What is the ‘train your baby like a dog’ parenting method and why are people concerned about it?

27th Aug 19 | Lifestyle

A new TV show detailing the parenting style has sparked controversy.

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 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.

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Wildling dogs: Khaleesi and Lenny are both what I would refer to as wildlings. They came in not understanding social human conventions. Both took weeks to choose to sleep indoors and longer to enjoy cuddles, training and human affection. They are both great examples of dogs who, when bred without much human intervention, still automatically desire to be close to us. It’s been almost a year with Khaleesi in our lives and 7 months with Lenny. They still differ from our other dog’s but both are so affectionate. They are possibly even more affectionate than our non-wildling dogs which just goes to further support how domestic dogs are bred with a desire for closeness with humans. Took this yesterday when we returned from England. Everyone greeted us but as our novelty wore off for our other dogs the wildlings were still craving contact and reassurance. Go on then…tell me about the differences you’ve noticed if you’ve had a wildlings dog before… #dogtrainerslife #holiday #rehab #rehabdogs #villagedogs #malinois #wildling#rescuedogs

A post shared by Jo-Rosie Haffenden (@jorosieh) on

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.”

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Someone’s sent me a private message last week asking about my boy Archie. He said as a NewBe to my page he’d love to know where my dog’s came from so I will try and do a brief background check for each dog over the next few weeks. Archie 10 years old American Pit Bull Terrier Rescued off the streets of London at 6m old where he had lived with a mentally ill homeless man who cut his ears off I rehabbed Arch through severe dog aggression, mood resource guarding, mild separation anxiety, destructive behaviour and over arousal. When Arch was younger he took part in APBT games (now GRC) as well as Canine Athletics. We dabbled in bite work and obedience as well as agility, tricks and scent work. Arch is now living life as the retired gangster he is with his crew of 5 other dogs and our 2.5 year old son is southern Spain. #thedownlow #dogs #rescuedogs #theking #archie #loveofmylife

A post shared by Jo-Rosie Haffenden (@jorosieh) on

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.”

However, a Channel 4 spokesperson said: “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.

A young mother talking to her toddler son inside in a bedroom.
Experts have raised concerns about the method (iStock/PA)

“Babies are individuals, and should be treated as such. They have unique personalities, which come 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 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.”

Train Your Baby Like a Dog transmits on Channel 4 on Tuesday August 20 at 8pm.

© Press Association 2019