For the past two weeks, I’ve been sitting and listening; attempting to absorb so much of what is being shared and emphasized during orientation. I don’t know if its overload or like my post last week, my brain always makes connections and sometimes they are obvious and sometimes not. Regardless, throughout the orientation process for a before/after school program I was hired to lead, my brain immediately went to hearing about how children behave and how much there is a connection in dog behavior and training. Let me just say, take it what you want, but I kind of enjoy the similarities 😉
The most mind blowing similarity was in the realm of biting. Ok, so I don’t have any children, but I’ve worked with adolescent girls for quite awhile early in my career. Many of these girls were developmentally delayed and or suffered from serious mental health issues. I have not worked or lived with children who are between the ages of birth to 4 years but, I found the information on developmental milestones intriguing. In the training I received, I learned biting is a normal development process. Infants and toddlers bite each other, chew on toys and are actively putting things (appropriate or not) in their mouth for the sole purpose of learning about their environment. For instance, when small children start teething, they often seek out a release from the pain and often put whatever they can find in their mouths in order to soothe their tender gums.
Caregivers are trained in redirecting children. For instance, if a child bites another child or is actively putting inappropriate things in his/her mouth, the caregiver is taught to have something else ready for redirection. Redirection is a tool in teaching children what is and what is not appropriate.
Infants and toddlers also do not possess the ability to verbally communicate how they feel. They become frustrated, angry and well, they do what is most primitive, they bite. In this case they may bite another child or seek out a toy or another such object. Their main objective is again releasing whatever is intolerable to them in that moment. Many times, caregivers will teach young children sign language in order to bridge the communication gap. Children acquire sign language faster than verbal language and this can create a learning environment which is accessible for young children. Our job as a caregiver is teaching them alternative methods for communicating how they feel or what they want.
Wouldn’t you know, biting is the same for dogs. Dogs don’t have hands in which to manipulate toys in furthering their learning about their environment. They also desire to learn and its our responsibility in teaching them what is an appropriate chew toy. How do we teach them what is an what is not appropriate? Well, redirection! Redirection is a wonderful tool in actively teaching a puppy what he/she can chew. One of the biggest complaints from clients is this “my dog chews on my shoes, furniture ect”. My answer is redirection. The dog in question has not yet learned what is an appropriate chew toy. They may have inadvertently been encouraged to chew on inappropriate items because this is when they get the most attention, even though its with scolding eyes and harsh tones from their owner. This takes a sea change of sorts by the owner. I encourage the owner to have a toy out of reach of the dog, but close by in order to offer it up when the dog begins gnawing on hands, feet, electrical cords or whatever else. Once the toy is given as a redirection tool, I also encourage the owner to praise with a happy voice. This signals to the dog that chewing on the appropriate toy gets her something enjoyable. I would also suggest when the owner is not able to offer any redirection, keep the dog in a space where she can’t get anything inappropriate. If she does, this only rewards the inappropriate chewing. If children were so easy!
The inability to effectively communicate is another similarity between children and dogs which can lead to biting. This is not to say, dogs don’t know how to communicate. Its the opposite. Dogs have a very unique style of language and its our failure as human beings not understanding what they are conveying. I’ve written about canine body language before, but if a dog is locked in a stare with another dog or a human being, there is potential the dog will bite. If the dog is staring, growling and snarling, remove whatever the trigger is and the dog will calm down. For the most part, biting happens because their lower level calming signals didn’t work, the trigger wasn’t removed, therefore the owner didn’t respond accordingly. The human misinterpreted lip licking/flicking, wide eyes and looking away as nothing. The dog continued to feel threatened and reacted. Just like how adult caregivers for children offer opportunities for higher learning, the same goes for our furry friends!
Now, my goal is not to say “good boy” when one of my kindergarten students reads a story to me for the first time 🙂