is how awkward I felt with a baby compared to how comfortable I was with dogs, including puppies.

 

This should not be surprising. I was a novice with a baby, but I had lots of experience as a dog trainer and canine behaviorist. I occasionally slipped into dog mode when dealing with my new baby. For example, if I wanted to get my son’s attention in order to take a photo of him looking at the camera, I fell back on my dog training habits and either clapped, smooched, or made a clicking sound in my cheek as I would with any dog. I have no recollection of ever saying, “pup, pup, pup,” for this purpose, but it’s possible I did so and have just repressed the memory.

 

This tendency to have my mind in the dog world did not go away as the fog of those early weeks with no sleep lifted. When my son was about 9 months old, someone asked me, “Is he walking yet?” and I answered, “No, but he’s often up on his back legs.” Most moms would have said, “He’s cruising,” to refer to children’s early pre-walking behavior of toddling along while hanging onto couches or other furniture. I quickly corrected myself and said something more appropriate to a description of human behavior, but the funny look I was given is burned into my brain forever.

 

Not only did I treat my kids in ways similar to how I would behave with dogs, I reacted to dogs as I did to my son. When he was only two months old, I returned to teaching dog training classes one evening a week. As a nursing mom, I already knew that any crying baby, not just my own, would result in my milk letting down. While teaching classes, I learned that certain dog vocalizations (a yelp from a dog whose paw had been stepped on for example, or the sound of a whining puppy) had the same effect, which was biologically fascinating as well as monumentally inconvenient. The sound of any creature in distress, whether human or dog, apparently spoke to my motherly desire to give.

 

Hopefully, my dog expertise is enhancing my parenting skills. I do apply many behavioral techniques from my years in clinical practice with dogs to the task. Only my sons, and in later years, probably their therapists, will be able to comment intelligently on whether or not this was wise.

 

Happy Mother’s Day to all. No matter what species your children are, here’s hoping you have a wonderful day!

 

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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