Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Training Eddie, Raising Kids

Here is a piece I wrote for my newspaper. I thought it was funny, but some of the commenters thought I was inhumane for crating the dog while we run errands and for bringing the electric fence into the house. No sense of humor? Or am I inhumane?

Training Eddie

About a month ago we brought home a 2-year-old Walker coonhound named Eddie from the Quaker Hill Humane Society. Eddie is a lovely dog with a sweet personality, but he has spent much of his young life being shunted from shelter to shelter and has never been properly trained.

Having just escorted our spirited third child through “the terrible twos” and half way into “the turbulent threes” I have a few thoughts on the differences between training a dog and training a child (and yes, I realize we do not TRAIN our children, we RAISE and NURTURE them, but please bear with me).

I have always been against bribing the kids. This doesn’t mean that I have not on occasion stooped to saying, for example, “Get in the car right now and I’ll give you a bag of popcorn,” but these instances are few and far between, and most often uttered in moments of extreme duress – late picking up my mother at the airport, or late for a sibling’s very expensive horseback riding lesson. And I always feel slimy afterwards.

But training the dog is a whole different thing. Dog training is nothing but bribery:

“Come over here, Eddie, and I’ll give you a hot dog.”

“Get off the new sofa and I’ll give you a heart-shaped organic dog treat.”

“Get into your crate and I’ll give you a pig’s ear.”

I was at first reluctant to partake in these blatantly shameless and corrupt enticements. My parenting instinct was to reason with the dog, make him see how it was in his best interest to come down off the new sofa, make him WANT to get down off the sofa from the center of his being. Let him learn for himself how his dog nails were ruining the upholstery and greatly reducing overall quality of this fine piece of furniture.

I do this with the kids every day: “Stop jumping on the couch. You’re wrecking it!”

Never works. The couch is just too cushy and fun. But Eddie gets off in a hot second whenever the treats come out.

I worry that all of this bribery will stunt his emerging sense of ethics. How will he truly know right from wrong when his entire moral structure is based solely on the presence or absence of a kosher beef frankfurter?

Oh, Eddie, what are we doing to you?

I especially appreciate Eddie’s dog self whenever its time to, say, go to the grocery store. 2-year-olds are the worst grocery shoppers. You have to force them into their jackets and shoes, stuff them into their car seats, and keep a constant eye on them in the store to make sure they are not tossing candy and cinnamon buns into the back of the cart from their high perch in the front.

Eddie is so much easier. You simply bribe him into his crate with a pig’s ear, where he will munch and take a little nap until his people return. Easy as pie.

Another remarkable fact: Eddie can go outside and play in the yard ALL BY HIMSELF. He does not leave the yard (or at least not very often – we’re still working on this), because crossing the border to the neighbor’s yard results in an electric shock (or, as the invisible fence people so comfortingly state it, a STATIC CORRECTION) from a wire buried two inches under the grass.
There is simply no equivalent for the kids. You have to watch them every second.

And if you REALLY don’t want the dog on the sofa, and you don’t want him chewing the toys, and you feel like you are going out of your mind because you are trying to home school your three kids, but you are getting nothing done because you are spending all of your time making sure the dog doesn’t nip the boys’ butts, well – you simply demand that your handy husband splice into that wire outside and run it through the middle of the house. And when he tells you it will take three or four days to figure out a path for the wire under the floorboards and through the joists, you count to ten and growl, “No! No! We will run the wire in through the window and tape it to the floor. RIGHT NOW!”

And then you head out to T.J. Maxx to purchase a few funky throw rugs to cover the unsightly wire snaking across the floorboards.

Eddie now receives a static correction whenever he tries to venture into the living room or the playroom. One little shock and he never tries it again. My life is like a dream!

I really could have used this device when Simon and Ben were going through their bookcase-climbing phase. And their kitchen-counter-scaling phase. And their banister-sliding phase. And their table-jumping phase….

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