MAX-imizing your Parenting Efforts

Two summers ago, my husband and I decided to buy a German Shepherd puppy. Now, we’ve had puppies in the past and even German Shepherd puppies, so no big deal, right? WRONG! Max proved himself to be a whole new ballgame! Oh! And don’t let appearances deceive you either. This chap was no angel!

From the moment we saw him, we liked him. Unlike the rest of his litter, who busily pounced and played, Max sat calmly and faithfully at his master’s heel. While we sat observing the pups, this little guy came and sat beside us. Oh yeah! This was the one. A perfectly mellow and faithful dog. Just what we wanted! And, even better, Max appeared to have picked us! (Ha! I’m now convinced he was just “campaigning” with every intention of doing as he pleased once he took us home because it wasn’t long after that his true personality began to emerge, one which in NO WAY resembled his former persona.)

Max 035

Now 14 in human years, Max has polished and refined our parenting skills like nobody’s business! Of course, being that Max is a dog that may sound like a ridiculous statement but stay with me. You’ll be amazed at how much our dog will help you Max-imize your parenting efforts too.

1.  Just when you think you have this whole parenting thing figured out along comes a child that will challenge everything you ever thought you ever knew. 

My husband and I have had many dogs throughout our lives. I have personally trained horses, dogs, and yes, even children. I thought I knew it all…until Max! Everything I ever thought I knew about dog training totally went out the window. It was as if I had never trained an animal in my entire life! It now appeared that it was I who needed the training, in order to train him! Somehow, I needed to learn how to relate to this dog and “speak his language.” So, as I did when raising our children, I consulted an expert…the Dr. Dobson of dog training. Happily, by following through on what he (and his assistant) are teaching us, we are now beginning to see the light (albeit dim) at the end of the tunnel.

2. Allow time in your day for discipline and character training.

As parents, we quickly discovered how different our sons were and that each required varying styles, degrees, and amounts of discipline. But, regardless of how we disciplined each child, one thing was certain, issues needed to be addressed then and there. That said, we tried not to cram too much into our schedule. This allowed the time necessary to devote to character building and discipline, especially in the formative years.

Disciplining the various dogs we’ve had over the years has shown us that they too have different requirements. Our last dog lived to be 15 years old and if you just looked at him the wrong way he was begging for forgiveness. Max, on the other hand, has absolutely no conscience whatsoever and he is strong-willed. Raising a strong-willed dog requires a more structured environment and a stricter, more consistent effort on our part. It also requires a LOT of time and patience. So, I plan my days wisely being careful not to cram too much into my schedule, in order to have the time necessary for discipline and training.

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3. Discipline in love.

Max, being strong-willed, can frustrate me to no end, but our trainers have warned that acting out frustration can cause a dog to lose respect for his master and in the end make training him more difficult. If he respects me, he will want to please me more.

Years ago I heard Dr. Dobson teaching parents how to discipline children in love. He advocated spanking but admonished us to never do so in anger and to follow every spanking with a hug and an “I love you.” I also remember him asking the radio audience how we have felt when pulled over for a traffic violation and the officer sternly requesting, “License and registration.” His calm and stern demeanor invokes a healthy fear and commands complete and utter respect. The policeman doesn’t yell at the driver for breaking the law. Rather, he simply and matter-of-factly disciplines the violator and issues the proper citation. Such was the behavior Dr. Dobson encouraged parents to exhibit when disciplining their children. He insisted that in doing so, we would command the same respect from our children.

4. Attend to the needs of little ones first thing in the day.

Max and I have a better day if I meet his needs first thing in the morning. Being a puppy, he is young and full of energy. He’s also smart and behaves better if I exercise his brain. Meeting his needs by playing ball, walking, or training him early in the day makes him a happier, more settled dog which allows me to carry out the rest of my day in relative peace.

I found the same was true when our boys were young. If I had my older son practice piano or work independently in the morning while I met my toddler’s needs, things went more smoothly, and our homeschool was a happier place. Afterward, my toddler was content to play, while I gave his brother and his studies my undivided attention.

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5. Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

The time and energy we spend training Max now will pay off in the long run and ensure he grows into an enjoyable member of the family. We still have a long way to go, but we are making headway. After seven weeks of obedience training, we already have a far different dog than when we began. He just needed to learn the proper rules of behavior, and we needed to learn how he learns best. Working with the right trainers have made all the difference!

The day-to-day commitment of raising children can be challenging, but by keeping our eye on the prize, seeking the Lord’s guidance, and utilizing his instruction manual, we have the essentials for training up our children in the way they should go. Equally vital to their achievement is determining their learning styles. Determining how each child learns best will also help us make more informed choices when it comes to choosing homeschool curriculum. Will every day be perfect? Of course, not. But, if we persist, our hard work will pay off, and we will soon be encouraged by the progress our children are making.

6. Be consistent and teach boundaries.

Even when Max has worn me right to a frazzle, it is important for me to be consistent. If I am not, and my husband is not, we will send him mixed messages and he will persist in challenging us. Our trainers are teaching us to be consistent in correcting wrong behavior and teaching Max to respect our authority. “Never repeat a command,” they also instruct us. Otherwise, Max will quickly learn to never obey the first time he is told.

As parents, it is equally important that we are consistent in our demands and that both parents are on the same page. Otherwise, children quickly learn to play one parent off of another and come to mistakenly believe that they, not their parents, rule the family. By drawing a clear line in the sand, they learn to respect authority. Once again, I remember Dr. Dobson warning parents never to tell a child to do something and then count to three. He said doing so would teach them to disobey us the first time they were told to do something. It is also imperative that we follow through on threats and that we win each and every challenge.

One of the most annoying things Max had done before beginning obedience classes was incessantly pestering us while we watched TV. No matter what we did, we just couldn’t seem to break him of it. He just got naughtier and naughtier. But, the trainer taught us how to break that habit by teaching him to respect boundaries and obeying the commands, “settle” and “leave it.” These commands help Max understand when something is off-limits, and he is not permitted to touch it.

It is essential to our children’s safety, well-being, happiness, and their ultimate success in life that they too learn to respect family boundaries, follow rules, and obey God’s laws. Instilling a healthy respect for boundaries from an early age, and teaching them what is off-limits, will be of great value to them as they move through their teen years and beyond.

Max with leaves

7.  Praise good behavior.

If my husband and I always chastise Max for bad behavior and never praise him for good, how will he ever learn how being good truly benefits him? Our trainer does something I’ve never seen one do before. They taught us to praise Max when he is naturally doing something well. For instance, if he is lying down and behaving nicely, we are to tell him, “good settle!” That way we are praising him not only for doing something well but helping him make a connection to that behavior the next time he is rambunctious and is told to “settle.”

As parents, we are often all too ready to chastise our children’s bad behavior and forget to praise them when they do good. Praising them for good behavior or a job well done will encourage them to want to repeat such behavior. Rewarding them for good behavior can come in the form of praise, but in other ways as well. One-on-one time with Mom or Dad, having a friend over, or making their favorite meal are examples. Use whatever motivates each, individual child.

8. Love is patient, love is kind…

I have had some dogs catch on to things and obey more quickly than others. Each one is different and requires patience, kindness, and love. The same is true for our children.

9. Don’t give up.

One thing our trainers keep repeating is not to be surprised if Max seems to be doing great one day and regresses another. Dogs, like kids, go through different stages of development, including those of defiance and cockiness. Press on. Your persistence will pay off.

10. Take time for yourself.

Before now, I had never had a strong-willed child, let alone a strong-willed dog. But, regardless of whether you do or don’t, homeschooling (as much as we may love it) isn’t always easy. It’s hard work, a big responsibility, and at times draining. I know homeschooling Max sure can be! That’s why some days I just have to take a break and treat myself to some “me time.” Whether it’s a hairdressing appointment, lunch with a friend, a date with my husband, or just running errands, it’s important I recharge my batteries by getting away and taking some time for myself. It is something I did when I homeschooled my children and something I continue to do to this day. For you it may be a quiet time, going for a walk, putting the kids to bed early, or a date night with your sweetheart. Whatever works! Just do it!

11. There’s no such thing as MAX-imum outcome with minimum effort.

The one thing the breeder told us as we drove away with Max was, “the more you put into him, the more you’ll get out of him.” I can tell you those words have rung in my ears more times than I care to remember. There are even times if truth be told, that I have just wanted to give up. But, I can now admit that what the breeder said is entirely true. The more time I spend training Max, the better he gets, and when I cut back he regresses. Max is living proof that there is no such thing as MAX-imum outcome with minimum effort. He requires a diligent and persistent effort on our part if he is to become a truly great dog.

But, isn’t that also true when it comes to raising and homeschooling our kids? The more effort we put into training them and the more consistent we are in those efforts, the better the results. Likewise, the more effort we put into homeschooling, the greater and more rewarding the long-term outcome. So, press on. The rewards will be worth every ounce of effort!

Max on white rug