Thanks to the rise of social media, unusual parenting methods are emerging all the time. But a new TV show which explores the use of dog training techniques on babies has sparked concerns from parents – before it’s even aired.
Thousands have signed a change.org petition to have Channel 4’s Train Your Baby Like A Dog (Tuesday, 8pm) to be taken off air.
Here’s everything you need to know…
What is the ‘train your baby like a dog method?
As you might have guessed by the title, the method proposes that behavioural issues in young children can be resolved by using techniques commonly used on dogs.
The Channel 4 show is led by Jo-Rosie Haffenden, a dog trainer who claims she has had positive results from using her animal obedience techniques on children.
In the show’s first episode, Haffenden works with a three-year-old boy who struggles with temper tantrums and an 18-month-old who refuses to sleep in her cot.
Haffenden’s methods include using ‘clicker training’, a type of discipline technique that is typically used to teach dogs to follow commands. View this post on Instagram
Children are also rewarded with treats for good behaviour, and are praised with the phrase ‘good boy/girl’ when they successfully follow parent’s instructions.
“Top British dog trainer Jo-Rosie is coming to the aid of desperate parents with a controversial approach to parenting,” says the official Channel 4 trailer for the upcoming show.
“I’m putting my neck on the line, but I believe in the concept – I believe that this will work,” says Haffenden during the 40 second teaser.
“Whether or not I’m working with a dog or a child, they all want to be good boys.”
Why is it controversial?
The petition to cancel the show, launched by non profit organisation Autistic Inclusive Meets, has garnered more than 24,000 signatures so far.
In the petition, the organisation points to a 2018 study that found a link between using clicker training on autistic children and PTSD later in life.
Many have also raised concerns that the method could be dehumanising to children.
“The children as far as we know in this show are not autistic, however no child should be treated like this,” the petition author Emma Dalmayne, CEO of Autistic Inclusive Meets, writes.
Dalmayne also claims that the method could potentially turn those involved into “prime target[s] for grooming in the future as they will have been taught to comply to an adult’s demands, regardless of their own comfort or autonomy for reward”.
In an open letter to Channel 4, PACEY (The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years) has also commented : “Our understanding of early child development is vast and to ignore this and promote a discredited approach is irresponsible.”
PACEY has issued a complaint to @Channel4 about the programme ‘Train Your Baby Like Dog’, due to be aired tomorrow. If you wish to issue your own complaint we have shared different ways to do this in our news story, including a petition from @AIMautistic – https://t.co/CNPPBOmjXp
— PACEYchildcare (@PACEYchildcare) August 19, 2019
However, a Channel 4 spokesperson told the Huffington Post: “The programme explores a new approach to childcare, grounded in positive, science-based motivational techniques that are used widely by parenting coaches and animal behaviour experts.
“Throughout filming and broadcast, the welfare of all contributors in the programme is of paramount importance and the process is supervised by qualified child psychologists.”
What does an expert think?
“While the programme seems to be activated by good intentions, it still operates on a wrong premise – that babies should be trained the way you would train your dog,” says Dennis Relojo-Howell, blog psychologist and founder of psychreg.org.
“Babies are individuals, and should be treated as such. They have unique personalities, which comes with unique needs. Parents should take these things into account when considering one parenting method over another.”
Neurological development therapist Ollwyn Moran, who is the founder of Cognikids (cognikids.com) says she is concerned about how these training techniques might affect children in adult life.
She says: “I would be incredibly worried about the effects of this approach and to the future mental and emotional health of ‘training’ little ones like this.”
She continues: “We need to raise happy healthy independent kids that can make decisions on their own and understand the consequences of their behaviour, be it positive or negative.
“This starts from very early on, but not through clicker training and rewards. That approach is conditioning, not parenting.”