If you've trained a dog well, then you'll probably be fine when it comes to raising infants and young children.
There are a lot of similarities between puppies and babies. Both trigger the release of oxytocin in adult brains, which makes us love them and want to care for them. Cuteness, however, does not count for everything and both babies and puppies require training in order to become functioning family members. Fortunately, that’s where the similarities continue, meaning that if you’re experienced in one area, then you’ll likely do well in the other.
According to an article in Quartz, the same strategies used for successful dog-training can also be applied to children. Dogs function around a two-year-old’s level, with some particularly smart breeds reaching the equivalent of a three-year-old’s ability. Only after age 4 do children surpass dogs by using intellect and language to figure things out.
Which dog-training strategies align with child-raising? The Quartz article lists quite a few, but the following ones were of particular interest to me, as a parent.
Dogs are unique among animals in their ability to understand human social cues, such as pointing at something. (Other animals will not know to follow the finger to a distant point.) Both infants and dogs learn well from consistent cues that signal to them and focus their attention.
Know what they can handle and cannot:
“Dogs act out when their frontal lobes are over-worked. That’s why they chew up furniture or bark uncontrollably when left alone to simmer in their anxiety. This is also why young children throw tantrums at toy stores or while waiting for a meal at a restaurant.”
Young children, who do not develop the capacity for self-control until after 3, have meltdown triggers, such as lack of sleep or food or overstimulation. When these situations arise, it’s nearly impossible to reason with them and distraction is usually the best solution. Dogs, too, act out when they are under stimulated, restless, or craving attention. The solution to both is to recognize these triggers, to address them, and engage in appropriate behavior before resorting to punishment.
Guide with calm, controlled authority:
This is a no-brainer, but it can be so hard at times to maintain one’s cool when dealing with little kids and animals! Positive reinforcement is important, without resorting to anger or yelling, as both dogs and children can detect an adult’s mood with accuracy.
Drawing boundaries is very important, too, and should never be viewed as a negative thing. Both need those boundaries in order to function well in a world that does not “cave to their every whim.”
Quartz quotes Brenna Hicks, a child therapist:
“The right approach is, ‘I’m not going to be flustered, no matter what you do.’ This is one dog-training technique she believes is useful even for wayward teens.”
While I’ve done my fair share of child-raising, from much-younger brothers to working as a nanny to raising my own little ones, I have yet to train a dog. Maybe I should listen to my kids’ pleas and give it a try. I might not be as hopeless as I thought.