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Parenting Dogs & Toddlers

Photograph by Getty Images

“Come on, have a seat next to me.” I pat the empty spot. He tucks himself into a nook next to me, partially draped over my lap. I savor these quiet evening moments, when his warm little body cuddles against mine.

A moment later, my leg itches. I ignore it. My nose is next. I have to pee. Why, oh why, didn’t I go before I sat down?

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Moving a muscle isn’t an option if I want to hold on to this brief period of snuggly peace. Then an itch flares on my knee.

I inch my hand ever so slightly toward it for a quick scratch, but accidentally brush against the tiny figure leaning on me. He draws in his breath sharply and explodes at me with a snarl, eyes bulging and teeth bared.


In one swoop, my husband grabs him by the scruff, expertly avoiding the snapping jaws, and carries the growling, barking chihuahua out of the room.

If raising our dog is any indication of our parenting skills, we should have skipped the baby thing altogether.

In theory, parenting a dog is great preparation for having a child. It requires scheduling and compromise, and many, many early mornings. There are day cares and play dates, and entire store aisles crammed with organic food and developmental toys.

We treasure the tender moments and power through the chaotic ones.

Our first baby—the grumbling, snapping dog that we named Otto—quickly became part of our routine. And there’s some weird stuff. He barks at flushing toilets. He snuggles against us, snoring cutely, but explodes into a snarling mess if you dare try to shift positions. He likes to attack my husband’s shoes … while they’re still on his feet.

If Otto were human, he would be classified as having a behavioral or personality disorder. And we would be judged as bad parents for allowing him to act out in this way.

Don't think we didn't try to fix him. There were dog trainers, books and Internet searches on how to be a pack leader. Well-meaning visitors whispered about discipline and consistency. Ironically, my husband worked at The Dog Whisperer for a while, but after two days they asked that he leave the dog at home.

But while it looked odd from the outside, we finally concluded that it was time to stop trying to change our bizarre dog and simply accept him for who he is.

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So when our toddler pulls a 180 personality shift, transforming from sweet and lovable creature to a stomping, screaming monster, we’ve already learned how to let the storm pass, instead of letting it knock us over. We treasure the tender moments and power through the chaotic ones. And perhaps that’s the foundation for the best kind of parenting of all.

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