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The Similarities Between Parenthood and Dog Ownership

Updated on April 17, 2012

The Debate Rages On

Many dog owners treat their beloved pets as part of the family. You know who you are. Spot is not relegated to a lowly cushion in the corner, but happily dozes alongside of you on your comfortable king sized bed. Rover proudly sits in the passenger seat while you drive. Rex has a stocking hanging on the fireplace mantle every Christmas, and he receives an Easter basket filled with toys and goodies every Spring.

Parents, especially NEW parents, scoff at such behavior. "It's just a dog," they say. "You don't know real love until you've had a BABY!" Parents react as if personally offended at owners who refer to their puppies as their kids. "How dare dog lovers compare owning some mongrel to the miracle of birthing a childl!" Dog owners rankle at the condescending tone when parents say, "Wait until you have children of your own, then you'll see the light."

The friction can become quite heated and has ruined many Thanksgivings, birthdays and other family get-togethers. But the debate need not be so contentious. To use a hackneyed phrase, can't we all just get along? The fact is, dog owners and parents have a lot more in common than they may think. Rearing a well-behaved, confident child is surprisingly similar to raising a trusted, loyal canine. Examples abound, and if both sides look carefully they may find acres of common ground.

Is this a Dog Toy or a Baby Toy?

It's hard to tell the difference!
It's hard to tell the difference!

The Similarities Are Everywhere

Infants. Puppies. They are remarkably alike in so many ways. From initially fragile to increasingly agile, both require and both receive tons of attention. Taking a walk while either pushing a newborn baby in a stroller or gently tugging a puppy on a leash undoubtedly garners the same reaction from passers by. "Awww, how cute!" Even their toys are indistinguishable. They're colorful, they squeak, they stimulate the young developing brain. Babies R Us? PetsMart? It can be difficult to tell the difference at times, each store's aisles filled with the latest games and gadgets for feeding, bathing, or learning. To folks with neither a dog nor a baby, the notion of changing a soiled diaper or handling a freshly coiled puppy stool is unfathomable. But to the new parent or dog owner it is just one of a thousand duties they gladly perform. An equivalent feeling of joy fills both when a baby is finally toilet trained and when a puppy is housebroken at last. There is vomit to be cleaned, boo-boos to be kissed, and compassion to be doled out on a daily basis. Watching this new life suffer in any way, even when receiving necessary shots from the doctor, is equally painful to a parent or a dog owner.

It may be difficult for some to admit, but both children and pets can be a nuisance at times. Mom and Dad (terms used by parents AND dog owners) just want to sleep in once in a while! There are toys all over the floor, messes to clean up, and endless repairs to be made all over the house. "Who can we trust to babysit when we want some alone time? We're not leaving our precious ones with just anybody!" They long for the days when Junior or Spot can take care of themselves a bit more, and even secretly reminesce about the days before these pests entered their lives. All the while, they wish time would slow down as their little ones grow up right before their eyes.

Children and dogs crave discipline, even though both resist at times. Arguments about the most effective forms of upbringing fill the pages of parenting and dog fancier magazines alike. Use a stern voice, deliver a consistent message, and establish who's the boss. Reward good behavior and punish bad behavior, fairly and appropriately. These are theories that could have come from the Dog Whisperer or the Super Nanny, two people whose techniques are eerily similar. It is decidedly impossible, however, to stay mad at either Junior or Spot when he does misbehave. All he has to do is look up at you with those soulful eyes, and you melt.

Parents and dog owners each strive to establish good eating habits in their little ones, proper hygiene, and good manners. Nobody likes to visit a friend and be greeted at the door by a smelly, dirty, loud, obnoxious creature jumping on them. "Get Down, Fido! Behave, Junior!" A child's behavior is a reflection on the parent, and the same can be said about a puppy and his owner.

You parents and owners know that your unique yet similar relationship is on full display at the park, either in the dog run or in the playground. You watch intently as your charge interacts with the others. You beam with pride when yours is the one who leads the fun and games, and you cringe when yours is picked on by the bully. He runs to you for consolation or praise, then quickly returns to play after a sip of water and a snack. You hesitate to discipline your little one in front everyone, not wishing to embarrass him or yourself. "Corporal punishment? Here, in front of all these people?" Then, time for a potty break and the subsequent clean up. You chat with other adults, comparing schools, bragging about accomplishments, showing pictures. Then you return home knowing your little rapscallion is going to sleep well tonight!

Do these phrases sound familiar?

"Get off the couch with those dirty feet!"

"What do you have in your mouth now?"

"No... No... I said NO!!!"

"Who's my little snuggly-wuggly?" (Or similar gibberish in a silly voice)

"You're driving me crazy!"

"How did THAT poop come out of such a little thing?"

"Come here... come HERE... COME HERE!!!"

"Stay still, I'm trying to take your picture."

"What a good boy!" "What a sweet girl!"

Common Ground

Parenthood. Dog ownership. Both are exercises in patience and lessons in love, frustrating and rewarding at the same time. Parents and owners both know the true meaning of "unconditional love." It's a life-changing commitment to another soul that is not entered into lightly. That little creation you are responsible for brings so much happiness to your existence, you can't imagine life without it. You almost can't remember your life before they entered your world. When you come home from a hard day at the office and are greeted at the door by that loving grin, the weight of the world is lifted off your shoulders. So the next time you take your dog for a walk and you see a mother pushing Junior in her stroller, or when you take your kids to visit Grandma and your brother shows up with Fido in tow, resist the urge to judge one another. Instead, offer an understanding nod and wink in the knowledge that your experiences are remarkably alike. The similarities far outweigh the differences, and you can both concentrate on the real source of strife in the world: cat owners!

Child or Dog?

What relationship is more rewarding?

See results

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