As "mom" to both a rat terrier and a 4 year old, I am often amazed by the similarities between the two. They both love balls, and possess zero table manners. Plus they're constantly doing things they shouldn't be doing, then giving me this innocent look like "Who, me?" Given all they had in common, I got to wondering whether dog trainers could teach parents how to raise well-behaved kids.
Turns out they had plenty of tips that applied perfectly to little humans, too. Yes, that's right, dog trainers can help you raise your kids:
1. Train "do," not "don't". "Whenever your dog -- or kid! -- is doing something you hate, like jumping up on you or running around the dinner table, stop yourself from scolding and punishing them," says Carol Millman, a professional dog trainer, mom, and founder of Howtotrainyourtoddler.com, dedicated to transferring dog training practices into caring parenting. "Instead, ask yourself 'what would I RATHER they be doing?' In the previous examples, the answer is probably 'sit calmly.' So then you start focusing on teaching them to sit calmly with lots of praise and encouragement for succeeding. Dogs and kids love to please, and when they think they are succeeding, they start to try harder. When they feel like they are failing, they stop trying."
2. Give them an appropriate outlet for their destructive energy. Every dog owner knows to give a puppy plenty of chew toys so he doesn't start gnawing on the electrical cord or your favorite pair of shoes. Well, the same applies to kids, says Alexis Toriello, who specializes in working with babies/kids and dogs as the owner or Zen Dog Training. "With my 9-month-old, I know I have to give her something fun to play with, or she'll start grabbing for the fork on the table or scream bloody murder for my attention!" Toriello explains. So if your kid's misbehaving, it's time to give them a challenge to focus their energy, like building the best Lego castle ever, or an activity outside the home -- from swimming lessons to sculpture class -- or even just hiding a Hershey's Kiss in the house and handing them a few clues to see how long it takes him to find it.
3. Don't let them practice behaviors you don't want to increase. Ever notice how dogs, once they pee in one spot on the rug, will keep going there? "It's because he remembers that as the spot where he felt that feeling of sweet relief when he last had to go, so he'll seek it out in the future," says Toriello. "For kids, this is like not letting them get ice cream from the ice cream truck that's parked every day on your corner. Because you know that once you do, they'll be wanting ice cream all day, every day."
4. Use positive reinforcement. "You can make dogs do lots of things by tugging their leashes, yelling, or locking them in a crate," says Anthony Newman, owner of Calm Energy Dog Training. "But to get their behavior to stick, they have to actually enjoy the things you ask them to do. This requires positive reinforcement, or rewards."
Don't worry -- giving your kids cake won't make them spoiled brats. "Just like giving your dogs bones won't make them disobedient, treats are the centerpiece of modern positive reinforcement training," Newman says. He's not just talking about rewarding positive behavior, but NOT rewarding negative actions, either. "If your child whines that he wants to leave the table, and you let him go, he just learned -- on a very fundamental, animal level of conditioning -- that whining works," says Newman. "If you tell him that you can't hear him when he whines, and instead help him calm down and ask you politely, then when you let him leave the table you've just discouraged whining and instead reinforced calm polite social interaction."
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5. Give them a leader and role model. "When you take [your dog] to the dog park, if you sit on the bench, they'll think you're scared of the other dogs, so you can guarantee they will be too," says Newman. "You need to lead by example."
For kids, this also means practicing what you preach. "Think of trying to tell a child not to watch TV while you sit there watching The Bachelor on your cellphone," Newman points out. "Think of trying to tell your child to eat his broccoli while you devour a pint of Ben & Jerry's. Even if you can enforce your rules at the moment, it's a recipe for disaster down the line."
6. Let them learn from their own kind. Some dog trainers brings errant dogs home to get taught a thing or two by their own well-trained pups. "Dogs can teach other dogs more than any human trainer can," says Newman. "By the same token, kids need to experience life and work many things out for themselves. Kids need to do rude things and feel bad about it, get bullied and learn to stick up for themselves, see and help kids who are more frightened than themselves, and so on. As hard as that is to watch as parents, it's worth it."
Have you found any dog training tactics work for your kids?
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