Yes, you read that correctly. Now, before you decide that I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, and have clearly eschewed the joys of parenthood for the cheap thrills of dressing my dog up like a weiner, let me clarify: I am acutely aware that dogs and children are wildly different breeds.
I mean species. In fact, I have one of each—a canis lupus familiaris and a miniature homo sapien, and while both are on a leash, my love for the latter runs far deeper.
With that said, there’s a reason why so many couples “start with a dog” before jumping headfirst into the diaper pail of child-rearing. Some think owning a dog is a good way to hone their nurturing skills, some think the demands of a puppy’s potty training schedule might prepare them for those middle-of-the-night feedings (though I can assure you it will do nothing to rough up your nipples), and others simply want some co-parenting experience under their belt before signing up for a non-refundable, lifetime subscription to worrying endlessly about another human being, aka heartburn.
I’ll save you the suspense—a Milk Bone does precisely shit for a colicky baby, and there’s no cage good enough for our children, according to like, Mayim Bialik. But our beloved pooches do prepare us for parenthood in crucial, albeit tangential, ways.
1. They Depend on You for Everything
Especially keeping them alive. It’s essential to their future. Keep them alive. Unfortunately, neither dogs nor kids come with a “how-to” manual, which is actually stupid, because literally every single first-time dog owner and parent I know would buy a copy. Probably two, in case the first one ends up in the ceremonial burning of all the hospital bills, car seat instructions, and industrial-sized paper underpants they’ve amassed over the first few months.
Keeping a living thing alive is harder than it looks though, and having a dog will help you appreciate and anticipate this reality—like when you’re rubbing sugar on your dog’s penis because he got an uber-boner and now it won’t go back into its sheath and Google tells you this will help, or when you’re chasing your pup through 30 inches of snow barefoot because the smoke alarm went off and she got so scared she blew through the screen door.
Yes, moments like these will help sharpen those maternal or paternal instincts that will one day tell you which berries will improve your child’s memory and which ones could melt his face off.
Dogs, like children, depend on you for socialization, medication, a clean home, a clean body, a well-balanced diet, discipline, guidance, affection, unconditional love, and basically everything else that has a direct impact on their self-worth and quality of life. So be good to your dogs, or your kids won’t finish high school.
2. They Help You Embrace the Chaos
Babies are the goddam custodians of Murphy’s Law. If there’s a way to disrupt a peaceful moment or complicate a simple plan, they will find it. Wearing white for the first time since giving birth? Your baby’s ass will explode while you’re carrying him to the car. Babysitter coming at 7? Lil’ Precious will spike a fever at 6:45. The key is to accepting the fact that your life is temporarily being hijacked by an adorable little terrorist and there’s really nothing you can do about it. Except drink.
Having a dog will teach you to to embrace such forthcoming chaos one concession at a time. For example, your house will never be as clean as it was the day before you got a dog. Your pup might even chew the head off an antique doll. Get over it. Do this and you’ll be better prepared to handle the headboard booger colonies your kids throw into the mix.
There will also be times in your pup-rearing days when everyone is going a million miles an hour in different directions, trying to make dinner, switch the laundry, and fix the router all in time to take the dog to the park, only to realize that the dog has been in the den digging holes in the leather sofa for over an hour. Breathe. And be patient with your partner.
There were times in those frenzied newborn days when I felt like my husband and I were ships passing in the night, and he reminded me of all those times we were too tired to talk after night shifts with our sick puppy. The point being, we were prepared for this and could get through it as we’d done before. Naturally, I burst into tears and accused him of having an affair.
3. They Teach You How to Put Someone Else First
Whether it’s spending half of your paycheck on their hypoallergenic food or giving them the best seat in the house, we’re constantly making sacrifices for our dogs. One particularly blustery day in Chicago, I literally laid my coat across a puddle so that our shar pei, Ducky, would get out of moving traffic and onto the sidewalk. (Years later, I would use that same coat to swaddle our son on his first cross-country flight. MacGyver wishes he was me.) There are the social sacrifices too, of course—no more all-day beach outings or last-minute trips, and you suddenly become more responsible with your money when you have a $600 vet appointment looming around the corner.
While we do these things out of necessity to a certain extent, the real reason we put our pups first is because we love them profoundly and will do everything we can to keep them happy and healthy. When you care about something or someone so much, these sacrifices aren’t sacrifices at all; they’re privileges. And learning to put someone else’s needs before your own is essentially the definition of parenthood. It’s either that or a social construct inexplicably adopted by millions of complete morons.
Would I still rock my baby to sleep until my arms went numb had I not raised a dog? Of course. Would I still scoop vomit out of his car seat with my bare hands like it was some kind of delectable porridge? Yes. But before all this, there was a dog who showed me how beautiful and crazy and transformative motherhood could be, and for that, I’m forever grateful.
This post originally appeared on Fatherly.