Dogs (and therefore their owners) can get away with things that kids (and therefore their parents) cannot.
Snatch a sandwich out of a repairman's hands? If your child does that, the price of the job goes up by 20 percent. If your dog does it, the repairman's respect for the dog goes up 20 percent.
Intermittent barking while you're on the phone? No one says a thing. But if your kids whine, shout, or cry during the conversation, you'd better handle it. Immediately.
More than a decade after becoming a mother, I have finally realized something: I love dogs. Maybe it's because they are like kids who never grow up. After you train a dog on the basics (go potty here, sleep there, and don't eat that), it is playful, loving, and yours - forever.
Even better, it's a "forever" that doesn't include adolescence. Your dog will never slam the door to his cage and pout because you said he can't go to the mall with a friend. Your dog will never lie to you.
You can wake the dog at 4 a.m. because that noise you heard might be the armed robber you read about in the paper, or it might be your imagination. You can tell the dog that you're scared. But it doesn't make him scared. You can tell the dog your deepest, darkest fears and never worry that you'll be the reason he needs therapy later in life. He takes it all in stride.
Let's face it, raising kids is tough. Your dog, in contrast to your children, doesn't get mad when you're late. He doesn't care whether you burn the cookies. No matter when you show up, the dog is happy. If you show up with burnt cookies, the dog is ecstatic.
On any given day, it seems as though there are a thousand ways you can annoy your kids, but toss one crust of bread to the dog, and you're Wonder Woman.
Ironically, in most families, it's the kids who want the dog in the first place. They make a good case, of course: "I'll walk him!" "I'll feed him!" "Pleeeeeeeeeaaaasse, Mom, puh-leassssssssssssssssssse?"
Eventually, you give in and get the dog.
At first, there's not enough dog to go around. Your firstborn brushes him and teaches him to roll over; the baby learns to walk while chasing the puppy's fuzzy tail.
But the canine honeymoon ends about the time the puppy turns into a dog - a dog that will probably sleep more than he catches tennis balls. Once the kids realize the dog can't go bike riding, skateboarding, or to the mall, somehow the dog becomes Mom's.
No matter what your feelings were when you first heard the pitter-patter of his little paws, he's your baby now. You feed him. You bathe him. You take him for walks. And occasionally, when nobody's looking, you slip him a still-juicy bone even though you know it will stain the carpet. You've come to love this dog; he's part of the family. A unique part.
"Unique" because when your dog runs off with a neighbor's newspaper or lies down in your newly planted flower bed, you can just shrug. That's what dogs do.
Besides, no matter what your failings as a parent, your dog will never take the car without asking, smoke, or drink and run into the minister on the same night.
But what if he did?
"Come on, boy," you'd say. "Let's go home." No lecture, no punishment, no agonizing over whether you overreacted or underloved. He's a dog after all.
Another difference between dogs and kids is that when Mom talks, the dog listens. He pays attention - or seems to anyway. And he will never repeat what you say.
I think my children may be growing suspicious of my relationship with the dog.
"Are you talking to him about me?" my daughter asked recently.
I pretended I didn't hear and tossed Spike a bone. We have an understanding.