Is it Okay for Dads to be Physical?


Scottish Terriers present a unique challenge when training. The basic dog-training methods of rewarding good behavior and scolding bad behavior don’t necessarily apply. Instead, Scotties need to think that all of their good deeds were really their idea all along.

I remember hearing this tidbit while watching a dog show several years ago. Since then, I’ve been certain my three-year-old son, Peter, is part Scottish Terrier.

Pete doesn’t listen the same way as his older brother, Bubba. He only does what you ask him to do if it’s in his own best interest. And even then, he’s not necessarily going to do what you ask in the way that you want him to do it.

Determined is one way to describe my youngest son. Infuriating is another.

It takes a certain level of patience and creativity to deal with Pete. I’m usually pretty good at it, but I occasionally lose my mind. The latest eruption came earlier this month at Peter’s weekly tumbling class.

Pete wasn’t listening to the instructor or me. Furthermore, he’s been attending this same class since he was an infant. The rules and routine haven’t changed. He knows he’s not supposed to walk on the parachute. But for some reason that day, he felt those rules did not apply to him. I tried to gently curtail his outbursts several times. Finally, I grabbed Peter and put him in a tight headlock. His arms and legs flailed wildly as he fought from being corralled. Without hurting Pete, I pinned him down with my bicep around his neck and my forearm across his head. “Whatcha’ gonna do now?” I yelled in a loud, deep voice. Everyone in the class turned and looked. They were terrified.

Peter just started laughing. His legs stopped kicking. I removed my Hulk Hogan sleeper hold. Pete put his thumb in his mouth and sat quietly on my lap for the remainder of class.

The mom next to me watched the whole incident. Afterward, she said, “See, you’re lucky. You’re a dad. You can do that. How would it look if I did that?”

It’s a good question. So, I asked the opinion of Dr. Sheldon Cotler, a professor of psychology at DePaul University. He specializes in children and adolescents as well as child rearing.

“Dads are expected to roughhouse with their kids,” Cotler said. Moms, on the other hand, aren’t allowed to be as physical. A female who followed my same course of action would likely be seen as abusive or mean, Cotler said.

The gender of the parent isn’t the only thing at play here either. Having a son also gives me more leeway when it comes to physical discipline and aggressive play, Cotler said. Had I put my daughter in a headlock and spoken to her like a prison rioter, the heads that turned would likely have come with a disapproving look, Cotler added.

Then again, boys and girls don’t misbehave the same way either. A three-year-old girl is more likely to cry, pout or say something hurtful when scolded. Whereas, a boy is more likely to run away, punch or kick, Cotler said.

I’m not sure gender is quite as important when training Scottish Terriers. But if you’re a frustrated Scottie owner, I’d suggest putting your dog in a headlock. It seems to work well with my hard-headed, young pup.

Howard Ludwig is a former business writer who traded in his reporter’s notebook for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad. He can be reached at

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