Training kids and dogs is not that different.
Chip and I have been involved in dog rescue since 2002. We founded, with three of our friends, a dog rescue in 2004 which has placed approximately 4,000 dogs. We have also fostered dogs for other rescues, including a national Australian Shepherd rescue.
During that time, we have done alot of studying about dogs and dog training – and have found that alot of the principles we learned apply to training/raising children as well as dogs. We have 9 dogs and 3 little boys (and one adult child who was raised prior to having dogs so he doesn’t count here). The dogs are alot easier to train and much better behaved.
We train our dogs using a method in which you learn to capture the behavior that you want the dogs to repeat and give it an immediate reward. You start with a food reward but eventually they become satisfied with your excited voice, a “good dog” and a pet. Sometimes the reward is a game of ball in the backyard. They do not get the reward until they do the behavior we want them to repeat. The reward has to be immediate because dogs cannot attach a later reward with a prior action. Kids are not much better at that.
With our kids, we try to tell them how great they are as soon as they do something great. At first we make a big deal of it (remember potty training?). Then hopefully the chocolate is no longer required and the glow on our faces and the hugs and maybe a game of ball in the backyard is enough to keep them repeating the good behavior.
Likewise, we have learned to capture the bad behavior in the same way we work with our dogs. When we see our dogs with their paws on the edge of the garbage can about to tip the whole thing over, we yell loudly enough to catch their immediate attention, yell “off” and stop the bad behavior before it goes further. Our dogs know that the behavior they were just doing – paws on the edge of the garbage can – produces the loud “bark” that means stop and they stop.
With our kids, we do the same thing. Grab their attention immediately with a loud call of their name (usually followed by something like “have you lost your ever-loving mind?”), stop them in the middle of what they are doing and then engage them in a conversation about what they were about to do and why they could not do it.
That all works until about they are about 4 years old.
Then we move onto the more advanced training issues. Some dogs develop destructive behaviors because they are bored. They don’t have anything to do so they start chewing kitchen cabinets, chairs, table legs, anything they can find. Our dogs have ripped the Marmoleum (natural linoleum) off our floors to chew on the jute in the back. They have chewed the knots out of our pineboard floors. They have chewed the doors right off of kitchen cabinets.
The training answer is to keep them active, give them jobs and provide LOTS of chew toys. Spraying a little bitter apple where you don’t want them to chew is not a bad idea either.
Kids do the same thing – especially brighter children. So we find ourselves constantly trying to find activities for them to keep their minds and bodies involved because if we forget – they become destructive so to speak.
Chip is out tonight with Markus at his Little League practice. Jesse is sitting in my office with me knitting a baby blue hat he is making – he’s on his first stripe. Vashua is in his room with his Legos – building and yet another Guardian Robot.
Then you get the more difficult behaviors. Max (our dog) is fear aggressive. That means that if there is something or someone new around him he is afraid – and when he is afraid he wants to make it go away as quickly as possible – and his hackles go up and he attacks with a viciousness that terrifies people (yes – he’s my doggy soulmate). We have had to learn how to introduce people to Max – to teach people to avert their eyes, to let him make the first move to them, and if it is on his terms, he relaxes and allows them to exist.
Vash presents similarly. If something new occurs that he is not expecting or he does not know how to handle, he reacts with anger. He spits venom during those times and his teachers do not know how to handle it. Vash does not get the luxury that Max has of remaining insulated from the world by living just in the house – he has to engage with the world in a much less controlled environment, so we spend alot of time explaining to teachers how to work with him and his need to feel like he has some control over his environment so he can relax and do what they want him to do. His teacher thought I was being funny when I described him as fear aggressive. If they only knew.
Obviously kids require alot more knowledge and creativity to train than dogs – but I am sure glad I had the dogs first. It has certainly helped – and has made us appreciate our dogs ALOT more.