Friday, September 2, 2011

Attachment parenting a puppy

You know how there are all those child-training books comparing child raising to training a dog? I know Dr. Dobson's done it, and so have the Pearls, in their book. Generally speaking, I say that these comparisons are fallacious. Dogs and people are very different. Dogs are designed -- by us -- to be completely subservient and obedient. With proper training, they become so fairly easily. You just don't see a well-trained dog reaching adulthood and suddenly leaving home to become a Hare Krishna. But "well-trained" children do grow up to do such inexplicable things as that. They do it all the time. Children have a mind of their own, and they eventually crave independence. Dogs are bred and raised to be permanently dependent.

But lately I've been seeing a lot of parallels, as I learn how to train our new puppy, Gilbert. Of course, I would never advocate training a child with a Pavlovian "clicker" and a pocketful of liverwurst. But that doesn't mean there are no similarities.

For instance, you can't train a puppy. That's right: at our dog's tender age of nine weeks, it's impossible to train him. He's just too forgetful and distractible. Instead, we have to redirect him from the shoe he wants to chew on by giving him a bone, and separate him from the baby when he gets too rough.

That doesn't mean we should just let him go wild, though. We need to give him lots of attention to cultivate our relationship, so that he knows that we are his people, and so that later he will respond well to our praise.

As far as potty training goes, we do it by watching him and providing him with lots of opportunities to go in the right place. Apparently the "shove his nose in it" advice doesn't work so well.

Once he's old enough to train, beating him senseless with a belt won't be the way to go about it. That's the way to get an aggressive, fearful dog. Instead, positive reinforcement (treats and praise) are the way to get a dog who happily does amazing tricks -- like this one. (This is the baby's favorite video. We have watched it dozens of times.)

Sounds kind of like what we do to babies, isn't it? While they're young and unfocused, we just provide lots of attention, security, and love. It isn't time for training yet. And when they're older, we focus on the positive more than the negative as much as possible.

And harsh beatings with a belt? Sorry, I just don't see a place for it -- either in dog training or child raising. The way to a confident, eager-to-please adult, whether human or canine, starts with affection and gentleness. There's no easy shortcut.


Heather said...

Oh wow that is such a cute video! Thanks for sharing. Any particular trick Marko likes best?

Sheila said...

I'd say it's when the dog blows bubbles underwater. He also loves another video where he chases a ball around -- he laughs hysterically through the whole thing!

Catherine H. said...

I happened to come across your blog through Athol Kay's site. Interestig that you've read Pearl--that's rare. However, I think you're misunderstanding their comparison of children to animals. I'm pretty sure they say this applies only until the child reaches the age of reason, or until they're morally (more) accountable for their actions. Of course, they have free will, so it's never quite the same--even the Pearls would say that. But they (children and animals) are similar in that they need clear non-verbal re-inforcement behind commands. It helped me greatly to realize that my son wasn't doing that naughty thing for the 20th time to hurt me (just as the dog doesn't pee on the carpet for the express purpose of making my day worse) but because I hadn't yet given my son a reason to stop, a consequence to make the naughty thing much less appealing given that what follows is a spank. It made his actions much less personal and I was able to have more patience in training him. And of course the Pearls do not advocate "harsh beatings with a belt"--the key to true discipline is controlling one's emotions and punishing with calm firmness. The level of punnishment will be different for different children--my oldest son can walk away from some spankings totally unaffected, whereas my second son will crumple at a frown. The Pearls did themselves a disservice in publishing such a poorly-written book, but it contains some real wisdom.

Sheila said...

The thing I was trying to say, though, is that since a toddler and a puppy are similar in a lot of ways, positive reinforcement seems to work better for dogs, so why not try the same on toddlers too?

I used to be very into the whole "consequences" thing (and I still do believe that kids need boundaries and some consequences), but I am realizing more and more than when children are very young, they actually *want* to do the right thing, they just often don't have the capacity to do it, or the understanding that it's what we want. There are ways to teach a child how to do something that don't involve hitting -- so I use that first. I think spanking could be okay in some circumstances, but I am finding I can discipline much better without it by actually getting off my butt and showing my son what I want him to do.

The Pearls not only wrote a poorly-written book, but they advocate a lot of things that I believe are dangerous: striking a child with a plumbing line (it is possible to kill a child in this way, and it HAS happened to Pearl supporters - look up Lydia Schatz), striking infants too young to walk, and refusing to stop hitting until you're sure the child has "submitted." That last is what leads to spanking sessions lasting hours that do inflict lasting damage.

Yes, there could be some "pearls" of wisdom in that book, but overall I think it's a very dangerous piece of literature which I wish would go out of print altogether.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila, you read Athol Kay???

(That's not a judgmental question. He's well regarded in the Manosphere and I agree with that assessment.)

Sheila said...

I followed a link over there and ended up wasting a couple of hours clicking around. It's an interesting blog.

I was commenting on the issue of "man wants to leave at six o'clock and woman isn't read till 6:30." Of course the male attitude is, "Women spend too much time primping." My attitude was, "Men don't always give us enough warning." Pre-kids, John always used to get up, put on his shoes, and say, "Let's leave now." And I'd be running around frantically trying to get ready while he tapped his foot. Now that I have a kid who has to be gotten ready too, I always ask, "What time did you want to leave? Okay, I will be ready at that time." So, no randomly deciding to leave ten minutes early (which he likes to do), but I can be ready at the time I've been given.

That was an excessively long answer to your question. ;)

Enbrethiliel said...


No worries! I'd give a similar answer if someone asked me the same question . . . but I'd have a more outrageous story about what I was doing there. =P

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