Thursday, 24 June 2010

How to get children and dogs to respect you? Part Two

After a shaky start with my theory about the similarities between dogs and children, I seem to be on a roll. I’ve started to take note of my interaction with Molly, Bruno, Joe and Maya. Action research in my case has taken on new meaning as it has extended from the classroom to my home. Poor dogs ! So, here are some of my latest thoughts about the similarities and differences between canines, kiddies and teens and how we can get a little RESPECT at home and in the classroom.
Before I start I’d like to say a couple of things. Firstly, I’m not saying that dogs are children or that children are dogs. I have too much respect for both species for that. Secondly, a bit about the differences between ‘fear’ and ‘respect’, as a dog owner and a teacher of children I’m after ‘respect’ not fear. As educators I’m sure that we agree that respect is healthy and positive whilst fear is negative and destructive right?

Okay so we know what we want but how do we go about getting it?

1. Calm assertive behavior- Body language and tone of voice are the key here. Often teachers and dog owners say one thing but their tone of voice or body language is saying something else. Children and dogs are highly receptive to energy and can pick up nervousness, hesitancy, anger, sadness and a whole range of other emotions. They say that dogs know if you like them. The same can be said for children. It is really important to spend time bonding with both. Children and dogs pick up on whether you like them or not. Dogs don’t understand the words but they understand the body language and tone of voice. So remember to say kind words and send kind body signals too. Teachers faced with disruptive and difficult classes often give off negative energy or energy than says they’ve given up. Children pick up on this and feed off it. We have to stay CALM at all costs. Shouting at children and losing control can lead to mimicking behavior. You raise your voice and children and dogs will often raise their respective voices. Janet (no surname required) had anexperience of this with her dog Sofia recently. Janet said “Sit” and her canine companion Sofia ignored her. Janet shouted "Sit" and Sofia growled her own thoughts on the matter. If you raise the energy, dominant children and dogs may raise theirs too. This is ok, if the energy is positive but you shout and they shout and sooner or later shouting becomes the norm.

2. Reward good behaviour – I will always remember Carol Read saying catch them being good. Well this really is good advice. Positive reinforcement works really well with dogs and children. I train my dogs with a clicker and treats or treats alone. Once the dogs behave in the way that I want, I slowly reduce the amount of treats until they get no treats or occasional treats for good behavior. I guess the same can be done for children. Model the behavior you want and then reward the behaviour with praise, kind words or stickers or all of the above. Perhaps not clicker training with kiddies!
3. Attention –It’s really important to make sure that you have your dogs’ attention before you give a command. Sounds obvious right? How many times have you seen a teacher giving instructions to a class where half of them are not listening and the other half are fiddling with pencils, pencil cases, water bottles etc. The golden rule applies here make sure that you have silence and attention from the class before you give instructions. Even experienced teachers can find themselves rushing instruction giving which results in confusion and half the class asking what they have to do. I’ve seen a lot of teachers do this and I’ve done it myself. 

4. Be prepared – Children can see if you’ve planned your class and put effort into it. A well prepared teacher is a great example and shows children that you respect them. If you’ve prepared your class and gone out of your way to find interesting and motivating materials you students will see that and, that shows them that you respect them and your job. At this point you’re saying of course but I can’t tell you how many classes I’ve been to in the past three years where teachers have opened the course book and asked the children what page they’re on or have prepared no material and have tried to wing it. It takes a great deal of experience, resourcefulness and bravery to walk into a class of 26 eleven year olds with nothing prepared. Or maybe it’s shear madness.

5. Establish or negotiate rules and then stick to them – I have to say that whilst I don’t seem to have any real problems sticking to classroom rules, at home it’s a different matter. My dogs have re-negotiated the sofa rule for example. I set the rule NO sofa. My partner S failed to enforce the rule. The dogs got mixed signals and so now we have something in between. Dogs get on the sofa and then off when they are told. This basically equals no rule. I’ve seen similar things happen in classes with children who follow the rules for one teacher and then flaunt the rules for another. Why have rules if they’re not going to be enforced?

I’ve ranted on about dogs and children enough for one night. Time to let them out before I go to bed.


  1. Hi Leahn

    You are onto a great series here and I can see Part 3 coming up already!!

    I have to add that I was on my own for 10 days with just the menagerie for company when the "Sofia" incident happened. It did upset me to think that I had effectively lost "control" over Sofia. She showed me that she was the boss at that particular moment.

    However, she even growled at her sister Isabella to keep at a distance, so I think it was also to do with territory and jealous possession as well as asserting her dominance.

    I wonder what would have happened if I had carried on talking to her in a calm manner, instead of slightly losing it?

    Thanks a lot for sharing your insights!


  2. Hi Janet,

    Hope you don't mind me sharing the Sofia story! Calm assertive is great in theory it's the practice that is not quite as easy. Pack mentality or herd mentality come into it aswell. Molly won't give up something nice and tasty and dead either. They go into 'animal' mode. I've had numerous similar eperiences. I will have to ask the dog whisperer for help on this one. Between you and me maybe two or three others that might be reading I've had them growling in bed when I've pushed them out.

    I think even if you'd done calm assertive it may have just been one of those times.....

    Damn dogs!

    Thanks for reading Janet ( PS nice glog well done!)