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No such thing as a mean dog

Greg Moffatt's picture

Two street thugs were being arrested in Atlanta and canine control was on the scene taking possession of a vicious-looking pit bull, apparently owned by one of the men being arrested.  It took more personnel to control the pit bull than it did to detain and arrest the two grown men. 

 Pit bulls have a reputation of being vicious.  Indeed they can be.  They are very powerful, muscular dogs and when they bite down, they can apply over 3,000 pounds of pressure allowing them to maintain a grip that has spawned the myth that their jaws lock shut.  But pit bulls are not mean dogs.  They are aggressive by nature, but they are mean when they are mistreated, ignored, or deliberately trained to be mean.

Every breed of dog has its own personality that is exhibited in its behavior.  Beagles are friendly, but they bark a lot and they love to run.  Beagles are not good dogs for apartment dwellers.  On the other hand, pugs are affectionate, small, and excellent dogs for people living in apartments.  Labs are very good with children and they love to play in the water, but they have a reputation for chewing on everything.  Bassett hounds tend to be very laid back dogs, but are also known to be stubborn.   

Whether a dog is loyal, affectionate, active, or aggressive is descriptive of what it is by nature.  These traits, however, can be managed by training.  Even a passive dog can and will bite if mistreated by its owner.  Aggressive dogs can be trained to control their aggression.  The key to picking the right dog is having the right environment and providing plenty of love, affection, training, and attention to the animal.

People are like dogs in a way.  There are all types of personalities.  Some of us are aggressive by nature and some of us are passive or affectionate.  Some people are quiet and well-suited for apartments while others are range-roving individuals who need lots of space. 

But children are forced into an environment regardless of personality.  They go to a school that requires them to do certain activities in certain ways at specific times.  They have no choice in how they are allowed to express themselves.

As long as a child’s personality type matches what is expected of her, she probably will get along OK with minimal trouble, but for the many children whose personalities don’t match their forced environments, they have trouble.  Parents and teachers think of them as difficult children when, in fact, they are simply trying to learn to manage their personalities in environments that aren’t hospitable to them.  In essence, they are land-roving children stuck in apartments.  One can easily recognize the foolishness of an apartment dweller getting a beagle or a lab and then complaining that it tore the place up.  But for some reason we don’t as easily see a child who isn’t well-suited for his environment and who needs a little extra attention and training.

Many of the children I work with are like that pit bull in Atlanta.  They have been mistreated or allowed to pursue their aggressive instincts without correction.  They are not bad kids.  They just haven’t been trained properly or worse, they have been mistreated.  But even when they have been mistreated, they can be retrained if the adults in their lives take the time to love, nurture, and teach them.   

Training a dog is easiest when training starts when it is a puppy.  It is much harder to correct bad habits in a grown dog than it is to teach good habits from the beginning to a young dog.  Children are the same.  Likewise, almost any dog left unattended for hours at a time, ignored, or mistreated, will get into trouble.  In a similar way, children can be trained to be mean and disruptive when they are repeatedly frustrated, abused, or ignored. 

I’m not suggesting that children should not go to school or learn to accommodate to various environments as needed, but I am suggesting children have innate drives and personalities.  When that personality is allowed to blossom, they flourish.  Your job as a parent is to determine the innate personality of your child and teach him how to cope with life using the skills that come along with his personality and supplementing skills where they are weak or absent.  This comes through patience, time, observation, and nurturance.

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