Choose Your Words Wisely

We’re getting ready to try for our annual family Christmas picture this weekend thanks to a warm day forecast for Saturday — can’t take a San Diego Christmas picture with anyone looking cold!  Looking through past years’ pictures, we came across one from a long time ago that referred to our dog by her old nickname, “Bad Dog Betty.”

What we thought was a cute alliteration that paid homage to her spunky nature came close to poisoning our son’s relationship with her back when he was a toddler.

I never meant any harm with that nickname, particularly because I have a special place in my heart for so-called “bad” dogs.  However, when our first son was a toddler, he picked up on those words, but the way he said it was entirely different:  “BAD DOG, Betty!” — so mean and kind of angry and confrontational, like he was ready to take her on for just standing there.

That was a real eye-opener for us and my husband and I made a concerted effort to NEVER say those words again.  Instead, we decided that we would only refer to our dog as, “Betty Sweet Girl” from that point forward.  It didn’t take long to catch on and, soon enough, when people would ask his dog’s name, Daniel would reply, “Betty Sweet Girl” in a sing-song voice and a big smile. In both cases, good and bad, the tone and demeanor matched the words.

Whew!  We dodged a bullet on that one, but it really brought home for me the importance of speaking nicely to and about your dogs in the presence of young children.  I read somewhere, “What adults do in moderation, children will take to excess,” and that was certainly the case for us.  If there’s any drama involved or frustration in your tone of voice, your kids will pick up on it and you may very well see it come out in their own behavior towards your dog.

So, make it a rule to always greet your dog in a friendly manner when he or she approaches.  Like it or not, your kids are always learning from what they see and hear from you.

I was so pleased with ten-year-old Daniel’s reaction when he saw that old Christmas card: “Why does this say, ‘Bad Dog Betty?’  She’s not a bad dog!  Why would you ever call her that?!”  He was so sweetly offended on her behalf.  Good boy, Daniel!

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