What Dog Training And Preschool Have In Common

As seen on Patch.com-January 18th,2011


For starters, they should both be required.

Bohdie and I just crossed a bridge: we went to pre-school. I say “we” because although it is two-year old Bohdie that attended the class, it was 40-something Mama that learned the lesson.

Pre-schooler in action

Filling out the enrollment forms, I worried. How would he handle the separation? How would he act? Would he make friends? Respect the teacher? Remember the potty rules? Driving to the school, I was nervous—as if his first few minutes in pre-school would determine his future as a man and validate my success as a mother. I can be a little dramatic sometimes.

Bohdie, of course, was his carefree, confident self. He breezed into the building, hung up his coat (Points for Mama! Yes!) and headed for a group of boys playing trucks. I held my breath. This was it. The moment of truth. Please join in, I thought silently. Share…but don’t grab. Remember what I said about biting. Standing in the doorway, I struggled not to interfere. Bohdie approached the group and raised his little hand in the universal gesture of peace and greeting. The group looked up at the new guy and one of the boys subtly steered a truck Bohdie’s way. And that was it. He was in. It was time for me to go.

Friends in Katonah

Bohdie’s been to school several times since then, always eager to get inside. When I pick him up, he tells me about his day, chattering happily about his teachers and classmates. Tired from his busy, socially productive day, he settles down for his nap without a fuss and I feel strangely wistful. It’s the rhythm of life: as a baby, your child clings to you. As a parent, you lay the foundation of support and dependability and watch—proudly, sadly, excitedly and a bit fearfully—as they begin to separate and move into the world.

Watching Bohdie sleep, I think—naturally, since I’m a dog trainer—about dogs. Their evolution is very similar.

Puppies under the age of 4 months are dependent, adoring…totally portable. Pick them up, put them down—they are happy to be wherever you are. Inexperienced and without an identity, they lack initiative and will. Cherish these moments because soon…

…independent thought dawns and the drive to investigate becomes strong. Like kids, puppies grow curious and hungry for engagement. As caregiver, you are left with two choices: hold the leash too tight or loosen up a bit. Everyone has seen dogs tethered to the end of a too-tight leash, their natural inclination to explore so strong that the minor inconvenience of near strangulation is forgotten. The answer? Loosen your hold. Don’t let go of the leash, just…loosen up. Help your dog learn.

An untrained dog misses many of life’s pleasures. Often confined to a short leash or limited area, these dogs become bored, reactive and marginalized. Dogs are highly social creatures with the brain capacity of a two-year old child. The need to train and socialize your dog is, to my mind, as essential as educating a child.

Shaping good behavior can begin on day one, before bad habits set in but it is never too late to train your dog. Sign up for a class or contact a dog trainer like myself. Give your dog the gift of civility so they can participate in and enjoy the world around them.

Education in all its forms is not always easy. You have to make the effort. But the results are almost immediate. As Bohdie’s world expands, he and I have much more to talk about. He’s making friends and accomplishing tasks. With dogs, training builds a base of common knowledge: bell means go out, sit when you greet, chew this but not that. Shared experience builds a bond stronger than any restraint.  Relax your hold.

Let your dog—and your child—know the freedom and joy that comes from a life unleashed.