Parental Advisory

Parental Advisory: Kicking the Dog

The power of childlike observation…

You know, when adults see something, they question it. They’re naturally skeptical. They apply life experiences to their visual stimulus. The input has an overlay of opinion and presumption. If you’re at a stoplight and you see a man on the corner yelling to himself and waving his arms in the air, perhaps you’d think the man was mentally ill and you’d lock the doors. Maybe you’d roll down your window and ask him if he needed help. If he was hungry. Maybe you’d pull up, arm yourself with a blunt object and try to neutralize the situation. Or perhaps you’d just turn your cheek and ignore him as you drove by. Maybe you’re a wiseguy and you honk at him as you drive by and point and laugh at him. All are responses that come from our upbringing, the way we were taught to take in the world. Or even, if you have no precedent, as in you’ve never seen a man yelling on a street corner, you formulate a gut reaction and your impulses take over (which I can tell you normally doesn’t end up well because humans were shortchanged on strong impulses).

When a child sees something, however, without bringing context to it or explanation, they take it in pure and uncut. They have no framework to help them understand a situation. They are forced to apply their own life experiences to a situation…which is absolutely none. They’re not even a year old. They’re still trying to eat leaves off of trees and are fascinated to no end by mirrors and water faucets.

Enter Tucker the beagle.Tucker has always been a source of frustration, but equally of joy. Lucky for him or he’d be out on the street. Jackson, on the other hand, is nothing but frustration. I only keep him because he keeps Tucker company and, well, his therapy chops are pretty well-honed. Other than that, he gets half portions on food and I insult him as often as I can. Okay, none of that is true. I love them both.

The other day, Tucker was being defiant with me and grabbed him by the collar and spanked him on the backside while giving him a roaring “No!” sending him out the doggy door into the backyard. I look up at Ellison who was sitting in the highchair witnessing the whole thing and she’s gaping at me, her mouth wide open and her eyes peering directly at me with this expression of equal surprise and terror. It was like she just witnessed a horrible murder. I stand there and, with no other recourse, smile and laugh at her like it was some sort of slapstick routine we had worked out earlier.

She was not amused. She didn’t really recover for another five minutes or so.

If your dogs are as close to the baby as ours are, they’re truly her siblings. She likes Tucker. She’s always reaching out to pet him. She makes these cute googoo noises when he comes into the room. They’re buds. So when she sees me take a swipe at him and scold him, she just saw that dad hit her best friend. I was punishing the deed, though. Not the breed…which is important.You gotta always be mindful that the kids are watching. Those eyes don’t have anything to pull from. When they see you strike a dog, they see you strike a dog. They don’t know what the dog did to deserve it. At this age, they couldn’t even possibly handle the concept of “punishment.”

I’m not saying to not smack the dog or punish them. That’s your thing, but you gotta remember that when a baby’s in the room and sees you punish Tucker the beagle, you become scary enforcer-man, like the prison warden or the grim reaper and Tucker looks like this hapless punching bag of a hound. Both of which are, in the case of our house, completely inaccurate.

Take them in the other room, around the corner or, as I’m trying to get better at, getting much better at direction by words or series of sounds. If I hiss at the dogs, they know what’s coming. And hissing is way less scary than yelling “No!” like some freaking maniac and then chasing them down in the backyard like a cheetah and then unleashing a relentless flogging upon his backside.

Remember, by the time their eight or nine months, they’re watching your every move. They’re studying. Soon they’ll be mocking or imitating. I think about when I was in junior high, I had a bully named Jessie. And, while it was never physical violence, but just intimidation, they worst thing that he could do was to intimidate me in front of others because I didn’t want anyone else to know that I was a complete and total nincompoop. As a tall kid, you could still deceive or trick others into believing that you were no punk and you could put a whooping on someone if bad became worse. Truth was that I was a total wimp, didn’t know how to fight and was usually just one punch in the chest from crying like a baby and running a mile and a half back home with my arms flailing about like I was drowning. Jesse knew that I was that kid, but either by his grace or by the fact that he was a lousy bully, he didn’t let anyone else know that. Except for Danny, my best friend, who knew that anyway.

Tucker’s the same way. He’s thinking, “Dad, if you’re gonna punish me, please do it in private. I don’t want Ellison growing up thinking I’m a punk.”

You got it, brother.

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