Starter Kids

I used to chuckle when young couples acquired puppies, announcing they were “starter kids.” Since I was definitely not a “dog person,” I couldn’t imagine what those needy, slurpy, stinky creatures could teach about parenting.

Now that I’m the parent of a two-year-old dog, I understand.

I never wanted a dog. With four lively kids, including three boys born within three and a third years, as well as a husband who travels routinely for work, I figured a dog would push me over the edge. And, despite my kids’ pleads and promises, I knew that if we acquired a dog, I would be saddled with the lion’s share of the work. My days seemed busy enough already.

Two years ago, I broke down and agreed to the dog. And, yes, despite my kids’ promises, I really am saddled with the lion’s share of the work.

Surprisingly, I don’t mind. In fact, my dog Bauer has become one of my best buddies.

Last week, during a trip to Whistler, BC, Bauer kept me company while my kids, husband and friends skied, as a knee injury kept me off the slopes. As we took our daily walk in the woods, I realized that one of the reasons I adore my dog, is he reminds me of my boys…in their younger years.

Young dogs truly have lot in common with two-year-old boys, and similar “parenting” strategies work with both breeds. I now realize that those couples starting out with dogs were on to something. So, here are 12 tips for dealing with two-year-old boys and dogs:

  1. All you need is love.
    When our puppy arrived, I had no clue what to do. My wise friend Tena advised, “Just give him lots of belly rubs.” Bauer and I start each day with that, and so far, so good. As for dealing with toddlers, another friend once counseled, “Try not to be angry all the time.” So, amidst the chaos, I repeated those three important words often, and with meaning. My three teenage boys still end every phone call and text with an “I love you.”
  2. Keep commands simple.
    Apparently “smart” dogs and two-year-old boys have similar vocabularies. Experts state that both are capable of understanding one- or two-word commands, and will tune out anything longer. I took that advice to heart, and once stunned a friend when I shouted “Boys! Door! Now!” at his home. My three boys magically re-appeared; the friend called me a drill sergeant.
  3. Be clear about expectations.
    When I put on my running shoes, Bauer leaps for joy, and continues doing so until we exit the house. If you tell a toddler you’re going to the park, he, too, can’t focus on anything else until you leave. If you want peace in the present, limit talk of the future.
  4. Give them room to run.
    We all know why dog parks and playgrounds stay in business: both puppies and little boys need room to run. Often. When my boys were younger, I would even select flights with layovers so I could run the kids through the airport corridors between segments.
  5. Positive reinforcement works.
    This sage advice appears in every dog manual and parenting book, and it’s true: praise is effective.
  6. Bribery works even better.
    While praise has its place, most dog owners and parents aren’t averse to a little bribery. After all, what are dog treats for? And, more than one friend has reported that her son’s grades magically improved when an iPhone was held out as a carrot.
  7. Time-outs help two-year-olds and moms regroup.
    Sending my kids to their rooms gives me time to regroup and think about what I want to do or say. My dog gets time-outs, too. In fact, when he escapes, plays in the neighbor’s creek and returns covered with mud, he heads straight for “his” room on his own.
  8. Don’t expect them to want to share their toys.
    At a playgroup gathering, I once voiced frustration about my son’s reluctance to share toys. Another mom asked, “How would you feel if a stranger came to your house and drove off in your car?” It’s true; we don’t come by sharing naturally. And dogs, like kids, need toys to call their own.
  9. Keep their bellies full.
    Many behavioral issues could be avoided with a big, healthy meal instead of a sugary snack. It’s just that simple (for adults, too).
  10. Don’t trust them with chocolate.
    Most people know that chocolate could kill a dog. It probably isn’t a good idea for young kids, either. Just don’t try to keep it from me.
  11. All you really need for a good day is a ball, a beach and a body of water.
    Because my husband’s job requires travel, his frequent-flier miles and hotel-loyalty points have enabled some fabulous family vacations. But no matter where we have traveled, the kids’ best memories are of time spent on beaches. The same is true for my pooch: his happiest days involve sea and sand.   
  12. A good romp in the snow can lift anyone’s spirits.
    Who wouldn’t smile after making a snow angel or engaging in a friendly snowball fight? Last week, Bauer and I both enjoyed our daily walks in the snow. The fresh powder and time together certainly took the sting out of being left behind.

Linda Williams Rorem, 2 Jan. 2012


  1. jillsimpson says:

    Great post–lots of good wisdom in here! I too am enjoying having a dog more than I expected to–though I fear I should have raised her and my kids with more structure and firmer commands!

  2. Love your post as it’s all so true! We had our Labrador Indy before our baby and as we were raising him we couldn’t help but make comparisons between him and our friends babies- not that we ever said it out loud!


  1. […] to manage and more pleasant than teenagers. I recently wrote about the similarities between raising boys and dogs. However, my emotions run deeper than that. I now realize that those of us with loyal dogs in our […]

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