When my husband and I were first pondering the idea of having kids, we decided to do what a lot of people do- try raising a dog first. Neither of us had raised a puppy before and we were ready to try out our parenting skills on a fur baby of our own. Now that I’m a parent of an actual baby, I realize just how much raising two Australian Shepherds taught me, and how they helped prepare me for the challenges of parenthood. We had to say goodbye to both our beloved Aussies within the past year and I’m grateful for all they taught me in our 15 years together.
Our pups were our babies before we had a baby. They showed me the meaning of unconditional love and taught me what it means to love and care for someone that completely depends on me, and be responsible for their development and discipline. I never realized how much I had learned from them until recently. My dogs made me feel loved, proud and mostly, like a “mommy,” before I had ever given birth.
10 Ways Raising a Dog Prepared Me for Parenthood
1) I accept the fact stuff will get destroyed. Probably stuff that I really like. I was an only-child, so there was never anyone around to mess up my things. I was used to keeping things a certain way. Then the dogs arrived and suddenly most of my shoes had nibble marks from teething puppies. If I left anything on the ground you could guarantee it would end up with a hole in it. Then during potty training some of our nice rugs were ruined. I would later learn the dogs were mild compared to the destruction that a small toddler can create.
2) I have developed Super-Mom hearing. If a dog got sick, I could hear the faintest “gluck-gluck-gluck” noise in the middle of the night, wake up from a dead sleep and rush to help the vomiting dog and then clean it all up before going back to bed. Now I can hear everything from the tiniest cough in the night to the faintest cries of “Mommmmyyyy” no matter where I am in the house.
3) If you have a boy, you can’t be scared of a little penis. I had our boy dog about a week when we went for a walk in the woods. He ended up getting absolutely covered in ticks. I thought I got them all off until later I saw he seemed to be chewing on his crotch area. When he rolled over, I saw it. He had a tick. It was on his tiny puppy penis. I was impressed how trusting he was as I gripped the little appendage with one hand while going at the tick with the tweezers. I think we grew a little closer that day. So later, when we had a baby boy, I was already used to going into mom-mode when confronted with random penis issues. At one point the kid got hair wrapped all around the head of it and I was like…I’ll go get the tweezers.
4) I have discovered my “angry mom voice.” It’s much louder, deeper and more authoritative than my usual voice. This voice means business! You better sit! I started using it with the dogs after dealing with “dominance issues” in the boy dog. He was convinced at first that he was the master of the house and spent the first few months trying to herd me. I was bruised up and down my thigh from him nipping me if I walked past him too fast. By the time we had our son, the dogs were old and well-trained and it had been years since I had to use “the voice.” I couldn’t even imagine having to use it on such a sweet little baby! Ha! Once we entered crazy toddler town, the voice made a comeback. Now when I use it, my son immediately knows I am NOT playing around.
5) I have developed a complete disregard for my own safety when their life is at stake. I have jumped in front of a speeding car waving my arms like an idiot because the dog ran into the street, and I now do it for my son. When the boy dog stuck his head in a pile of fire ants, I used my hands to wipe them off his face all the while getting stung myself. So when a giant crazy looking bug flew into my son’s infant carrier and landed on him, I didn’t hesitate to grab that thing with my hand and fling it as far as possible. I may have been screaming the whole time, but I still went right into “save the baby” mode.
6) I learned you can’t take you eyes off them for a minute. The aforementioned fire ant incident took place on a walk. The boy was just a pup, nosing around, getting into everything. I turned my head to stare at something across the street, turned back around and he looked up at me with a face just alive with red squirming ants. They were in his eyes, his mouth and starting to crawl down his head. I got every single one of those awful things off of him and smothered him with kisses. I learned it only takes a second for them to get into trouble, and it is the same with my son.
7) I have learned to temper my anger. I don’t believe in beating animals to make them mind. When our girl dog went through bad separation anxiety after my husband was deployed, we worked through the wave of destruction that followed with desensitization training. They gave me a little practice not flipping out, and now that we have a little boy, he works on challenging my well-honed patience skills on a daily basis.
8) I learned how to be a disciplinarian and a teacher. I took both dogs to obedience class and we practiced at home. Both were the stars of the class because I spent a lot of time working with them. People often remarked on how our dogs were better behaved than their children. I get it now, and they totally were! So when my son challenges me with his behavior, I have to remind myself how hard I worked to train our dogs and that it didn’t happen overnight. And he may never pass an obedience test, but at least I can get him to sit and stay on command. Sometimes.
9) I got used to dealing with poop up close and personal on a daily basis. My dogs had a long “skirt” of hair on their back ends. I have had to hose off and wipe many bottoms over the years with them. I just hope I never have to pull floss out of the kid’s butt or find a stick to pluck off a dingleberry in the middle of a walk.
10) A house feels more like a home when it is filled with love. Coming home to happy little kids is a great thing. I’d never seen two more happy kids than those furry faces that lost their minds every time I came home. Even if I was only gone five minutes. They made me smile, they made me happy and they were a great brother and sister to our little human baby. I’m quite honestly crying like a baby myself just writing this. I miss them dearly. They gave me a great gift by being by my side for 15 years. But now I have a new little sidekick who also likes to go on walks, get treats and occasionally pees on the floor. And one day, when we’re ready, we’ll get a new furry family member. I’m sure there’s more for them to teach me.