Friday, 8 August 2014

Puppy training as a method of raising children?

This week we started puppy school, we are taking a class that focuses on "clicker training and positive reinforcement".  Sitting through the orientation really reinforced the parallels between animal training and child rearing.  It also had me thinking about the added challenges when raising children that are adopted at an older age with behavioral challenges.

During this beginning stage of puppy training, we are not to use verbal commands with the animal and we "click" the clicker when the puppy does the desired behavior and give him a treat.  The idea is that the clicker will "mark" the desired behavior and the treat will reinforce the behavior.  This will encourage the dog to think about what it is you are wanting him to do and he will do it for you because he wants to please you.  At first I thought this was crazy (and still kind of do) but as I thought about it I can see where they are coming from in this approach.  With infants we spend hours cuddling and caring for them building up a relationship.  They are not verbal as an infant, yet we are able to learn what they want from their behavior and they learn from our behavior.  This type of approach isn't very feasible with an older child, in fact they would probably think you were nuts if you didn't verbally tell them your expectations.  Some may appreciate you not telling them what to do but they probably won't respond in the way you were hoping.

The second part of this method of puppy training is we do not discipline the puppy we are only using positive reinforcement.

The adding of a result or consequence that the animal (or child) finds pleasant, dependent on the occurrence of a certain behavior or response by the animal (or child), which results in an increase in likelihood of that behavior or response in the animal (or child), because of the added result or consequence.  

When you have an infant that you are raising this method also works well because the infant hasn't learned any negative behavior yet.  The challenges are more difficult when you adopt an older child that may have many negative behaviors that go with some challenging diagnosis.  With the older child you do not have that time you would have with an infant building up that relationship in a nonverbal way so the "want" and "know how" to please you.  Quite often the older adopted child has mastered getting what they want/need as a means of survival and it typically isn't always in a positive manner.  With older children it is extremely important to find things that they do that please you and positively reinforce them.  You need to ensure that you don't get in a negative rut of constantly disciplining and correcting them.  Finding that positive behavior can be extremely difficult with some children but is so very important.  With a couple of our more challenging children we joined classes together learning skills neither of us knew.  We had an instructor teaching both of us so we were both starting from a similar position and were able to support and encourage one another.  This new skill was a basis for learning about each other and building our relationship in a positive manner.  We also had to spend a lot of time directing their play so they were doing something positive that we could truly "reinforce" in a positive manner.  When adopting an older child you need to find alternative ways to bond so you are able to learn what makes one another happy and  hopefully come to a place where you are wanting to make each other happy.

If only "positive reinforcement" was as easy as Sheldon makes it in this video clip.


  1. Great post - thanks for linking to #WASO

  2. Love your tips on dealing with older children - really helpful perspective.