Rough­hous­ing wor­ries grandma

The Commercial Appeal - - Front Page -

I am in­clined to ask for an out­side opin­ion af­ter spend­ing time with my grand­kids at their home last night and wit­ness­ing a lot of vi­o­lent be­hav­ior with which they got away. It was an emo­tional roller coaster. I saw the el­dest sib­ling be­hav­ing roughly with his younger sib­lings. The par­ents threat­ened to take away a fa­vorite toy as pun­ish­ment but then never fol­lowed through, nor did they use time­out, which I still think is smart for calm­ing down.

As a grand­par­ent, I was glad to see the sis­ters, ages 3 and 4, learn­ing to fight back against their el­der brother, who is 7, when he was rough with them. But he’s still stronger, and there was still a lot of cry­ing. Mean­while, the 1-year-old boy is watch­ing it all.

My daugh­ter-in-law is a stay-at-home mom. My son par­tic­i­pates with the dis­ci­pline, but he mostly yells at them. The kids laugh it off, and the el­dest boy even hits the par­ents or pounces on them when he feels like it. And again, noth­ing is done to pun­ish him.

When I spend time with the kids in­di­vid­u­ally, they are sweet and very smart. I’m sure they like the calm visit with me. What will hap­pen with them in the fu­ture?

You are cor­rect to be con­cerned. Empty threats help no one. They in­still tem­po­rary fear in chil­dren that they will get some­thing taken away, and when there is no fol­low-through on the threats, it teaches the chil­dren that your word is not worth pay­ing at­ten­tion to. In the end, they will con­tinue not to lis­ten to or re­spect your son and daugh­terin-law. They need firm guide­lines about not hit­ting, strict en­force­ment and lots of love.

I am a vet­eri­nar­ian, and I have read your col­umn since its in­cep­tion. I usu­ally agree with your ad­vice. How­ever, I must ob­ject to the ad­vice you gave to the own­ers of the cat who got a Great Pyre­nees. They be­lieve that the dog is de­mand­ing an in­or­di­nate amount of their at­ten­tion. Though your re­ply was well-in­tended, your rec­om­men­da­tions may not have been help­ful and could even be dan­ger­ous. Dogs and cats have their own meth­ods of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, with fa­cial ex­pres­sions and body lan­guage that most peo­ple aren’t trained or at­tuned enough to un­der­stand. They have evolved to re­spond to these cues. Try­ing to project hu­man emo­tions, mo­ti­va­tions or pat­terns of be­hav­ior onto dogs or cats is largely un­suc­cess­ful and can some­times cre­ate more un­wanted be­hav­ior.

This cou­ple would ben­e­fit from hav­ing a pro­fes­sional dog trainer come to their house, ob­serve the so­cial hi­er­ar­chy that ex­ists and coun­sel them on the best way to safely mod­ify this dog’s be­hav­ior. Thank you for your on­go­ing ef­forts to help peo­ple with their is­sues. I hope this in­for­ma­tion is ben­e­fi­cial.

Thank you for your ex­per­tise. You make a great point about the po­ten­tial pit­falls of pro­ject­ing hu­man emo­tion onto an­i­mal be­hav­ior. I’ve for­warded your let­ter to the owner of the Great Pyre­nees, and I’m print­ing it here for the ben­e­fit of all read­ers try­ing to keep the peace among an­i­mals in their homes.

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