Surprising Similarities Between Child Raising and Dog Training

Puppy Jack russell terrier lying on a carpet and looking guilty.Having been a professional dog trainer for many years, there is always one pitfall we trainers have to be careful to avoid when talking to customers and that is using ‘dog speak’ – or terminology that is very well known among us in the canine world, but to the everyday person means nothing. So to avoid this I use numerous analogies during my training sessions to make sure my clients understand exactly what I am talking about. I try to find examples that are common in everyday life – and more often than not, I find myself equating training situations to those that are similar with raising kids…especially when I am dealing with parents.

I know…it sounds strange, but it works. Picture “little Johnny” instead of “little Pup-Pup” and all of a sudden, the things you would normally sit there and say “I have absolutely no idea why my dog is doing that”, suddenly become clear. So, that being said, here are some of the more “useful” analogies I’ve shared with my customers …and some funny scenarios they’ve in turn shared with me…

Housebreaking and Potty training. When a customer is having trouble with this task, they tell me they let the pup out, it played for hours, then came back in and peed or pooped on the floor. There are actually three “kids and dogs” analogies I typically use to help customers make sense of this.

  • The first thing I will ask them is “Did you leash the pup and go out with them?” Usually they tell me no. So here, I will say to them…. When you potty trained your child…. Did you bring them to the bathroom door, send them inside, close the door and hope they went? Or, did you physically bring them inside, pull down their pants, put them on the toilet, and wait with them until they went? And after they went, did you just pick them up off the bowl and send them away? Or did you praise them, smile and clap your hands, give them some stickers for doing a good job?” So….. the only difference between potty training and housebreaking, besides the obvious leash and collar, indoors/outdoors thing, is that the dog gets a biscuit instead of a cookie, and we forgo the stickers and give them a toy instead! Other than that, it is the same…. You have to physically be there, stay with them, and praise when it is done.
  • Part two of the same example I just gave is that the dog is getting confused what the outside is for if they are allowed to go outside and play for hours. So for this, I tell my customers that the analogy I am about to give them is a bit outlandish, but makes its point….. I tell them, If you kept ALL of your child’s toys in the bathroom, how would you know if they wanted to go in there to play, or if they had to make? This lets the dog’s owners know that the only time pup/dog should be outside is to go potty…. Not to play…. At least until they understand what the outside is for.
  • Part three of the above example I gave is when a customer is upset that they have been working on housebreaking for two weeks… why is this not done yet… I ask them, “How long did it take your child to potty train? Did they get it overnight or in a few days? Just like potty training, housebreaking takes patience, time, and consistency.

Distractions. When we are training, I tell the customer to put all the pup’s toys away while we are training…and to do the same when they are practicing. Just like turning the TV off when their kids are doing their homework…the kids are not going to be able to concentrate with all those distractions in the background, and neither is the pup!

Calm a Hyper Pup. Another analogy I find myself using – usually with puppies and very hyper dogs – is in response to an owner complaining about how they let their dog run and play outside for hours to burn up their energy, and they came back in just as crazy. How can they fix this? My response… with training. Then I go on to ask them when their child goes to a birthday party, there is plenty of running around, playing, etc… but very little focused work that requires brain power, so more often than not, their child comes home still rearing to go! However, put that exact same child in a classroom for the same amount of time, they come home ready for a nap. Mental stimulation is ALWAYS more taxing and tiring than physical.

Consistency. Finally, here are some additional analogies I offer my clients to help bring home why practicing what their pups have learned during training makes such a huge difference.

  • One question I get asked all the time – especially by clients who call to inquire about my one-week boot-camping (intensive training) program – is “After the week is done, will they know all of the commands they need to be a really well behaved dog?” Sounds logical…it is an “intensive” training course. Now I ask them to think about this a little differently. If your child goes to kindergarten for one week and learns their A,B.C’s…. are they ready for college? This just puts the question into perspective for them and gives them a more realistic understanding that in a week I can teach all of the basics, but it is up to them to follow through and continue with their training.
  • Also, when we are talking about consistency regarding a dog’s training, when I am asked why they need to keep drilling the dog on even basic commands such as SIT and STAY in different locations, I explainIt’s for the same reason they hold fire-drills in the schools. They do not want to wait until there is an actual emergency and hope the children will know what to do”. In your living room, with no distractions around, it is great that your dog knows the commands…. But in an emergency, it is imperative that your dog knows to follow the same commands with no hesitations. You want to know when the fire-bell rings, the kids jump up, find their buddy, get in line, no one is scared, everyone is accounted for, no one gets overlooked and no one gets hurt. And when you’re out with your dog – you want to know you’ve put the same safety net in place.

So, as I’ve said, it can be very helpful when trying to explain a dog training concept to a parent, to relate it to a child raising experience.

What can be very funny however, is sometimes…when I least expect it… a dog training concept I worked on with the owner works “in reverse” with the child.

My favorite story of this was little Sophia. The entire session, this child’s name was repeated over and over and over again. Seeing this was going to make training difficult for this poor puppy, I decided to forgo the usual first commands of SIT and STAY, and work on a “WATCH ME” command. The purpose of this is that no matter what distractions are going on, when you say this command, your dog should look directly at you. We worked on the command the entire session, and the pup was focusing on us and paying attention like a champ! At the end of the session, we went over to the table where my date book was (Sophia had now climbed up on the table) and while I went through my date book, all I heard was, “Sophia stop it!! Sophia, leave that alone! Sophia, get down….” On and on it went. Next thing I know, Sophia has opened MY pocketbook, and has started to go through it. The mother was mortified, and after a minute of yelling at her to “leave it alone, get off the table, stop it” (all requests being ignored), I hear a second of silence, and the mother yells, “SOPHIA!! WATCH ME!!” …and the kid stopped dead in her tracks and stared at her Mom right in the eyes!! Her Mom at that point begged me to move in!

Not unlike little Sophia, there have been other times after a training, when I hear the parent use a technique we worked on with the dog (like STAY!!) … with their child (hand signal included)!! And it always cracks me up when they turn to me and say, “IT WORKS!!!”

For the record…even though I’ve had a number of my customers at the end of a successful session ask … I don’t train children or husbands!! 🙂

About the Author

I trained as an EMT in NY, than recertified in Atlanta. I loved being an EMT and was involved with it for several years. I worked on the “Rainbow Response Unit” at Egleston’s Children’s Hospital in Atlanta, and when not on a call, worked in the PICU and NICU, which was both a blessing as well as a heartache because I learned and saw so much. Helping to create a child safety seat for ambulances was my way of making sure children who were already compromised health-wise, would not be put in any more danger. When I realiized I could no longer be an EMT due to medical reasons, I found an alternate outlet for my desire to nuture and protect; I became a dog trainer...something that was always a second love and passion for me. Now, whenever possible, I combine my passion for children and canines by working to make the world a safer place for both. Suzanne is a member of the PedSafe Expert team


One Response to “Surprising Similarities Between Child Raising and Dog Training”

  1. Lyca says:

    Indeed. There’s no reason most techniques used in positive based dog training wouldn’t work on children. It would be a lot kinder to the child too, most parenting is based on scolding or shaming the kid when he or she misbehaves, rather than praising their good efforts or showing them what they should be doing instead. A young child is just as clueless about appropriate adult human behaviour as a dog is, it’s not their fault when they pick up objects they shouldn’t have or climb on countertops and tables. I’ve tried a few training techniques I use with my dog on children and it works well, children especially take well to game based training techniques (the Mary Poppins approach I guess).

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