Lessons From My Puppy Trainer
Day 12 in the world of puppydom and my dog trainer has already showed me up as a parent. She’s pretty good with the puppy, too but it is her interaction with my kids that I find the most interesting.
Her sheer positivity mixed with the way she sets up clear boundaries had my kids following her around like a pied piper. It also reinforces some parenting lessons in one short hour and reminds me that indeed, kids are like puppies. Maybe animal training and people training isn’t that different.
Amy Sutherland studied animal behaviour and applied animal training techniques to her husband with amazing results and then he turned around and started using them on her. Her book, What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers is based on a widely-circulated article in the NY Times.
Here are some things that I have learned from the puppy trainer, and it works goes for kids, puppies, husbands, wives, possibly any sentient being in your midst ...
Praise, praise, praise: As soon as Kelly walked in she was telling everyone how great they are. She told the boys how well they played with the dog, she told me how observant I am, she told my hubby how quickly he learned the technique. The truth is that sometimes she had to reach for the compliment but she kept them coming fast and furious, and the more she encouraged every member of the family the more they listened to her and wanted to please her.
Parenting link: Look for behaviors, no matter how small to encourage. Parenting experts who I know would be very upset if I didn’t put in a caveat and say that noticing effort is much better than praising a result.
Ignore bad behaviour, notice good behaviour; when puppy refuses to move on the leash I stop and look away from him until he starts walking at which point I start yelling with glee.
Parenting link: Since all people and animals are really just looking to be noticed, giving attention to bad behaviour actually encourages it. See praise.
Nothing in life is free: If they come when called, then get them to sit. If they sit, get them to lie down.
Parenting link: If they want to watch TV, make sure they have done their homework. If they get out of bed, they should make it.
Manners are a way to survive in the world: This is a big one, because manners are really about surviving in a world that has social boundaries– you don’t pee on the floor, you don’t park incessantly and you don’t scratch your balls in public. If you want your puppy to have manners you have to train them.
Parenting link: Teaching kids to be respectful takes training and modelling and it is important to give respect so people will respect you back.
Build on skills: Learning to sit is first, learning fancy tricks comes later
Parenting link: You have to teach them to tie a bow before they can do their own shoes. They have to learn to walk before running, ABCs before reading and so on.
Remind the puppy who is the human: When a wrestling puppy starts nipping and chewing on hair, stand up and look away.
Parenting link: You are a parent and not a best friend, playing Wii is great, but enforcing bedtime is important too.
Hard work now, pays off later: Putting the time into puppy training now means that I will have a dog that does not annoy me everyday of his life.
Parenting link: Need I say more?
Learn to be alone: Puppies have to go in their crate everyday, even if they hate it so they can learn to be alone because they will not be with someone every minute of the day (unless they are carried around in a fancy purse by a celebrity).
Parenting link: Learning to play alone and sleep alone are important, if not always fun, skills that need to be learned.
Exercise = happier puppy: The more time puppy spends outside, the better behaved he will be inside.
Parenting link: ditto
Puppies do not generalize: Just because Joey has learned to sit in my kitchen does not mean he will recognize the same command in a new situation.
Parenting link: Kids don’t always do well in new situations and may need extra reinforcement
Bring poop bags and treats everywhere: Enough said.