In praise of doggy day care

Dog (animal)Preschools and Early LearningSchoolsEducationUnited Nations

People say that having a dog is great training for having a kid. What they don't tell you is that eventually your dog can actually raise your kid for you, freeing up your time for more important things, like napping, and Foosball!

You scoff now, but it happens to the best of us, believe me. Every parent has that day when he wakes up and realizes the truth: "I am far too busy and important to do the trivial and taxing work of raising my own child."

When that day comes, you'll naturally look around the house and see if there's anyone else who might keep an eye on your kid for you so you can flip through celebrity magazines instead. Because your spouse will be hiding in the broom closet, you won't find anyone at first, but then your eyes will come to rest on your two loyal dogs.

Sure, at first you'll be ashamed to even consider your dogs as appropriate guardians for your child. But then you'll get to thinking: Given the lack of affordable, high-quality day-care options these days, could two dogs really be much worse than the shoddy supervision most kids receive at the local child-care center? You know your dogs really well -- it's not like some total stranger will be raising your baby. Aren't your dogs affectionate? Wouldn't they watch your kid like a hawk and follow her everywhere, especially if you taped a cookie to her forehead?

And how many day-care providers can promise a 2-to-1 caregiver-to-child ratio? Even if one of the caregivers is usually either napping or eating something that's stuck to the pavement outside, that still leaves one whole caregiver who's totally dedicated to taking care of your baby's every need!

Some people might think that a human, who can talk and reason and walk on two legs, would be a better role model for a young child. A common myth! Reason is actually completely lost on a baby. While most parents treat even their pre-verbal offspring with the sort of strained diplomacy typically reserved for United Nations negotiations, it turns out that babies are much more responsive to wagging, licking and the occasional low, menacing growl.

Dogs are also well-versed in exactly the sorts of life lessons that babies need most. While a human being will always be tempted to project her own values and judgments onto every situation, a dog keeps things really simple, communicating only the basics via a well-timed glare or piercing bark. What more does a baby need to know, beyond "You can't eat that there!" or "That's not yours, it's mine"?

While a good day-care worker might tell your child not to pinch so hard, wouldn't it be much more convincing to correct this behavior with a gentle nibble? And who but a dog could impart such wisdom as "I know that smells really interesting, but you don't want to taste it, trust me."

Any child-care situation is going to have its drawbacks. It's true that my daughter is just a little bit more focused on squirrels than we might like. She doesn't wave hello, but we know that's what all the licking means, and her sense of smell is pretty remarkable. She'll probably always hate the UPS guy and the mailman, but that's better than loving Barney, isn't it?

I've read the reports, so I know that dropping my baby off at day care is tantamount to throwing her to a pack of wild dogs. My dogs aren't very well-trained, but at least they're domesticated.

And somehow I rest a little more soundly at night, knowing that, when the next big one hits, at least three members of my family will be prepared to eat whatever is stuck to the pavement outside.

Heather Havrilesky writes the "I Like to Watch" column for Salon.com.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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