Providing the tools to help parents gain confidence in their parenting skills so they can create the family life they desire.

17 May 2007

Raising Kids: Wisdom from The Dog Whisperer

Raising Kids: Wisdom from The Dog Whisperer

Being the dog lover that I am, one of my favorite shows is The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan. Lately, as I have been watching that show for insight into my own dogs (Toby and Daisy, two beagles), I have been amazed at the similarities of raising children well and training dogs well.

Let me start off with a disclaimer: I am not suggesting or implying that children are like dogs or should be treated as such. Although, I would hope that is assumed, I want to be sure I am clear that the similarities lie in the interaction and relationship, not with the child and dog.

Energy

One of the things I hear Cesar repeatedly discuss with dog owners is about the energy that they give off to their animals. Many of the owners believe that they communicate one thing, but the dog receives another message. This is true with children as well. When we present nervous, angry or scared energy in front of our kids, they pick up on those emotions. Even when what we say and do differs from what we are feeling, the energy still conveys. Along the same lines, how we truly feel about our children is received loud and clear, whether we verbally express those feelings or not. As an example, children learn to pick up on non-verbal cues very early. So, when a parent is disappointed in a child, but says “You tried your best”, the child hears “You did not live up to my expectations”, regardless of what words were spoken.

Another element to Cesar’s “owner rehabilitation” is that you must give off an energy that communicates strength, respect and confidence. One of the biggest struggles for the dog owners (and parents!) is feeling defeated and giving up. The adult must express to the child that you are in control and are CALM, even if you do not feel that way initially. Over time, you will build confidence in your parenting abilities and will not be “faking” that emotion. In the mean time, you must exude control and comfort with whatever comes.

Acknowledge Good Behavior

A third component to Cesar’s strategies is teaching owners when to acknowledge what behaviors. When a dog is aggressive, out of control, fearful or shy the owner is to ignore the behavior and continue communicating calm, assertive energy that will not tolerate those behaviors. Dogs, and children, can learn to self-regulate, but often do not because the adult tries to intervene and do it for them. Allow the child to work out their issues, and do not give in to the tantrums, which is reinforcing the unwanted behaviors.

Additionally, The Dog Whisperer recommends that you do not acknowledge the dog in a positive manner until the dog is doing a behavior that you want him to. By giving love and affection to the dog during a desired behavior, you are conditioning the dog to expect a reward for good behaviors, thus increasing the frequency of the desired behavior. This is called conditioning. This also works with children, although I have a modification to align this practice with play therapy and a child-centered model.

Rather than praising or rewarding the child when he or she makes good choices, take that time to lavish encouragement or affection on the child. When you notice your child playing nicely with a sibling, completing chores or sharing with a friend, extend encouragement (“You are trying hard to make good choices”) and affection (give a hug or special affections saved for significant moments).

We can be encouraged and informed from many sources, if we expand our knowledge to other areas of our lives. The Dog Whisperer has given me many ideas for interacting with the children that I see. After all, love, respect, and communication are the keys to any relationship…animal or human.

Related Articles:
Encouragement vs. Praise
Tone of Voice

Update 11/28/2009: This blog post caused quite a media frenzy! The Kid Counselor ended up on CNN!

  • http://dylanFogle.com dylan

    Very good advice! The dog whisperer seems to take all the human stuff out of dog training, treat the dog like a dog. I like this for being a parent as well, treat the child as a child, they need leadership and strength to rely on so they can grow.

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  • Diana

    I totally agree. I have been thinking about this relationship myself a lot lately. I have raised(trained) two very well behaved dogs following many of the same principals that the Dog Whisper teaches. However, when it came to my children I felt lost – what was I doing wrong? Then it hit me. I was treating my kids like little adults not children. Just like my dogs they need structure, guidelines, reassurance and plently of praise. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one that has seen the relationship between raising dogs and raising children. I think some are afraid to make the connection because they don’t what to compare their children to pets. But its the principals that are the same – not the subjects.

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  • Jan Voght

    I knew I wasn’t the only person in the entire world that recognized the tools and workings of Cesar Millan. He has a wonderful foundation himself (his early family environment) and the advise I love the most is the wisdom from his GrandFather. He learned early on to cooperate with nature, and specifically the true nature of humans and dogs. His love for dogs sent him on that path and dogs around the world are fortunate he followed that love. I too have read, watched and listened to all of his books, TV programs, and interviews, and there is no doubt, he is the real deal. He is as authentic as they make them. Good to know he is recognized for his CALM assertive, Pack Leader persona. It has helped dogs as well as so many others, I wonder if he knows just how many.

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