Guide Dogs: Attachment Version

Hello there! I’m Coffeemom. I’ve been asked to be the guest blogger today here at A Bushel and A Peck, by one of my heroes and main sources of inspiration and encouragement: Lisa. So she kinda made me into one thankful mom too… which I should be more often and am typically not, not nearly enough at any rate. Anyhow… I am honored and a little nervous to be here again, but also thrilled to be connecting across the blogosphere.

So, that all said… In the spirit of this blog, I’d like to put up some thoughts on a topic near and dear to my heart and home: attachment. This is about a different attachment tool; and one that I tried without any really backup or documentation in my library of attachment books (but to be fair, sometimes I skim; so I could’a missed it…).

I am talking about pets.
Dogs, to be exact.
I think that when it comes to a kid who has attachment issues, sometimes a guide dog can help.

I know, I know, guide dogs are usually thought of as seeing eye dogs, hearing dogs, dogs to help the physically disabled, heck, they even have seizure dogs (and I looked into those long ago too). But I’m talking about another kind of guide dog: a guide dog of the heart, an attachment guide dog.


Now, I will immediately throw out the caveat that if you have a child who is a little freaked out by any dog at all, this won’t be much help. Though I would go out on a limb and propose that the same principles could be found in a cat or pet guinea pig; really any small animal that needs care will do. Thus, geckos… won’t. Really, anything reptilian, just won’t cut it. You need the cuddly fluffy factor, you just do. But I digress.

So, a guide dog.
A guide dog to the heart.
None of my attachment therapy/parenting books touched on this, but again, I could have missed it. In our house there is always at least one child campaigning for a new critter: dog, cat, horse, hermit crab, you name it. Typically, the answer is short and swift and simple: “Nope.”

However, after our newest daughter was home for a year, and with the rapid and alarming aging of our old faithful retriever, the campaign intensified. It had a new and more urgent plea. It also had a twist: a small dog was begged for. It was a tough sell, at first. We are a large dog family. Always and ever (I know, go ahead, smirk… my husband is still reeling). Plus, we have eight kids now, three with special needs, who needs more things to attend to? Like I said, a tough sell.

But as I watched this newest daughter, a teen, sit with our old dog… I realized something. I realized a few things.

This girl, this sweet girl from hard places who struggles to fit in, to figure it all out, to be safe and ok… this girl always had a pat for this sweet old dog.
This girl, who struggles to understand, who has had so much of the deck stacked against her, she knows how to do domestic care sort of things – she’s good at it.
This girl, who gets frustrated with academics and the abstract, is a very good apprentice and if you can show her, she can usually do it (unless it more intricate, like knitting, but heck, I can barely do that myself!).
This girl, wants to love and doesn’t always know how in our big family.
This girl, wants to trust, but can’t, not yet.
This girl, wants to be loved, and deserves to… but we humans are often very conditional in our love. Even when we try not to be, and so we all struggle to grow in love together, but it takes time.


A dog, better yet a puppy, loves unconditionally. Instantly.
A puppy can love many people, not just one or two… it doesn’t matter if the their family is small (only child) or large.
A puppy loves you no matter if you are cranky or cute, happy or sad, sick or well.
A puppy trusts you, even more, depends on you to care for them.
A puppy will reward you for your care-taking and attention with silly puppy play and sweet sleepy puppy breathing on your lap.

So, of course you know what happened. We got a puppy. A small puppy. We got one of the puppies that are really hard to train so we will have to work a long time and be patient with it’s accidents and messes, and still love it… just to model that unconditional love and family commitment. Ok, maybe that part was unintentional, but hey, it works and I’m running with it!

We have shown our daughter how to care for it. The other kids pitch in too, but a great deal of it falls to her, and she takes it on by choice as well.
She is successful in the fine care she gives this high maintenance pup.
She sees that this puppy trusts her.
She sees that this puppy trusts us.
She sees that this puppy depends on her, and us.
She sees that this puppy will lie down next to her if she is sad or angry and still be present and try to lick her face and wag with happiness to be near her.

This puppy can make her laugh, a real, unfettered, giggly pure laugh.
This puppy can make her sigh with contentment.
This puppy can maker her sigh with resigned frustration at another mess… then help to clean it up.
This puppy is one of the first creatures she says hello to in the morning or after school (happily, after mom and dad though!).

My hope is that this pup, this cute, stubborn, hard to train, sweet pup will help lead my girl down the path to trust, to reliance, to love, perhaps even to a not so conditional love. My hope is that it is a circular process: caring for a pup to learn the same lessons for yourself.

My hope is that this pup will be a guide dog for her; a guide dog to her heart, yes.

But my hope is that this dog will be a guide dog  to family.

Coffeemom blogs at Another Espresso Please where she writes about being the mother of eight by birth and adoption.

This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Chantelle
    January 6, 2011

    What a beautiful post/concept/and pictures!!! (precious pup too! what breed?)

  2. Chantelle
    January 6, 2011

    What a beautiful post/concept/and pictures!!! (precious pup too! what breed?)

  3. Carol
    January 6, 2011

    Great post! We found – who knew!!! – that a cat can play this role as well. After years as dog people, we added a kitten and the four of us are learning – together – how to care for her. Love your posts – wherever I find them/

  4. lisa
    January 6, 2011

    thank you so much this might be great for our daughter at sometime and can you tell me your favorite blogs from family's living with with reactive attachment disorder?

  5. coffeemom
    January 6, 2011

    chantelle, Coffeemom here: the breed is a mini dachshund and she is a piebald coloring. A less common coloring and sort of a blend between long and short hair. She's very sweet and can jump like an olympian. Very entertaining!

  6. Joy
    January 6, 2011

    Sweet! (both the pup and the concept)

    My basset hound is red & white like your pup, and she was full-grown when we got her at 8 months of age – I'm guessing she must have looked a lot like your little critter in her early days 🙂

  7. Michele
    January 6, 2011

    I wholeheartedly agree. We have an aging golden and a small papillion that were both here before my sweet 12 year old came home from China. It took her a LONG time to get used to the idea of a dog in the house but once she did I found her carrying around the papillion, making sure the old golden had fresh water, and cuddling on the couch with both. We added a third dog to the mix in October and it has been fun to watch them bond together. She is an adorable fluffy puppy mix and is so good about offering positive lovable attention especially when I am all used up and have nothing left to give! – momma2seven

  8. KEhmen
    January 6, 2011

    Beautiful! Perfect in every way!

  9. Dawn
    January 6, 2011

    Love this!!! We have one small one large a cat and 2 gerbils………All of which our children have happily bonded with and love to love on…..even when it is harder to show love to others.

  10. Jamey
    January 6, 2011

    I think this is brilliant. We'd kind of tossed that idea around that our kiddo might benefit from an animal. We temporarily shelved it because our kids are so young that a dog might be too much for US, but we are still tossing around the idea of a kitten for her/us.

  11. Jenny
    January 6, 2011

    I love this. My dogs are great therapy for me and such a great example of unconditional love. A great way to learn to express love in a safe way!

  12. Mary (Owlhaven)
    January 6, 2011

    We are having this experience with our new puppy and our most attachment-resistant child! It is lovely to see the sweetness show for our dog…gives me a fresh glimpse of the good things in the child's heart..

  13. Jennifer
    January 6, 2011

    I had the same idea but haven't seen it anywhere else but here. I'm so glad I found this post because it means the idea just might work. I have a son we adopted when he was 3 (he's several years older now). I've thought about getting him a dog/cat to help not only attachment but also some control issues. He loves to "be in charge" and I thought that being in charge of a pet would re-direct some of the need for control as well as help him learn that love is unconditional. Thanks again!

  14. Ellis
    January 6, 2011

    Once again, Michele, I am moved by the sheer ferocity of your love for your children and your desire to help them grow in every way possible. Great post and pics.

  15. christine
    January 7, 2011

    I wholeheartedly agree! When I was a kid and the world got me down, nothing proved to be more helpful than the never-failing joy that only a dog can give when it greets you. I am forever in debt to my childhood dog.

  16. Mamitaj
    January 7, 2011

    I couldn't agree more. Dogs are God's example of unconditional love. We got our puppy when our daughter had been home 4 months. He has helped us all heal. Thanks for the post.

  17. Grace
    January 17, 2011

    My three year old son shows symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the main symptom being that of just feeling helpless, weak and having a low self esteem. I've recently become hooked on Cesar Millan, who has The Dog Whisperer show on television and "rehabilitates dogs and trains people." I have been intrigued at how much he helps PEOPLE and his insights into them, as well as rehabilitates dogs. He uses a psychological approach on both dogs AND people, rather than just a certain dog training method.

    We have four medium sized dogs and I've started to help my son become their "pack leader" with a lot of the methods that Cesar gives to dog owners to make them the leaders of their dogs. I have already noticed the confidence that being in control of our dogs has given him, just by him practicing being calm and ASSERTIVE. Not controlling them with anger, strength or out of nervousness or fear. I am a dog lover but my son isn't necessarily, and it's not about him becoming a dog lover like me – it's about him feeling better about himself and in control, being calm and assertive and taking this mind set into other areas of his life. And of course with a dog they love HIM in return! 🙂 I haven't seen "dog therapy" mentioned in any attachment or trauma books but I'm fascinated by it! I think there's a lot of help that our dogs can give to our children to help in their rehabilitation process.

  18. Miko
    June 24, 2014

    Very very nice picture. Love it. Truly the dog is the man's best friend.

  19. waggybaggy
    July 30, 2015

    "If a dog jumps in your lap,it is because he is fond of you; but if a cat does the same thing,it is because your lap is warmer."–Alfred North Whitehead.

    @Liza Cook.


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