Since seven-month-old Louie shined so brightly in puppy class, we figured he was ready for an advanced degree, and we signed him up for a novice-level obedience class at our local high school. So on Tuesday evenings my husband and I take him to learn good canine manners: sitting, coming, and lying down when asked; walking nicely on a leash; and the skill Louie finds most challenging, a canine skill that’s all about not doing something you really want to do: “leaving it.” Louie is learning to “leave it” by sitting back when there’s a doggie treat beckoning right in front of him. Eventually he’ll be able to “leave it” when he spies a tempting piece of garbage on the sidewalk or a smelly sneaker just waiting to be chewed.
“Leaving it” is all about self control and resisting temptation. It’s the canine equivalent of not sneaking one more cookie when your mother isn’t looking—which is related to not blurting out the answer before you’re called on in school, and resisting the urge to shoot just one more basket after your dad has called you in to dinner. I love watching Louie achieve good canine manners and gain control of himself—and of course it reminds me of when my boys were young and learning similar early lessons.
It seems that self control, discipline, good manners—all those traditional “virtues” that folks like Ben Franklin espoused—have gotten kind of lost in the last decade or so. Everyone has been worrying a lot about school readiness—making sure preschoolers learn their ABCs and how to count to 100 and all the colors and shapes and other important academic stuff. But I think the tide is turning again. There’s significant talk amongst researchers and education experts these days about the importance of achieving solid social-emotional skills in the early years—not just because these are an essential part of the glue that holds any social group together, but also because they turn out to be critical for children’s academic success.
So much to learn these days before kindergarten, but fortunately, lots and lots of opportunities for learning. Two cookies: one for you and one for me. That’s both one-to-one correspondence and sharing; math and manners all in one bite.
-by Deborah L. Pool, PhD in Human Development. Debby is VP of Product Development at Kindermusik International. Milou, or "Louie", is Debby's wonderful seven-month-old labradoodle puppy.