What ever happened to a spoonful of sugar?

Mary Poppins with bird on her fingerWhen Julie Andrews sailed into the lives of the banker’s children as Mary Poppins I was so impressed that I practiced leaping off the top bunk with my own umbrella in preparation for more daring heights (luckily no hospital visits were required). And the idea that a ‘spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down’ had me wishing that I had to take castor oil myself, whatever that was. Mary just gets it right. She makes tidying up rooms fun, shows respect and concern for her charges and understands that when one has to deal with nasty stuff, the addition of something sweet can make it more tolerable.

We know this. We say things like, ‘you catch more bees with honey than vinegar’, understanding that something positive is likely to achieve many goals more efficiently than something negative. The drill sargeant governesses in Mary Poppins caused children worldwide to cringe. No one wanted one of those in their lives, even if we didn’t know what a governess was.

I’m never sure why anyone shows reluctance to the practice of making something easier or more pleasant for someone or something else, whether it involves showing support, offering a reward, or providing medications to ease suffering. We have sayings for this as well-‘spare the rod spoil the child’, ‘don’t sugarcoat it’, ‘no pain no gain’. Sure we get stronger by pushing our limits, learn more by being accountable for the quality of our responses, but since when it is ok to watch someone drowning and not throw them a lifeline because we think that struggling will improve their swimming skills?

Scared dogs are struggling. Attempting to flee, hide or being aggressive are indications that they are drowning. They are figuratively ‘in over their heads’. In the same way I wouldn’t hesitate to pull someone into shallow water, I don’t hesitate to get my scared dog to a place where he can at least reach the bottom with his tippy toes and catch his breath while I dig in my pockets for that spoon.

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9 comments so far

  1. melfr99 on

    Wow! What a great analogy Deb! I think you are so right on. I think the same applies to those who would choose CM’s form of training over positive reinforcement. I never understood why people would prefer to pin their animals down to get a certain behavior (or stop one) vs. using a non-threatening, non-invasive method of training. I’ll take Mary Poppins and that ‘spoonful of sugar’ any day of the week!

  2. Mary Doane on

    Beautiful analogies indeed! Thank you, Deb. You always keeping us thinking about what’s in the mind of a fearful, shy, or just plain timid dog.

    And, you’ve given us a song to sing as we’re working with them! I love that!

  3. fearfuldogs on

    Thanks Mel! Thanks Mary! As always I appreciate the read and the feedback.

    There’s something about making people/dogs tow the line or is it toe the line? that appeals to many, even if it doesn’t work.

  4. Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart on

    So true. Drowning. I know the feeling.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Hope your tippy toes at least keep your nose above water.

  5. Edie on

    I think it’s part of the Puritan strain in our culture — keep a stiff upper lip, buck up, suck it up and all that. One of the wonderful things about Mary Poppins is how she plays against British governess stereotypes.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I also loved the compassion in the film. Hearing the ‘feed the birds’ song still makes me all teary eyed.

  6. Hilary on

    I liked your analogy a lot. Thanks for taking the time to write that fearful dogs are similar to people drowning…

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Hilary. I hear that people think their dog is a coward or stupid. There is little to no recognition that the dog does not have the actually skills to succeed in situations they are put into.


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