Monday, October 26, 2009

Parenting Tips I Learned From My Dog, Precious

I find it is time to write a newsletter and I feel as though I have no wisdom or knowlege to impart. I planned to write about something totally unrelated to loss this month. I figured it was time to move to other topics. After all, I promised early on that there would be a variety of topics addressed. But….. it’s been a bad week for me. My little dog, Precious, died after a long battle with Cushing’s disease. She wasn’t just my beloved pet, friend, and family member; she was my teacher and healer. So today, I want to share how this pup has made me a better person and counselor. And for those of you who are parents, I think you will be able to identify with my story so PLEASE DON’T STOP READING. THERE ARE PARENTING TIPS (OF SORTS) AT THE END

When I remarried at age 36, to an extraordinary man 15 years my senior, I knew that I was giving up on my dream of having children. He made it very clear to me from the beginning that he had raised two children and really didn’t want to play that role again. Though it was my choice to marry this wonderful man and forfeit any chances of parenting, I grieved this loss for many years. It wasn’t until I decided to bring a dog into our lives that I began to let go of the grief and sadness. A dog didn’t really fit into our lifestyle at the time but, by George, we were going to have one. My husband didn’t think it was a good idea at all but decided he better go along with it when I informed him that it was either a dog or a baby girl from China. A very stubborn Bichon Frise entered our lives. I was in love.

When we brought Precious home all I wanted to do was hold her and look at her. I indeed felt like the new mother bonding with her infant. Like any new mother, I had much to learn about being a pet mom. And, just like many young parents, I had never read a book about caring for this tiny creature. I mistakenly thought all I had to do was love this pup and the rest would be learned along the way. I also had a predetermined view of what Precious would be like and how we would have a wondrous cuddly lapdog/human relationship. Precious was brought into our home to fulfill my needs, which she did, but not in the ways I expected. So today, I am going to tell you some of the things Precious taught me. But first I feel like I need to fill you in on a little history.

For those of you who don’t know much about me, I have always had a great interest in children. I began working with children when I was in high school via volunteer work. While working on a degree in elementary education I was employed at a daycare center providing care to infants. I taught kindergarten for several years and later received a Master’s Degree in mental health counseling and became a Licensed Professional Counselor. I have worked with children and parents in a private practice setting and with teen parents in a public school setting. I have also facilitated parenting programs/groups.

So Ms. counselor, educator, and new puppy parent decided to practice what she always preaches. My husband Rich, an elementary school principal, and I enrolled Precious in a Puppy Kindergarten Class. I was very eager to learn everything I could and impart this knowledge to our little pup. “What fun this will be,” I thought. Little did I know of the challenges that loomed ahead.

Precious didn’t do well in her class. She would not walk or her leash. She didn’t want to come when called. She couldn’t learn to heel because she wouldn’t walk on the leash. She was afraid of the little obstacle courses. Fortunately, Precious did enjoy the socialization time at the beginning of the class. After a very kind, gentle, and experienced trainer tried to show me how to manage Precious’ noncompliance (with failure) she commented that this tiny dog was more difficult to manage than much larger dogs she had trained.

To make matters worse, I was very undisciplined in practicing the training assignments with Precious. Looking back now it was probably because I didn’t see very swift results. How ironic. Many times I have told parents to remain consistent, to continue on despite the pain and eventually there would be a pay off. I still believe that the advice I gave is true but now I know fi how very difficult it is to follow. I felt a great deal of guilt about not practicing the techniques but the guilt was not motivating enough for me to mend my ways. You know, there are just so many other things to do.

I was so embarrassed by Precious’ inability to follow simple commands that we didn’t attend the final test/graduation class. I was the parent of a puppy drop-out who was left questioning,”Why is it that I could manage a class of 22 five-year-olds but can’t for the life of me get this dog to ‘come’ when I call?”

After a couple of years Precious, Rich and I settled into a comfortable routine. Precious did learn to walk on a leash but never did come when I called unless she heard the rattling of keys or the word “treat.” She also wasn’t the devoted companion that I had envisioned though she did have a wonderful way of snuggling and putting her head on my shoulder on those rare occasions when she was in the mood. Precious endured the acquisition of 2 homeless dogs, grew out of eating Kleenex and napkins, and trained me to know what she needed just by giving me the “look”

So, what did I learn from my time with Precious? How did my dog assist me in being more understanding of the parents that I attempt to assist? Below I have listed a few of the things this wonderful yet stubborn pouch taught me about parenting that none of the books seem to address:

*Being a good parent is about being a better person.

*Our children are who they are. Not who we hoped they would be, or who we want them to be. They are unique, annoying, and have many gifts to share but not always the ones we had hoped for.

*Having children is a humbling experience.

*Words are meaningless. Rewards, hugs, routines and exercise speak volumes.

*Treats work wonders but not on a routine basis.

*For many years I just couldn’t understand why parents didn’t embrace learning all they could about parenting. Thanks to Precious, I now get it.

*The child is the teacher.

*It’s not so much what you say, it’s how you say it.

*If parents don’t put their children’s needs first, they will pay for it one way or another. For example, Precious hated staying at the vets when we went out of town. One time after returning from a trip Precious urinated on our bed. After that we employed someone to come to our home to take car of her. Our pup was much happier; we spent less money and felt much better about leaving her. She also never urinated on our bed again.

*It is very hard for parent’s to truly put their child’s needs first.

*There is a lot of guilt involved in raising a child.

*No matter how hard you try, you won’t live up to your standards.

*Parenting is not what you thought it would be.

*Children will disappoint us.

*Parents love despite anger and frustration.