Pavlov

Since we signed the paperwork for adopting Konan on Saturday, Conrad and I have been reading a lot about dogs, mostly how to train dogs.  I was surprised to learn that there are so many different philosophies on how to train dogs.

For example, I had heard almost unanimously that the best way to potty train a dog is to hold its nose close to any accident that it has in the house and to scold it.  However, there are other trainers which say that punishing a dog for an accident while potty training will only have the effect of teaching it either to avoid the person giving the punishment or that voiding is an inappropriate act, neither of which is good or desirable.

It's very interesting for me because as I watch these videos and see the way these trainers suggest training dogs, I see the parallels between training dogs and raising children.  When I was in school, I was taught that animals don't think, they just act on instinct.  I have since learned that this is patently false.  In fact, any prolonged observation of animals would lead anyone to realize that they are quite capable of problem solving skills indicative of intelligence.  But, as I think about how to train a dog via classical conditioning, I can't help but notice that that is precisely how we raise children.

Let's just take the simple (or perhaps not quite so simple) example of learning a language.  How does a child learn to associate the word "nose" with the object on our face that we call a nose?  This is classical conditioning.  A parent will touch eir own nose and say the word, and then touch the baby's nose and say the word.  Then perhaps show the child pictures of faces in books and point at the nose and repeat the word.  This is how vocabulary is taught.  It is classical conditioning.  Many of the words we know we didn't read in a dictionary, we learned them through classical conditioning.  We saw other people associating a certain word with a certain object, idea, or action, and came to understand that the word is meant to describe that thing.  In just the same way, a dog comes to understand that the word "sit" is associated with a certain behavior.

I'm also thinking that many of the things that these dog trainers suggest would be equally valid for raising children.  For example, becoming upset at a child for having an accident while potty training will cause the child to feel shame and to want to avoid the parent giving the punishment.  I believe I related the story in some earlier blog post about the child I was holding on my lap while watching a play who wet himself while sleeping.  If he were my own son, I would have just taken him to the bathroom and helped him clean up.  Unfortunately, his own father decided to scold him for this accident.  I saw no benefit to this.  In fact, the only effect I saw was that it made the son afraid of his father and ashamed of himself.

The concept of preparing a pet for a known upcoming event is also helpful in raising a child.  Dogs do not typically enjoy taking baths.  However, many people have been successful in teaching their dogs to enjoy bath time by conditioning them.  Take the dog to the tub when it is empty and play with it in there to help the dog enjoy the tub and not associate it only with the unpleasant bath.  Take the dog to the bathroom and close the door while you shower to help it grow accustomed to the sound of water running through the pipes, which may otherwise be an undesirable sound or one it comes to associate with bath time and therefore unpleasantness.

In just the same way, help prepare a child for an upcoming event.  Wake them before school time and help them get ready so that they will be on time for school.  Encourage them to do their homework with enough time to spare to guarantee that they will complete it before the deadline.  Neglecting the child when ey comes home from school and then becoming angry with em when ey fails a test is an ineffective way to teach a child the importance of study and the benefit of homework, just like waiting for a dog to poop in the house and then punishing it is an ineffective way to teach it that holding it for outside is the desired behavior.

I am very curious to see how the two of us will do at raising a dog.  I have never cared for a dog in my life.  Conrad has had dogs his whole life, but he has never been the sole caregiver.  My parents had a dog when I was very young--too young to care for her.  So, this will really be my first experiencing with raising a pet.  I anticipate that there will be many unexpected things come up, and perhaps some times when I may not know what to do or what is best for the dog.  I assume there will be times when my patience will be tried.  I'm sure there will be surprises.  But I think that's what makes life exciting and worth living.