Parenting Tips From Animal Trainers

Heather Chaet

panda cubThis is totally an “awww, ma, that’s ah-dor-ah-ble” kinda story. Seven panda cubs in Chengdu Panda Base in China are off to nursery school. Just picture it: backpacks, lunchboxes, and nametags ironed onto their jackets. Fluffy black and white bears sitting "criss-cross applesauce" during Circle Time.

Okay, maybe not. What will these lil' cutie panda pies learn? Suckling is first up. Next, they'll learn how to eat bamboo, apples, and steamed bread (that last one has me wondering where exactly the bears are getting steamed bread, but I digress).

I remember my daughter’s first year of preschool. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, she would learn to recognize her name, follow directions, how to hold those safety scissors, how to use her words rather than pummeling little Johnny for stealing her block, and how to drink from a “big girl cup."

Sounds like those pandas and my little cub are learning similar skills. I’m not surprised.

Some have suggested to couples to get a dog before starting a family, to see if you are ready to have a kid. You have to be responsible for another creature, feed it, take care of it. Not sure how close my “parenting” of our (now departed) goldfish Princess Fishy Fish was to my 4-year-old, but you get the idea.

Of course, it isn’t the same. Of course, there are a gazillion differences between a child and a dog/animal/panda bear, but who hasn’t watched an episode of The Dog Whisperer and thought, “Hey, I may try that kind of thing on my toddler!” One glance at Cesar Millan’s website, with article titles like “Separation Anxiety” to “Housebreaking” (aka potty training), it may make you wonder if you’ve stumbled upon a parenting site.

Well, definitely not tiny beasts, but SeaWorld mammals obviously learn those tricks somehow -- just like we teach our kids “tricks” like manners and everyday skills. Methinks repetition and positive reinforcement and some food bribes are part of the SeaWorld program, just like my parenting program. Apparently, I’m not so off -- teaching those whales how to perform is similar to dealing with your tot, so much so that someone wrote a parenting book about it. I’m not joking -- longtime trainer at SeaWorld Orlando Chuck Tompkins is co-author of Whale Done Parenting, which relates training whales to parenting.

The only remaining question I have: are those panda moms paying as much for preschool as I am?

What do you think of preschool for panda cubs?


Image via gil_penny/Flickr

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