Today was the first day of school (ever) for my little twin girls. They are just about two and a half years old, and my wife and I were both excited and nervous to see how they would do. When we picked them up this afternoon we were very pleased to hear that they had a fun time and were very respectful and also showed good manners (as good as you can expect for two year olds). All the time and work my wife and I did teaching our girls rules and boundaries, going over what is and what isn’t appropriate, and detailing exactly what is in fact edible, seemed to really make a difference. They are good kids and I think it shows.

The behavior of our children is a direct result of our parent skills, and the same hold true of our dogs. Now that I have kids I realized how raising kids and dogs very similar. Go to any playground and find the one kid who is totally out of control. I’ll bet you cash money that if his parents also have a dog, he’s out of control too. Come on, think about people you know who have kids and dogs. Odds are the dogs and the kids share good or bad behavior.

The reason this is always true is because both children and dogs require a similar structure of rules and boundaries to grow up well. It’s all about leadership. Over the last few years the word leadership has gotten somewhat of a bad connotation because some people misunderstand what leadership really is and apply it incorrectly. Make no mistake, leadership is imperative to having a good relationship with your dog and is the foundation of helping your dog develop into a well-balanced adult dog. If you don’t like the work “leadership,” than use parenting – it’s all the same thing.

Unlike children, our dogs are a totally different species with completely different innate tendencies, which makes leadership even more crucial. Dogs crave structure and guidance to figure out just how to fit into our wacky human world. We need to be their teachers, showing them just what’s right and wrong, what’s appropriate behavior, and what is indeed edible for them. It takes time, patience and understanding, just has parenting does.

I’ve been lucky, in that working with dogs has always come easy to me. Kids, not so much. The first year with my twins was not that fun for me. I’m ashamed to say I did my share of screaming and losing my cool, which never had any positive effect on my kids. Then one day my wife told me something that changed my world. She sat me down one day when my kids were being particularly difficult and said, “Sweetie, please just pretend they’re dogs.”

I thought about that strange sentence for a moment, and then the epiphany hit me. What would I do if instead of two screaming (then) one year olds, I was with two barking, misbehaving dogs? I would remain in control and calmly address the situation. And that’s what I did from that day forward, and the change was instantaneous. My kids responded better and our relationship improved greatly. Many parents realize that yelling and screaming at their kids is counterproductive, but fail to see that the same holds true with their dogs.

So be a good leader and parent to your kids and your dogs. Give them the structure and boundaries they crave and they will all grow up to be healthy, well-balanced adults.

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