How Teaching Dogs and Children is Similar
Working closely with children requires kindness and patience.
Working closely with dogs requires kindness and patience.
I know that at times it is difficult to be patient with your dog, especially when Fido has just ripped up your sofa or a brand new pair of your shoes. However, my experiences working with children in elementary school have taught me a lot about how I should also interact with my dogs.
In every interaction I have with children whom I teach in the classroom, I always imagine that his or her parent is standing directly behind them, and for me, this serves as a reminder of the respect and love with which children should be treated. Every child’s parent wants the best for their baby, because this child is the most important being in the world to them. Teaching children with respect means remembering at every moment that you are blessed to spend your days with another person’s most precious gift. I think we need to remember this regardless of whether or not that child learns the lesson you are doing your best to teach the first time, or the fifteenth time. We do not give up on children, we are patient, and we try again, because they deserve every chance to be successful. They’re just little, and they’re just trying to figure out how to be successful and how to be accepted and loved in this world.
Much like children, dogs are vulnerable. They are smaller than us. We likely have more power and strength than they do, especially when they are young. Perhaps even more importantly, our dogs did not ask to be with us; we have asked them to be part of our human world. In so doing, we have accepted a responsibility to lace every interaction with them with kindness and with patience to help them to learn the ways of this strange human world that they been brought into. When your dog doesn’t understand at first what you trying to teach them, whether it be new dog games or a simple trick, please be patient. Be gentle. Whatever you are trying to teach your dog, only work with him for about 5-10 minutes, and end the session in a positive and joyful way, letting your dog know how proud you are of him for trying, and that he is loved and wanted. When they still don’t get it after the tenth or fifteenth try, ask for help from a professional dog trainer, but please, do not lose your patience. Believe it or not, your dog is not going to the bathroom in your house (or whatever he or she is doing that is driving you insane) just to spite you – dogs don’t have that capability – that’s a human quality. They likely just haven’t figured it out yet.
Scaffolding learning allows children opportunities for numerous small successes and increased confidence.
Scaffolding learning allows dogs opportunities for numerous small successes and increased confidence.
Have you ever had a teacher who didn’t care if you understood what was covered last lesson before moving on to today’s content, or a teacher who spoke using such elevated language that you could barely make out what they were talking about? Imagine what it must feel like for dogs, who, as Dr. Ian Dunbar reminds us, do not speak nor have the capacity to speak English. Every minute of a dog’s life, he is trying to learn a second language – an incredibly difficult task!
When you are playing games with your dog, it is important to remember that you will need to start at a very basic level, and then gradually increase the challenge (or “scaffold” learning) for your dog as he or she enjoys many small successes, and, as a result, the increased confidence to tackle more advanced challenges. Beginning at an advanced level may result in your dog not being interested in the game or challenge because they can’t see a way that they can be successful and so may view it as not being worth their effort! Therefore, whenever you are giving your dog a challenge, it is important to pay careful attention to what your dog seems to find easy and what he or she finds difficult. This will vary with every dog and within every breed because, like humans, dogs have distinct and individual doggy personalities. The more games I play with my own dogs, the more I learn about Tango and Sparky’s very distinct and clear preferences and talents – and they often surprise me!
Toys such as Kongs (sold at most pet supply stores such as Petco), can be wonderful TOOLS to design intellectual and physical challenges for dogs that begin at a basic level and then become increasingly difficult as your dog develops his or her skills over time. Throughout the My Doggy Genius series, I will offer you numerous different ideas for intellectual challenges you can do with your dog, beginning with the basics, and then increasing the difficulty over time so that your dog can increase his self-confidence and so you can strengthen your bond with your furry little friend!
Children fully engage in learning challenges that offer multi-sensory learning experiences
(see, hear, smell, touch, and taste).
Dogs fully engage in learning challenges that offer multi-sensory learning experiences
(see, hear, smell, touch, and taste).
Again – the similarities do seem obvious. Think about the difference between asking children to practice their spelling words by printing out each word five times on a piece of paper, or alternatively, giving the child a silver pie tin (visually stimulating) with some dry pudding in it (smelling) and working with a partner to practice spelling each word (hearing), and then licking their finger each time they get a word spelled correctly (tasting). How you present a task tells me everything about how much the children are going to love (or not love) learning. In the same way, the more we can involve all of a dog’s senses in a positive way – particularly smell and hearing because these senses are superiorly developed for dogs – the more successful the teaching is going to be.
Dog trainers differ in their opinions regarding using food as rewards when working with dogs. However, in a dog’s natural environment, food is the ultimate reward to work for. A dog’s sense of smell is so highly developed that you would likely be very surprised to discover what your dog is capable of when using his or her nose! Therefore, many of the problem-solving challenges I offer throughout the My Doggy Genius series are food and scent-driven. In addition, the activities I offer are not training-based – they are designed purely as dog games and challenges. Have fun and just enjoy being with your pet – this is intended to be entertaining and motivating for both of you!!! You can incorporate whatever your dog loves to work for –whether it be a favourite toy, pieces of kibble, or special some treats – into the challenges offered throughout this program. I guarantee that you will have one very motivated and happy pup!
One dog trainer who is well known for his positive methods in working with dogs is Dr. Ian Dunbar. Dr. Dunbar is an internationally recognized veterinarian, animal behaviorist, and dog trainer, and is the founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Dr. Dunbar has authored numerous books and DVDs about puppy/dog behavior and training, including Dog Behavior, How To Teach A New Dog Old Tricks and the SIRIUS® Puppy Training video. For more information, please visit his website at: http://www.dogstardaily.com/
I hope that you have a wonderful week bonding while playing games with your dog!
Children love and need meaningful, purposeful, problem-solving challenges.
Dogs love and need meaningful, purposeful, problem-solving challenges.
Frank Saputo, Master Dog Trainer and owner of Spot On K9 notes that mental stimulation offered through meaningful challenges can even be seen as more important than physical stimulation for your dog. He emphasizes that giving your dog a job allows your dog to be stimulated physically and psychologically, which results in helping your dog to burn off excess energy. Taking the time to play games with your dog will help to prevent a lot of unwanted behaviours! Dogs are highly intelligent animals, and like children, they need mentally stimulating challenges. Further, Jean Donaldson (1996, 2005) notes that “it is very unlikely that you will ever over challenge your dog. The vast majority of dogs are severely under challenged in their day to day life” (p. 43). Playing dog games and giving your pooch numerous different kinds of intellectual challenges will not only help your dog to feel relaxed and fulfilled, but it will contribute to the closeness you feel with your pup.
Frank Saputo is a master dog trainer who is dedicated to educating his clients about the basic nature and instincts of their dogs. He is the founder of Spot On K9 in San Diego, CA. For more information about Frank, you can visit his website at: http://spotonk9.com/
You may also want to check out Jean Donaldson’s thought-provoking book, Culture Clash, which is available online and in your local book store – it’s a great read and I highly recommend it!
One of the most effective and enjoyable ways that children learn is through playing with toys and by playing games.
One of the most effective and enjoyable ways that dogs learn is through playing with toys and by playing games.
Which did you like more when you were in school: a pop quiz, or a game of Jeopardy using the science content you just learned to review concepts? Hands down, games are more fun!!! As an elementary school teacher, I quickly realized that the way to children’s hearts and the key to positive and effective learning is through games, and so I was constantly on the look-out for how I could turn every-day lessons into games.
Playing games with your dog is not only a great way to bond and have fun with your pet, but has numerous other positive benefits. Dog trainers and veterinarians I’ve interviewed emphasize that learning using dog games is much more than just fun and games for your dog (though it certainly is fun)! When your dog manages to solve a challenge that you’ve set out for him, it does far more than just occupy his time; the dog feels that he has really accomplished something. That sense of achievement your dog gets when he solves a challenge you’ve set out for him with your help can lead to increased self-confidence and can contribute to a more developed sense of trust towards you.
Further, playing games with your dog can assist in the prevention of unwanted behaviours. Mental and physical stimulation using toys and games can help to prevent common issues of dog owners including separation anxiety and destructive chewing in dogs, can assist in crate training, offers dogs stress and boredom relief, and can prevent unwanted barking and digging. Like children, positive and effective learning experiences using toys and games can help contribute to your dog’s long-term positive associations with learning.
I wish you many hours of fun, playing, and learning with your dog! Please drop us a line anytime and let us know about some of your favourite dog games – we’d love to hear from you!
Dogs learn best with a person they trust and whom they have bonded with.
Master teachers know that relationships are at the heart of good teaching. Therefore, as educators, we take great care to get to know each child as well as we can, particularly during that first two weeks of the school year. We work hard to develop mutual care, respect, and trust. Think back to your own school experiences. I’ll bet there’s a teacher that just stands out for you because he or she really took the time to get to know you, made you laugh, made you feel that you are super special, and let you know how much he/she cared about you.
As emphasized by Camilla Gray-Nelson, Master Dog Trainer, in the same way, playing games with your dog should not be approached mechanically, but should be viewed as a way to nurture the development of your relationship with your pet. In fact, some trainers have spoken to the fact that women are often excellent trainers because of our natural inclination towards fostering an emotional and nurturing bond with our dogs, even before we begin training them. (Of course this is nothing against the men out there!) To learn more about Camilla’s philosophy of dog training, you can visit her website at: http://www.dairydell.com/media/About_Camilla.html.
Many dog trainers and veterinarians I’ve interviewed emphasize that your dog’s behaviour is closely connected to his or her emotional connection with you. They note that it requires genuine care and understanding of your dog to help a dog to not only develop self-confidence, but to learn to function in the human world. Through focused attention on working on your relationship with your dog, you can develop a mutually satisfying partnership characterized by trust, affection, and mutual respect. For more information on how you can nurture a strong emotional connection with your pet through playing dog games, check out our website DogGamesAtHome.com, or visit Dr. Ian Dunbar’s Dog Star Daily website, which features a wealth of information on everything from Science-Based Dog Training with Feeling to discussion of Learning Theory. Here’s to learning all we can to give our dogs the very best life possible.
Welcome to the Dog Games at Home Blog! My name is Lori Friesen, and I am so excited to be able to share insights, information, tips, and ideas with you to help you to better understand and nurture your relationship with your dog. My passion is in helping pet owners just like you to give your dog the very best life possible, and so every post within this blog will be dedicated to offering you valuable information to help you give your dog some of the happiness that I know he or she gives you every day of his life.
The topic of this post might have you wondering. First, let me be clear: Dogs are not children. However – many of the same teaching principles when working with children apply when you are playing with or teaching (not ‘training’), your dog. This week, drawing from interviews I’ve had with master dog trainers, animal behaviorists, and veterinarians, and informed by my own experiences teaching children as an elementary school teacher for ten years, I will be sharing seven secrets of how teaching and playing games with your dog is very similar to working with children.
In this article, I’d like to highlight how the environment in which a child learns greatly impacts how and what a child is able to learn. Similarly, the environment in which a dog learns greatly impacts how and what a dog is able to learn.
During my ten years of teaching elementary school, I learned that a child who feels relaxed, happy, and safe is going to be much more receptive to learning than a child who feels unsure and nervous. Think back to your own school learning experiences. Were you able to think clearly when you were nervous about a test? Alternatively, is there a subject that you loved in school because a teacher made that class really enjoyable to go to?
It’s similar for dogs. Victoria Stillwell, star of the show “It’s Me or the Dog,” notes that modern behavioral science indicates that humans and dogs have far more commonalities than was originally perceived by dog trainers. She highlights how dogs do feel similar emotions to humans, including fear, anger, joy, excitement, social insecurity, and even love. Therefore, she emphasizes that many of the same principles we use when teaching children can be applied to teaching dogs. (See Victoria Stillwell, Welcome to Positively, Victoria’s Blog, January 20, 2010). Retrieved on April 24, 2011 from http://positively.com/2010/01/20/welcome-to-positively/ for the complete article). As a result, ensuring that your dog is feeling happy, relaxed, and excited to learn will greatly impact how much your dog will be able to learn, just like children. Spending quality time playing games with your dog can create a fun, relaxed environment that is not only conducive to learning, but playing dog games will help to strengthen your bond with your pet.
I’d love to hear from you! Please share your questions, comments, and stories about your own dog by posting a comment – and a pic of you and your pup!