An unexpected parenting lesson from my puppy

Well my “puppy” is really no longer a puppy.  Nico is 2.5 years old even though he still behaves like a puppy in many ways.  It has been a great 2+ years with him and I have learned a lot.  As I wait to become a mother, I am appreciating many of the unexpected parenting lessons he has given me!  The first lesson he taught me occurred in the first months he joined our family. 

At the very beginning of him joining our family, he and I were having a bit of a “tense” relationship.  I had a very hard time adjusting to my new schedule.  Potty training him meant taking him outside every 2-3 hours, at times starting as early as 5:30am.  If he ate something that upset his stomach he would get diarrhea at 2am!  And for a long time we couldn’t leave him home alone if my husband and I wanted to go away for the day…So goodbye day trips for a while!  Finally, I would attempt to “train” him on a whole bunch of other things (don’t eat my shoes!!!!) and I wasn’t being very successful.

After many sleepless nights and headaches, we finally caved and hired a dog trainer.  One of her pieces of advice was so simple, yet so impactful, that it has not only stayed with me over these past couple of years, I have been able to apply it to many areas of my life.  The biggest mistake I was making with Nico was that I only pointed out all of the things he was doing wrong.  It was very common for me to give him a sharp “NO”, follow it up with “Bad Dog”, and shake my head.  Our trainer pointed out that was a huge mistake.  The poor little guy didn’t know what to do!  He knew he was doing something wrong, but because he was getting zero positive reinforcement from me, he didn’t know what to actually do.  And so she gave us the best advice for training him and what ultimately worked:

  1. When he does something correctly, give him positive reinforcement.  Go crazy! Give him praise, pat him on the head, and maybe even give him a treat.  He will want to replicate this behavior whenever possible so he can get all of this love.
  2. When he does something incorrectly, ignore him.  He will eventually see that he doesn’t get any attention from this and will stop.  If he does something really wrong, correct him on the spot.  Be quick and firm about it.  If you don’t catch him doing it, it’s pretty hard to discipline him as he won’t remember something he did hours ago.   

I was giving poor little Nico absolutely no positive reinforcement.  Whenever he did something correctly, I just expected it and assumed that he knew that was proper behavior.  That is old school Latin parenting for you!  Most of us who were raised by very strict parents never really received praise for behaving properly, but were clearly disciplined if we behaved incorrectly.  My mother was always proud that in a waiting room (whether at the doctor or running an errand), my sister and I were never the children running up and down the hallway.  No matter how long we had to wait, we would quietly sit in our chairs…sometimes for hours and with absolutely nothing to do (not even a book to read!).  When we left, we never received praise, a gift, or even a thank you for behaving well.  It was just assumed it was the only option (or else!).  Thus, learning this way of training Nico was eye opening for me.  And I now attempt to apply it everywhere.  Instead of looking for what is wrong in situations or relationships, I look for what is right, what is positive.  In my relationships, I now attempt to look towards what I can say thank you for, not what I can criticize and be frustrated over.  I make leaps and bounds every single day Nico is a part of my life!

What do you think about this parenting tip?  Do you give your children positive reinforcement when they do something correctly, or do you just expect it from them?  Do you think some things shouldn’t receive praise or a thank you?  I would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below.  If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends and family!

Lots of love,