Over the years I’ve had many people ask me — some jokingly and some seriously — whether they could use my techniques on their children. In 2006, the TV show “South Park” even used that premise, when my animated twin tried to help Cartman’s mother rehabilitate her son.
The thing is, you can absolutely use some of my techniques on your children. Not all of them, of course. You shouldn’t put your kid in a Pack Leader Collar or use my three-finger touch. But you can use the core of my philosophy, which comes out of understanding dog psychology.
Not that I’m comparing our children to dogs — but there’s one simple thing you can do that will make you a better dog lover and a better parent.
Our dogs love us and, in an ideal world, our kids do, too — even at those odd moments when they get mad and say they don’t! Note that I didn’t say that our dogs love us unconditionally, though.
A dog may bond with a person and follow them and even protect and defend them, but it’s not necessarily a bond based on love. Sadly, an abusive owner can get a semblance of loyalty from a dog that is doing it out of total fear. In humans they call this the Stockholm syndrome, which happens when hostages begin to relate to their captors and feel an obligation to them.
So what’s that “condition” a dog puts on love? They have to respect you as a Pack Leader. This is why calm, assertive energy is so important. Dogs are looking for leadership, and calm, assertive leaders inspire the respect that is so important to earning a dog’s love.
But before a dog will respect you, she has to trust you. This process begins with your calm, assertive energy, and then is created over time as you are consistent in creating and enforcing rules, establishing a schedule, and providing for the dog’s physical needs. In order to trust you, the dog has to know what you expect and when you expect it.
A confused dog cannot trust because she can’t know what to expect. If you walk her right after you get up one morning, then don’t do it until two hours later another day; sometimes feed her before you walk her, sometimes don’t; let her on the couch with you when you feel like it, but not always; then your dog is going to become anxious and try to guess what you want.
Having to guess what you want means the dog doesn’t know what you expect — and that is the opposite of trust.
So, to put it into a formula, it looks like this:
Trust –> Respect –> Love
Each one is built on and reinforces the one before it. Trust leads to respect, which increases trust and leads to love. Love strengthens trust and respect. It’s like a game of rock, paper, scissors — except that every possible combination wins the game for both players.
So how can you use this with your kids? The building blocks are exactly the same, even if the execution is a lot more complicated because it’s emotional and intellectual instead of instinctual. But, as with dogs, having a healthy relationship with your children all begins with trust.
This means that you have to be consistent and honest to earn your children’s trust and respect. It also means that, because you love them, you have to respect and trust them in return. Of course, as with dogs, it doesn’t mean to ignore their misbehaviors. Like dogs, kids do need discipline. But always remember — you’re correcting the behavior, not punishing the perpetrator.
Dogs don’t know that doing something is wrong unless we teach them, just as children often don’t realize the consequences of their actions. The dog wasn’t trying to get back at you when she ate your slipper just like your kid wasn’t trying to punish you by flushing that doll down the toilet. You can hate the action without losing the love or your patience.
As we celebrate this day for fathers, let’s remember this glue that keeps all relationships together. Trust, respect, and love.
Stay calm, and be consistent!