Parenting Lessons Learned From Dog Training

To some people it may seem silly to compare training dogs to raising children.  But, I’ve actually come to see many similarities between successful dog training and effective parenting. I started thinking about this one day while I was shopping.  There was a woman in the store who continually (and mostly unsuccessfully) called to her very young daughter: “Jennifer … Jenny …Jennifer …Jennifer…Jen…” After about 15 minutes of hearing this I wanted to (among other things) tell her, “Please stop calling her.  Jenny clearly doesn’t respond to hearing her name called. She may not even understand what you want. What you’re doing isn’t working. Try something else.” Of course I decided against saying this. – -But it made me think – and I realized that I had made this same mistake when I was young and inexperienced.  It’s an easy mistake to make.

While this mother surely meant well, she was actually teaching Jenny NOT to respond.  Jennifer was learning that when she was called, there was no compelling need to respond.  She may not have even known what was expected of her. But she was learning that she would be called not once – but many, MANY times.  She was learning that she could choose which time, if any, to actually do what was being requested of her. She was also learning there were many ways in which she could respond.  She stand still and continue touching whatever she was touching (her most common response), she could turn around and run in the opposite direction, or she could return to her mother (which she did least often of all – over what seemed to be the eternity this went on around me.)  A better solution would have been for this mom to call her toddler once – and then take her by the hand if she didn’t respond to her name being called.  This same principle applies to your dog.  Until your dog has 100% recall to the ‘come’ command, don’t use the command unless you can enforce it. (In other words, make sure he’s on a lead.) If you can’t enforce the command on the first call – your dog will learn that he doesn’t need to respond to you when given this command. Never give a command twice. Say it once – reward and praise lavishly if the proper response is given.  If the desired response isn’t given, then help your dog to give the proper response and then praise him (or her.)  And this principle applies to anything you teach your dog – not just the ‘come’ command.

Another similarity between dog training and child rearing is the principle: reward works better than punishment. Period. I believe this is true not only with dogs – but with children as well (and with most adults too.)  Try to find your pet doing the RIGHT behavior – then immediately praise and reward. This will have a snowballing effect: the more you praise the good behaviors the more frequently they will occur – the more opportunities you will have to praise – etc…

A third similarity between dog training and parenting that occurred to me is that both require lots of patience and consistence.  Both pets and children generally respond best when the people who love and care for them possess and display these qualities.  Patience is absolutely necessary whether raising a child or a pup. Without it, you are both doomed. And, a caregiver who displays consistence unquestionably benefits both children and pets as well.

So, I think you’ll agree, there really are some important similarities between successful dog training and effective parenting. You must have the proper expectations and frame of mind yourself.  It’s necessary to help your ‘loved one’ to provide appropriate responses until he is able to do so on his own. Reward works better than punishment. And patience, persistence and consistence are necessary whether you are parenting a child or training a canine companion.