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20 genius parenting tips I learned from my dogs
Who would have known a sweet little collie could teach so much? - photo by Jana Parkin
We raise Shetland sheepdogs (miniature collies or shelties). They are the fluffiest, most loyal friends, bred to herd and protect the flock. It didnt take me long to realize that these loving creatures could teach me a lot about parenting.

1. Wake everybody up with wet, sloppy kisses

OK, not as sloppy as the dogs'; but I do think waking everyone affectionately gets the family off to a great start in the morning.

2. Circle the house periodically to make sure your loved ones are all safe and accounted for

I was amazed when I first realized the dogs were doing this. They just make the rounds occasionally upstairs and down to check on every member of the family. Great advice for a mom.

3. Freak out if someone escapes without telling you

This is where the herding instinct really comes in handy. If a child slips outside without permission, the dogs will alert me. While I dont necessarily recommend freaking out, its important to keep your radar fine-tuned to windows and doors, the garage opening and closing, and other signs of flight this is as important with teens as it is with toddlers.

4. Make sure your bark is worse than your bite

Our dogs bark loudly and excitedly but its just an upbeat alert. Its enough to scare off an intruder, but they dont bite (unless in gentle play, or if genuinely threatened). If our voices provide firm alerts coupled with kindness, were parenting the sheltie way.

5. Gather the whole family for mealtimes and activities

The dogs will merrily make their way through the house to gather the family for meals and other activities. They are the most inclusive creatures and are very dutiful about making sure everyone is included. All parents should be enthusiastic gatherers.

6. Look back over your shoulder to be sure theyre still following you

When the doorbell rings, the dogs come get me, and lead me toward the door, stopping now and then to make sure Im still following. This checking-up tactic is a great technique for parents as well; whether stopping to make sure theyre still on track with their homework, or looking to see if theyre following our example, dont just assume theyre with you. Vigilance is a must.

7. Tolerate LOTS of chaos and silliness

The dogs are teaching me to go with the flow a little more often. Rather than shush or scold, the dogs will jump right in and join in the fun and merriment. The sheltie way is a lot more fun than the tired-mom way.

8. Good-naturedly allow everyone in the family to love you to pieces

We could call this the Velveteen Rabbit principle. Whether a good-natured tussle or some over-exuberant affection, our dogs put up with a lot. What mom couldnt improve a little family time by rolling around on the floor with her toddlers or taking a big bear hug from her teenage boy and being more patient in the process?

9. If somebody wants to be with you, dont let anything else interfere

If you come over to pet the dogs, they will sit down and give their full attention. They soak up the love, as if no one in the world exists but you. This, too, is great advice for parents. Paul Clement, PhD, a child psychologist, recommends devoting some undivided special time for each child every day.

10. When somebodys sick, sit vigilantly by their side

One day when I was home with the flu and couldnt get out of bed, our sheltie came and sat by the bed for an entire day, occasionally lifting her head to lick my hand. Such loving attention won my heart -- and taught me by example.

11. ... and the same goes for when somebodys sad

Each of our kids has been comforted by our dogs. Ive even had them respond to my own quiet sobs when no one else was aware of them. Mothers, too, should fine-tune their sadness radar and soothing skills.

12. Run to the door with joy whenever someone comes home

Whether jumping excitedly or wagging their tails with delight, our shelties are amazing at showing their joy when we come home. While I may not wiggle my bottom when someone walks in the door, I am consciously upping my game, welcoming each person with affection and joy.

13. Take advantage of every opportunity to snuggle

If someone sits down on the couch, join them. Try to position yourself in such a way that at least one part of you is touching.

14. Play with the kids, indoors and out

Our dogs are always game for a round of tennis-ball fetch, tag or any other kind of play, both inside and outdoors. Im trying to incorporate more indoor and outdoor play into my day as well.

15. Be gentle


16. Take naps

This tip alone can cure so many headaches and bad moods.

17. Listen intently (even if you dont understand a word theyre saying)

Our shelties look right at us, perk up their ears, and tip their heads to one side whenever we talk to them. They want you to know theyre listening carefully. We can give our kids this kind of undivided attention.

18. Maintain a ready sense of adventure at all times.

Whenever I ask, Who wants to go on a walk? the dogs are the first to come sit down and wait for me to grab the leash. We should all be as willing to join any invitation.

19. Give everybody a luxuriant bedtime pedicure.

Our sheltie, Sawyer, is the sweetest giver of spa treatments. He will lovingly lick your feet for minutes on end. It doesnt have to be a pedicure; but any mom who masters a few spa treatments to offer her family will be much appreciated.

20. Most important of all, be forgiving

When people forget about you, hurt your feelings, leave you out and maybe even step on your toes a little ... love them anyway.
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