Menu

6 Things My Dog Taught Me About Parenting

There are parallels between raising a dog and raising a child that are worth considering.

6 Things My Dog Taught Me About Parenting

We brought home a puppy two months after I learned I was pregnant. In a way, he was our practice baby — another living being that needed our attention to survive and a way for my husband and I to learn about how each other function as caretakers. It turns out, there's a lot more parenting wisdom to be gleaned from our relationships with our little furry friends than I originally anticipated.

You see, before giving birth, we took our dog, Phoenix, everywhere -- to dinners, on vacations, to the grocery store, to the top of the needle in Seattle... But after the birth, as I was recovering and navigating new parenthood, everything changed. We missed walks because I was too tired or busy to get out of the house, and I did everything I could to keep him away from the baby. The pooch that I used to take everywhere suddenly wasn't allowed within 10 feet of me and, inevitably, grew insanely jealous.

This new dynamic between my dog and me (and the baby coming in between us) has taught me invaluable lessons that I think I can apply to my own parenting. Sure, I am still figuring things out with both of them, but I take what I can, when I can. So without further ado, here are 6 things my dog has taught me about raising tiny humans.

1. Set Boundaries. Creating boundaries is a good idea for all relationships, even (and especially) with dogs. We had him trained, but we should have been more diligent about establishing control and boundaries. Having the baby just exacerbated all of the bad behavior that we had previously let slide.

Similarly for me, having a baby also means that I have to set personal boundaries. My time now has to be divided thoughtfully between a tiny human who is completely dependent upon me and everyone else — parents, clients, friends, my husband, myself and my puppy are now only allotted a pre-portioned amount of my energy. Setting up the structure of our relationship from the beginning would have eliminated this frustrating situation.

2. Put Yourself in Their Shoes. When the dog bites at my feet, I can be quick to anger. Then I stop and remind myself that he just wants to play. If I just wanted to play with someone and was met with ferocity what would that feel like? I imagine this exercise will prove useful as my daughter enters toddlerhood and her independence and mobility grow stronger.

3. Breathe. This is my go-to mama-hood tool. When the baby is screaming and the dog is biting at my feet, I will stop for a few seconds, close my eyes and take 3 deep breaths. Even a sort breathing session has an impressive ability to decompress the chaos.

4. Do Research and Don’t Be Scared to Call a Professional. First of all, I should have done my research: there are plenty of articles on the internet that walk through necessary preparations for introducing a puppy to a new baby. But I didn’t. I honestly just didn’t believe what so many people were telling me. After weeks in the unprepared trenches, I spoke with a dog trainer about our situation, and her advice was invaluable in making me feel more apt.

The same goes with babies. Sure the internet provides you with some the basics, and family and friends bring you the support system that you need to make it through the day. But everyone has different opinions, and the internet can be very confusing, especially when you’re looking for specialized information. In the end, nothing compares to one-on-one, in-person visits with an expert — whether it’s your pediatrician, a lactation consultant or a sleep coach.

5. More Positive Attention, Please. This is a tough one. The trainer who I spoke to told me that her experience and research suggest that punishments don’t work as well as positive reinforcement. I also found this to be true in our household. If I punish Phoenix, he just acts out more. So, I try to find opportunities to reward him. When he picks up a shoe and runs away from me hoping for a good game of chase, I tell him to drop it and reward him with a treat for the dropping behavior. This strategy feels counterintuitive, but it has worked much better than punishing him for the bad behavior. This positive reinforcement system is most certainly building up my toddler-mama muscle in preparation for the days to come.

6. Focused Attention. Once the baby was on a regular sleep schedule and started going down around the same time every night, I booked in one-on-one time with my puppy. I put the baby to bed and then give my puppy some serious snuggles. I also try to take him out for walks without the baby when someone else is watching her. Having to do this with my dog made me look to the other relationships in my life, too. I now book dedicated time to be completely present with my daughter, husband, parents and friends as well. It’s helped me stay organized and balanced and feel like myself as I navigate the ever-changing journey that is motherhood.

Jacqui Somen is a Certified Postnatal Fitness Specialist. She is a former ballet dancer, a coach for wellness entrepreneurs and is trained in trauma-informed yoga and Reiki. She teaches a Mama & Me Meditation and Movement class in Miami and writes about postnatal wellness at 100and8.com.

Photo by Stylish & Hip Kids Photography.

10 must-have registry items that will change your life, mama

The baby gear heavy hitters that should be top of your list

Calling all mamas-to-be! It's a fundamental truth of (impending) motherhood that your prepping-for-baby To Do list can feel a mile long, but really the best way to feel organized is to sort out the most important item at the top of your list: your registry. Sure the items you choose to include will end up running the gamut from nice-to-haves to absolutely essential game-changers, but mamas in the know quickly learn one thing: Not all baby gear is created equal.

So while you can and should pepper your registry with adorable inclusions that aren't necessarily can't-live-withouts (go ahead, add 'em!), you should make sure you're ticking the boxes on those pieces of baby gear that can be absolute life savers once you're in full-blown mama mode. From car seats to bouncers and playmats, your play and travel gear will be some of the most obvious important items on your list, but so can unexpected things, like a super comfy baby carrier and a snooze-inducing white noise machine. So to help you sort through the must-have options, we turned to the holy grail of motherhood that is buybuy BABY and handpicked 10 of the very best essential pieces that will change your life, we promise.

Keep reading Show less
Our Partners

Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

So, what's new this week?

Earth Mama: Effective, natural herbal care for mamas and babies

Founded and grown in her own garage in 2002, Earth Mama started as an operation of one, creating salves, tinctures, teas and soaps with homegrown herbs. With a deep desire to bring the healing powers of nature that have been relied on for thousands of years to as many mamas as possible, Melinda Olson's formulas quickly grew into Earth Mama Organics. Since then, the brand has remained committed to manufacturing clean, safe and effective herbal solutions for the entire journey of motherhood, including pregnancy, breastfeeding and baby care, and even the loss of a baby.

Bravado Designs: Soothing sounds for a good night's sleep

With 28 years of serving pregnant and postpartum mamas under their belt, Bravado Designs is a true authority on the needs of changing bodies. It's true that we have them to thank for rescuing us from the uncomfortable and frumpy designs our own moms had to live with. Launched in Canada by two young mamas, they designed the first prototypes with extra leopard print fabric certain that a better bra was possible. Throughout the years they've maintained their commitment to ethical manufacturing while creating long-lasting products that truly work.

The Sill: Instagram-ready potted plants

We've long admired this female-founded brand and the brilliant mind behind it, Eliza Blank. (She even joined Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety on and episode of The Motherly Podcast!) The mission behind the business was simple: To make the process of bringing plants into your home as easy as possible, and as wonderful as the plant themselves. With their in-house, exclusively designed minimalist planters, the end result makes plant parenthood just a few clicks away.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

Keep reading Show less
Shop

The 6 biggest lies I believed before having kids

Just about all of us had set assumptions about raising kids before we became parents ourselves.

Just about all of us had set assumptions about raising kids before we became parents ourselves. Some of these ideas might have been based on our own ideas of how we would absolutely do things differently than everyone else. Others, we believed what everyone else told us would happen would apply to our littles, too. But, that's not always the case, mama.

Below are six of the biggest lies I believed before having kids—and the reality of what actually happened for me.

1. Put your baby down drowsy, but awake

Keep reading Show less
Life