Of Kids and Dawgs and Students

October 18, 2004

As the hound and I were walking this morning I met a woman and her young lab and started talking with her about dog training. She is struggling with the dog, in part I thought because her dog command voice was harsh, hectoring, and almost mean. I did not tell her that, but I did remind her of the importance of giving the command once and once only, and then enforcing it by moving the dog. So you say "Sit!" and then if the dog stands there looking at you, you push back on the chest and down on the tail, and place that dog on its tuchus.

As the hound and I walked on, I was reminded of the relationship between dog training, child raising, and teaching.


The hound is our practice child. We knew that when we got her. And several aspects of dog raising have translated to child raising, at least so far: no empty threats or promises, enforce every command, don't give a command that won't be obeyed, praise good behavior, scold bad behavior, praise and condemn immediately or not at all, and always be consistent. This latter is the most important. Dogs and kids both like to know what is expected of them and like to have some structure in which they can act. Within that structure, go for it. But if we decide that boys should not stand on the couch, then that means that they never stand on the couch. If we decide that no more cookies means no more cookies, then we are open for petitions until we say yes or no, but once spoken that word is final.

A digression - that last sentance makes me feel a little like George W. Bush. It is a strange feeling.

In addition I have had to learn new tones of voice for dealing with the hound: dog voice and praise voice. Dog voice is a projected, moderate volume, firm voice with a snap of command. The trick for me is to articulate an exlamation point without raising my volume: I try to sound firm; the lady this morning sounded mean; the military call this command voice. Praise voice is goofy-happy. Guwd Daag! I use it whenever she does something I told her to, when playing with her, and when she resists doing something she is forbidden to do. So when she stops chasing a squirrel and lets it run into the street, she gets a Guwd Daag! just as if she had laid down on command, or gotten her ears ruffled.

Dog voice works well on telemarketers and difficult students. I don't normally bring it out in the classroom except when exerting discipline. Praise voice is reserved for the critters. But the principle behind the two - make requests or demands in a firm voice, immediately praise or correct actions - translates well to people.

With students, there are similar shared principles. Again, the most important is being consistent. If I have one stated policy for makeups or late work, then always follow it. For homework, if you were in the room when we talked about the homework, you can not write that homework for credit. If a student says something smart, or writes something clever, then say so immediately. If a student says something stupid or gets things wrong in writing, say so, and then move on. Any single goof in class is as unimportant as any single moment when a dog on heel goes to sniff a tree - you tug the leash, correct verbally, and then keep walking as if nothing happened.

There are also important differences. The first is that a dog is always a dog, but a baby grows up to be a child and then an adult. In addition, a dog is willing to believe that you are infallible - "Lord, let me be the person my dog thinks that I am" - while both children and students will catch you goofing on a regular basis. We all make mistakes. The trick there is to treat yourself as you treat others - whoops, that was a mistake. Here is how we fix it. Now lets move on.

Speaking of which, writing this was a study break from grading blue books.
"Back to work Ted!"
"Guwd Boy!"

Posted by Red Ted at October 18, 2004 10:49 AM | TrackBack