Although of course dogs are not children with fur, some of the underlying principles are similar when working with both children and with dogs. As I have written previously, six key aspects that are similar when working with children and with dogs include:
1. The environment in which a dog learns greatly influences how and what a dog is able to learn.
2. Dogs learn best when they are with a person whom they trust and have bonded with.
3. Learning is a lot more fun when games are involved!
4. Dogs fully engage in meaningful, purposeful problem-solving challenges.
5. Dogs fully engage in learning challenges that involve multi-sensory learning experiences.
6. Scaffolding learning provides dogs with opportunities for many small successes and increased confidence.
In this final article, How to teach dog to roll over I will discuss perhaps what I would perceive to be the most important way in which working with children and dogs is similar:
7. Working closely with children requires kindness and patience. In the same way, 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, and it is our responsibility to exercise kindness and patience until they do.