Jogo Behaviour Support Blog
Train Your Baby like a Dog Review
John Murray - Behaviour Support Consultant
It may have been the deliberately provocative title of the latest TV contribution to behaviour management and parenting aired by Channel 4 last night, 8pm Wednesday 20.08.19, but Train your Baby like a Dog caused a little bit of stir on social media. I must admit the producers did their job in getting me interested with the title. I tried to approach the programme with an open mind. We were introduced to Jo-Rosie Haffenden, a world-renowned animal trainer, three-times published author and international speaker. However, we were reassured she has a degree in Applied Psychology and a postgraduate qualification in Animal Behaviour. She lets the audience know that she is passionate about transferring or applying “animal techniques to kids” and wants to “transform parenting”
The programme centred around two cases one a young boy who had temper tantrums and other a young toddler with sleep issues. To be fair Jo-Rosie began with an initial consultation and observation and tried to gather evidence before developing solutions. Following this, she would give a piece to camera explaining her thoughts on the issue and solutions. All the time referencing how the basis for her solutions come from her experience of changing the behaviour in dogs.
At first, one could understand why the parents on the programme could find her observations and possible solutions appealing. As the programme showed us a dog being ignored by Jo-Rosie and getting more agitated we were informed that these were similar behaviours to the little boy having tantrums. The audience were informed it was a simple case of attention seeking behaviours. This over simplified and quick diagnosis based on obtaining partial evidence to determine what was causing the behaviour seemed to be more about supporting the basic theory kids can be trained like dogs rather than constructing an intervention based on identified need. This oversimplification continued and the advice given over the whole of the programme could be summed up as read the early signs, change the environment and don’t give them too many choices. In terms of the sleep issue it was routines and diet that were key. If it works for the dog it must work for the kids, really!
It was at this point I was getting a little bit worried about Jo-Rosie, her advice, the parents listening to it, but mostly the children. My main concern was here was another TV programme and Advisor presenting simple solutions to what are complex issues. Don’t get me wrong the simple basic interventions identified by the advisor in this programme would have to be established, the problem was that these initial starting points were portrayed as the solution. This kind of simple approach can in fact be dangerous as it gives the impression all can be solved with the flick of a switch or in this case a clicker and some chocolate buttons.
There was no background given on either of the cases, no attempt to look behind the behaviour it was all about the fruit (the tantrum or not settling to sleep) with no attempt to take the root (cause) into account. The little boy’s mother was pregnant, and the due date was close. The potential impact for both the child and the mother was not fully explored in the programme. The only time it was referenced was when Jo-Rosie said she wouldn’t bring a new dog into a situation where she is working with another. Issues to do with child development were not taken into account, the approach was very much based on a cognitive point of view, but both children would only just be developing that aspect of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) therefore would be underdeveloped in their cognitive ability for this approach alone to succeed long term.
I found the programme and the adviser lacking in appreciation of the emotions, thoughts and perceptions that are part of behaviour. Jo-Rosie did at one point say the behaviour was a form of communication, the child trying to say something, but she missed the point. The advisor couldn’t see past the events and didn’t listen to what the children were communicating. Both children were experiencing big emotions and approaches around soothing and calming, co-regulation were ignored. There was no attempt to try and teach how we accept, cope with and regulate these emotions. In fact the distraction technique of looking for things around the house, again based on what she does with dogs, seemed to tell the child to go away rather than be part of and most of all denied the existence of the emotions and teach him techniques in how to regulate them.
At the end of the programme both sets of parents hailed the techniques as a success. We were not given any context on how long this lasted or what constitutes success. The basic premise of the programme could be worthy of discussion in that is a purely behaviourist approach one that can lead to lasting solutions. However, I felt train your baby like a dog missed the opportunity to do this.