I return here to lessons I learned from caring for my dog. I repeat that in no way am I suggesting that caring for a dog is the same as parenting a teenager. Simply, that the role of caretaker has certain elements that can be generalized to both relationships. Another lesson I learned from owning a dog has more to do with my own behavior. When he was a new puppy, I felt a certain ease with ‘misbehavior,’ i.e., begging, peeing inside, nipping, etc. After all, he was a puppy. But as he got older, it became time to teach him, and my expectations began to shift. This is normal enough, except that my expectations (realistic or not) shifted faster than his behavior adjusted.

I observed that when he peed inside or did something else, I became intensely embarrassed, as if this transgression reflected on me as his owner. If he peed inside, it suggested that I wasn’t doing a good enough job as his owner. It proved that I had not taught him well. This embarrassment turned to shame quickly enough (as embarrassment is prone to do), and my feelings dictated how I responded to his behavior. My responses were no longer about teaching him or shaping his behavior. They were driven by my shame and frustration.

This was a ‘parenting’ error. It wasn’t his fault that he hadn’t learned yet. He wasn’t doing it to spite or embarrass me. He just hadn’t developed the ability to control the urge yet, or the conditioning had not fully shaped his behavior yet. Either way, my frustration blinded me. This is a valuable lesson in accepting a child’s learning curve.

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