Thursday, January 22, 2009

People are Animals (and that's not a bad thing)

I told a friend on Wednesday about an awkward conversation with my boyfriend's mom wherein I compared children to dogs. Tamika's response: "How could you? Kids aren't dogs!" This of course led to me defending my position that, up to a certain age, it is perfectly appropriate to raise kids on the same principles I raised my cat and would train a dog. Motivation, positive rewards, patience, and boundaries. There have been movies about women training husbands according to puppy books and even Animal Planet's It's Me or the Dog seems to have the same basic principles as Super Nanny.

When Toby is afraid, I comfort him. We give timid dogs and cats small tasks they can learn to do and feel proud about. This is the approach I plan to use if I ever have kids. I want my cat to know that he is a smart kitty who is capable. Why wouldn't I want any theoretical kids to feel the same?

When I want Toby to exercise more (he has a small bit of a tummy pouch because I didn't notice he had figured out how to get into his dry food), I motivate him with interesting activities and toys that encourage him to play and move instead of lay about the apartment. I understand that parents do the same. Parents play catch with their kids. I play fetch with my cat.

Wednesday's Washington Post chat on pet obesity even noted that cats substitute food for affection and this often leads to overeating. I'm pretty sure this is why my Ben&Jerry's consumption jumped when my boyfriend moved away. This is why sometimes petting Toby when he whines near the food dish quiets him without a single piece of kibble coming out and why I can avoid the ice cream when I get a sweet email.

I know that Toby is food motivated and does well with positive reinforcement, this helps me teach him to sit, come when called, or put up with brushing. My boss figuring out that I'm motivated by editorial work and positive comments, gives her a way to encourage me to invoice, copy, or file when I don't otherwise enjoy those tasks. Me knowing that I'm food motivated helps me get to work on time by bribing myself with chocolate pudding cups for breakfast.

Realizing that people are animals doesn't mean just acknowleging where we act less than civilized, it also means realizing all the ways to helps ourselves and others act in civilized fashions. A three year old doesn't understand how to not grab toys away from others unless he has been trained to share. I don't work out unless I find a way to motivate myself. Toby doesn't come unless I train and motivate him Understanding pets isn't just a way to help ourselves get them to do what we want, but it helps us understand how to help ourselves do what we should.

And doing what we should helps everyone sleep better at night.

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