Parenting lessons from Dogs!

Much too late to make me realise the inadequacies of my own parenting skills, I learnt an important lesson when training my GSD (who is called Pharaoh, by the way).  That is that putting more emphasis into praise and reward for getting it right ‘trains’ the dog much quicker than telling it off.  The classic example is scolding a dog for running off when it should be lots of hugs and praise for returning home.  The scolding simply teaches the dog that returning home isn’t pleasant whereas praise reinforces that home is the place to be.  Like so many things in life, very obvious once understood!

Absolutely certain that it works with youngsters just the same way.

Despite being a very dominant dog, Pharaoh showed his teaching ability when working with other dogs.  In the UK there is an amazing woman, Angela Stockdale, who has proved that dogs (and horses) learn most effectively when being taught by other dogs (and horses).  Pharaoh was revealed to be a Beta Dog, (i.e. second in status below the Alpha Dog) and, therefore, was able to use his natural pack instinct to teach puppy dogs their social skills and to break up squabbles within a pack.

When you think about it, don’t kids learn much more (often to our chagrin!) from other kids than they do from their parents.  Still focusing on giving more praise than punishment seems like a much more effective strategy.

As was read somewhere, Catch them in the act of doing Right!

By Paul Handover.

15 thoughts on “Parenting lessons from Dogs!

  1. “Ignore inappropriate behaviour and reward good behaviour” has been the mantra in the dog-training world for quite some time.

    How’s life in Mexico? I spent some time in Monterrey, NL as well as Mexico DF. Love the country!


    1. Interesting that it isn’t quite the mantra it ought to be when it comes to parenting kids. Or am I showing my age!
      Home at present is San Carlos in Sonora. My first summer here and finding it a little toasty.


  2. We took our older dog, my grand boy ;), to a very fine trainer from Duke University. I couldn’t afford many lessons, but then, she was so awesome I learned a lot in the times we were able to go. The first thing that amazed me was how very smart my grand boy is! He learns everything the first time and NEVER forgets.

    My son was not well during our sessions, so we had to stop going. The trainer suggested that I try the same approach with my son that she had shown me to use with Tiny. People thought that was rude to say, but it wasn’t at all. One of the main things I learned was of course to give lots of praise when “Tiny” did what he was supposed to do, but also remembering to use (consistently) a certain tone of voice with commands and another with praise.

    Unfortunately, Tiny has fear aggression and this takes more intensive training. He is a big guy. The trainer said too that the aggression requires constant training at home, which I couldn’t do alone. He gets very upset at the sight of big dogs. It creates a rather disabled life for him and me too really, but he deserves my dedication and I’m honored to give it. He has saved my son’s life many times. He’s also been my very good friend.

    I later won four visits from another trainer. She came to my home. I had by then adopted Ruthie Mae who Tiny fell in love with at first sight! Granted, I was a bit spoiled by the great dog psychologist from Duke, but never would I turn down free dog training. So…

    “You will not be able to keep both dogs,” the new trainer said. She remarked that Tiny was almost bigger than I am, as if I couldn’t handle him. (ha!) Before fibromyalgia, if somebody said something was too hard for me, then I had to do it.

    Tiny had only recently come to live with me. He wouldn’t let me get near his food, took Ruthie’s food from her and wouldn’t share bones or toys. I went to the store and bought all the cheap dog toys; filled the rooms with toys! So many he couldn’t get to all of them. He went a little nuts, but after about five minutes, the big guy was sharing. He enjoyed it too. He would almost become aggressive, but Ruthie was the perfect trainer for him. She is submissive and would lie on her back when he growled. Within 24 hours, Tiny was literally dropping toys in front of Ruthie so she would play with him. I was very happy, of course.

    I also started dropping hot-dog pieces in his food bowl as he ate. Each time my hand got close to his bowl, he knew a treat was coming. He loved it. The trainer came back in a few days, amazed. Now, I could hold a steak in front of him and he would patiently wait for me to say, “Take it.” He has never once snapped at Ruthie and 5 years have passed.

    Thanks for your writing. I enjoy the times when my brain works well enough for me to share on your blog.


    1. Michelle, Thank you for sharing that with us all. Guessed you realised that you commented on the very first post written by me – July 15th, 2009. My how those (nearly) two years have passed. When we moved to Payson in February 2010, Pharaoh ended up in a group of four dogs: Pharaoh, Dhalia, Hazel and little Poppy. The speed at which this so-called independent and dominate German Shepherd adopted his three companions was amazing and taught me that pre-conceived ideas about dogs are often very unreliable.

      When little Poppy was grabbed by something unknown on a forest walk about 6 months ago, believed to be a coyote by the way, we replaced her with a young puppy from the local rescue centre. Indeed, you commented on that post –

      Within just a few days, Sweeny was out of his cage and rubbing shoulders with his mates. Sweeny now has been taught by Pharaoh all the commands we give Pharaoh – no ‘training’ required by us at all! Just shows how Pharaoh’s loving leadership set an example for dogs and humans!

      Feel free to share your thoughts any time on Learning from Dogs. Paul.


      1. Well, no, I didn’t realize this was from ’09 and surely not that it was your first post! Awesome.
        I wondered when you moved to Mexico and how I missed it :)!

        On that note, I hope it is much nicer in the summer where you live now. Also, our blogs are almost the same age.

        I remember little Poppy. Such a pretty girl and it is a sad story. I wondered how she disappeared.

        I remember the post about little Sweeny too.

        “Pharaoh’s loving leadership set an example for dogs and humans!”
        –sending my love to your handsome and beautiful Pharaoh! And of course to the others in the pack.


      2. Jean and I met in Mexico in December, 2007. Dan Gomez’s sister invited me out there for Christmas when I went to California for a holiday in the summer of 2007 (read the intro to for the background.)

        I then moved to San Carlos, Mx in September 2008 with Pharaoh but after a summer found the heat and the humidity irksome, to say the least, and we moved to Payson, AZ in February 2010. It’s 80 miles NE of Phoenix and up at 5,000 ft! Our 12 dogs, 6 cats and us two humans just love it! I was granted my Green Card on April 14th!

        Now you know all about me!


  3. Hi Paul, sorry I am only just now able to reply. I’ve had a stressful time in life lately, more than usual, if you can believe that.

    Thank you for sharing about you and your life.

    I had thought it was nice where you live now. Also, I’m glad you and Jean met. A love story is always great to hear! I hope you have a long happy life together. Congrats on your green card too!


    1. You take good care of yourself and remember there will always be a listening ‘ear’ for you, either via the pages of Learning from Dogs or, if you prefer, via email.


  4. We certainly have a great deal to learn from dogs. Loyality, humility, mindfulness etc. However, they are terrible when they see other dogs and start barking at each other – where does the ego surface up then ? That perhaps proves that weakness follows strengths in everyone 🙂


    1. Thanks for your comment; on the very post ever written here! Of course you are right. But every aspect of a dog’s behaviour is based on integrity and that is the number one lesson of all that man needs to learn; if there’s any chance of this species lasting another generation.

      Appreciate your thoughts.


      1. I agree, humans can learn a lot from dogs.

        Integrity is a very broad term. Many people think of many dog-like behaviours in poor light. As an example, the word “Bitch” is used as a term for negative personality. Dog is used to like a person to a behaviour where he/she could do any thing for small gain.

        Point I am trying to make it, that there are lot of things we could learn from dogs – both good and bad.


  5. In the act of doing right – yes.

    I still say to my son, now 17 1/2, how proud I am of him for this and that, choosing well, being wise about studies and balance etc. It is my joy to do this. Was never done for me, my father never lifted me up, not a bit, and I love to see it sink into my son, and him to know how much I dearly love him.


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