5 Dog Training Mantras that Hilariously Apply to Toddlers
August 11, 2015
When I first had dogs I thought they’d be a great way to prepare for children. Snort. They weren’t. If I could clicker train my toddler to take his medicine, keep his hat on, or make it through one meal at a restaurant then they might be in the same league. Surprisingly, however, I’ve discovered that there are most definitely some hard truths that apply as much, if not more, to toddlers as they do to dogs.
1) Baby Toys and Dog Toys Look the Same.
When I was pregnant I was so worried about my dogs stealing the baby’s toys and ruining them. That is until I came around the corner and found my one year old gnawing, yes, gnawing, on a marrow bone (don’t worry, it was completely free of any meat and wasn’t a serious health hazard). Turns out the dog toys are at much greater risk than the baby’s toys. Too bad I can’t teach him to “leave it”.
2) Baby Gates are EVERYTHING.
I’m constantly telling my clients to manage their dog’s behaviour. If you don’t want your dog peeing in the living room, then block off the living room for awhile. If you don’t want your baby climbing the stairs, then baby gate those bad boys. If you don’t want your dog eating your garbage, then baby gate the kitchen. If you don’t want your baby eating your garbage then continue using said baby gate.
3) Distract and Reward.
Rather than just constantly telling your dog “NO!”, you’re better off directing his attention to something else and giving him an opportunity to earn a reward. This has never been more true than with a toddler. “NO” usually just means try harder. I’ve become really good at the ol’ “show mommy where’s your new ball” trick rather than having to listen to my own obnoxious nagging any more than I have to.
4) Reinforce Behaviour You Like and Ignore Behaviour You Don’t.
Sometimes my training clients have a dog that whines. If he wants his food he whines. If he wants to go for a walk he whines. If he wants up on the couch he whines. Well apparently so do toddlers. Especially during that lovely “nonverbal” phase. What I’ve learned is that I can acknowledge his needs without acknowledging the whining. If I’m careless and I pick him up while he’s whining, then I’m blessed with an even whinier little ball of cuteness next time. B.F. Skinner gets me every time!
5) Behaviour is Information.
I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago, but suffice it to say that neither toddlers nor dogs are made to serve our needs. The more rigidly we hold onto our notions of what makes a “good” baby or a “good” dog, the more they prove us wrong. Instead of forcing them to fit into our arbitrary behavioural ideas, how about we all just start looking at WHY behaviour is happening, and how we can better meet the needs that are causing those behaviours? If my son all of a sudden starts screaming before bedtime it doesn’t mean he’s trying to be a pain in my a@*. It actually might mean that he’s getting a tooth, or he’s adjusting to his new home, or he’s having a growth spurt. Get rid of the expectations and the power struggle dissolves along with them.