Kids and dogs: Finding a path to
good behavior has similarities

By Ranny Green
Photos courtesy of Jerry and Lois Photography

As Daphne Berry, 16 months, probes for a food item, her standard poodle Neo watches. Daphne is the daughter of Tiffany and Jason Berry, of Newcastle.

The parallels are everywhere, says Family Dog Training Center (Kent) senior instructor Christine Fitzpatrick, of Maple Valley, when comparing child rearing and dog training.

Mary Berry, a Bellevue mom, grandmother, dog trainer and school librarian, wishes she had understood basic learning concepts, namely the instructor or parent must present the lesson or command clearly, then follow it with opportunities for the behavior to occur, when her children were young.

“The lesson can be sit/stay, raising your hand before speaking or saying please or thank you,” says Berry. “With both children and dogs, if incorrect behaviors persist, the teacher must ask himself or herself if the desired behavior was completely understood.

“If not, the instructor must make the lesson clearer. When it is apparent that the desired behavior is understood and it does not occur, it is incumbent upon the teacher to begin asking herself: Is the child/dog afraid, anxious, too tired, not present in the moment, in a strange environment or worried?”

She emphasizes that only after considering these aspects of non-compliance should an instructor offer some form negative re-enforcement, which might range from a look, an ah-ah or a timeout to a collar correction for a dog.

At Family Dog Training Center in Kent, instructor Christine Fitzpatrick watches as her son, Spencer, 5, attempts to get the family’s Belgian Tervuren Kitty to shake hands.

It’s all about positive re-enforcement, Berry adds. A good teacher or parent will wait for the proper behavior to occur, she emphasizes. “In a classroom we call this ‘think time.’ In dog training, when my dog is partially trained in an exercise, if I do nothing when he makes a mistake and wait for him to think, he will often stop the incorrect behavior, hesitate as he seems to be thinking and offer a different behavior, often correct. Following proper behavior, it’s time for reward and praise.”

Fitzpatrick adds, “From a training perspective having a new puppy or a baby is about the same thing. Both are clean slates waiting to pick up whatever information you give them. One has the choice of promoting good or bad behavior, “she explains, “by lack of attention or socialization.”

But for Fitzpatrick well-mannered is the only option. “Had I not trained with Family Dog’s philosophies of positive behavior modification I would not have ended up with well-behaved dogs and a well-mannered child (Spencer, 5).

“Spencer learned quickly that getting cranky and throwing fits didn’t get him anything. But calming down and telling us what he needed got him what he needed a lot more quickly. He learned that crying did not get him back to mom and dad, but being calm did. Much like a puppy or dog when it discovers that whining in a crate to get out doesn’t open the door, but being quiet does.”

Another similarity between dog training and infant learning falls in the correction technique. There are consequences in both corridors, Fitzpatrick reflects, for not following a command. “At Family Dog we don’t repeat commands. We say it once, follow through and help the dog do it if it does not comply. The same goes with kids, although I did increase that to three times when Spencer was younger and have tapered down to once now.

Before a lesson, Stephanie Jackson, of Federal Way, gets a few laughs as her son Cole, 8, plays with the family’s Basenji-Chihuahua mix, Latte.

“Another key component learned from the Family Dog philosophy, says Fitzpatrick, is keeping negative re-enforcement in check, as challenging as that might be.

If you remain composed, she says, it removes the prospect of overwhelming either the dog or child and allows you to explain to the child why it was a bad action and enables you to keep a dog’s respect and confidence.

Fitzpatrick and her husband, Bill, own two Rottweilers, Bruno, 3½, and Tucker, 10, and 3½-year-old Belgian Tervuren, Kitty. Young Spencer interacts closely with all three and is learning to deliver basic commands to each.

He’s discovering body language, tone of voice and what it takes to get each dog’s respect and response. It’s educational as well as part of the building process of cementing a bond between him and each dog, says Fitzpatrick. These skills are helping him communicate with other children and adults, as well.

For Tiffany and Jason Berry, of Newcastle, dog training and child rearing have been a way of life since October 2008 when they began basic obedience training at Family Dog Training Center with their standard poodle puppy Neo. One year and nine months later, their first child, Daphne, was born. Since then, the two have been virtually inseparable.

Following a few moments of play, Cole, 8, and Sydney Jackson, 6, take a break with Latte.

“At the time we got Neo, we were not planning a family,” explains Tiffany. “We were strongly encouraged by friends to make certain that we took the time to train him, and in the process we made jokes about ‘well, this is just a practice run to see if we want kids,’ which turned into a good thing.”

About three months after Daphne’s birth, Tiffany and Neo resumed classes at the Kent facility. Because Daphne preferred being part of the action or a spectator and disdained being put on the floor, Berry placed her in a carrier, forcing Neo to adjust his gait and ability to heel during exercises. Now that she is walking, Jason watches Daphne while Tiffany works Neo in class.

Keeping the entire family involved has been key throughout the process. During the standard puppy and home-obedience courses, Tiffany and Jason alternated handling Neo in class, but she has done all handling for competition obedience.

Daphne, 16 months, loves Neo, and the dog is well-behaved around her. “But he has his limits on just how much ‘gentle patting’ he wants from her,” says Tiffany. Their playtime together has her throwing a ball for him and he will retrieve it, or he will hold one of his toys and they will play tug.

Finding a suitable timeline for activities between the owners and dog and child has been challenging, the couple admit. “There has definitely been a learning curve between toys and food. We have a clear rule: Daphne’s toys are not for him to play with. She can play with him with his toys, but they are primarily his. He doesn’t have to share,” adds Tiffany.

Command consistency and behavioral boundaries are facets of dog training she has taken forward to child rearing.

Training a puppy or young dog and rearing a child in tandem, should not be a cram session, emphasizes Fitzpatrick. She recommends a two-year window for bringing a new dog into a household ahead of child birth. “It’s difficult to establish a set rule because every dog and every family’s dynamics are different. But two years gives you time to get suitable training, correct problems and establish a comfort zone for the dog ahead of the baby’s arrival.”

Sydney Jackson has the full attention of Kathy Lang's Belgian Tervuren puppy Breeze, at the Family Dog Training Center.

After Stephanie and Brian Jackson, of Federal Way, adopted 1-year-old Latte, a Basenji/Chihuahua mix, from a rescue group, obedience training became a No. 1 priority.

“I knew she would have to be trained for it to be a positive experience for the entire family, plus I wanted the kids (Sydney, 6, and Cole, 8) to be involved and to learn how to treat dogs appropriately,” explains Stephanie.

When they are not in school, they accompany Stephanie to training classes, watch her work the dog at home and under mom’s guidance perform some basic training exercises with Latte.

While both youngsters were pleading their case for a dog, a family discussion was conducted on the responsibility of pet ownership and role the two would be expected to play, i.e. be daily members of the Poop Patrol, feed the dog, interact with it daily (even during school days) and treat it gently.

“I think the most valuable lesson they have seen from our training is the benefit of hard work and consistency. They recognize that my commitment to Latte’s training has produced a healthy, happy dog the entire family can enjoy and be proud of.”

The children have learned that when Latte misbehaves, it’s not totally her fault. “Think about what caused her actions and how to correct it,” says Stephanie. “This is a lesson that applies to people and dogs alike.

“All kids and dogs crave structure and they want to know what is expected of them. We all get the kids and the dogs we are meant to have. They were sent here to teach us life lessons. How well we grasp those lessons is what’s important.”

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