Puppies and children

How dogs teach our kids responsibility, sharing and communication – Part 1

Girl learning from dog

I’ll never forget the time when I was just a six-year-old child, some 30 years ago, and my pet dog, Buddy, was laying limp all day under the living room chair – her eyes moving only occasionally. But I could care less, as I played with my toys all day.

To the eyes of a child, Buddy’s behavior was nothing to worry myself about, nothing that I needed to be concerned with, that is – until my mother came into the room and disturbed the quiet.

She said, “Your dog has been dozing all day. Look at her. She rarely gets up. And when she does, everything droops – her nose, her ears, her tail. Would you like to change the way she looks?”

Mother turned the family dog into my teacher

With that question, my mother began her experiment. Her plan was to take my pet dog and turn her into my teacher.

My mother continued, “Do you know that your dog needs your help? She needs you to make her happy.” My mother asked me what things make me happy. Was it being part of the family and doing things with mom and dad? Yes. “We’ll try that on Buddy. Let’s let her help us and see how we make her feel.”

Mom suggested that Buddy help us take out the garbage. She put a little garbage in a small bag. I gave it to Buddy and said, “Carry.” My dog sniffed it, and then picked it up and started down the long apartment hallway.

That small bag changed my dog. He was no longer a shambling wad of fur, but a sleek wolf. Lazy muscles tensed, his nose stuck up in the air. He tried to walk with us but his walk slipped into a prance, then a gallop, till all we had was a bouncing back view with a tail wagging above. Buddy became a part of something and learned to enjoy it, while teaching me something in the process.

One day, by the time we made it down the hall, Buddy had delivered the garbage into the incinerator – and brought it back to us four times.

What I’ve learned: responsibility

The dog’s response and enthusiasm had introduced me to my first lesson – responsibility. I became aware of the needs of others. My mother guided me in finding those needs and filling them. My dog encouraged repetition. I was not performing a chore, rather, I was giving something to my pet.

Lessons like this went on for 17 years – till I was a junior in high school. That year Buddy died. The next year I graduated and left home. But some of the attitudes I have today can be traced back to my childhood relationship with a dog and my mother’s awareness of that potential.