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May 18, 2012 at 6:00 AM

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Trainer Q&A: Raising kids vs. raising dogs

kathyeffie1.JPGKathy Sdao, an Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist in Tacoma, pictured above with her dog Effie, answers today's question.

Question: A couple who are expecting their first baby soon have a 3-year-old out-of-control Lab. The dog won't obey commands, jumps, barks and demands to stand between the wife and anyone else. Family members say the couple are very protective of the dog and attribute his bad behavior to his being "a puppy." Is there a correlation between people raising well-behaved dogs and raising well-behaved children?

Answer: Darned if I know. But my latest mantra is "Everyone behaves" - inspired by that perennially popular book "Everyone Poops" (first shown to me at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium by my boss, the curator of mammals).

All animals behave; it's how human and non-human creatures create effects in the world. So if you understand a few basic principles of animal learning and you develop some simple skills to apply them, you'll be effective at modifying the behavior of dogs or dolphins or daughters (or sons).

As my mentor Karen Pryor famously said, "If it has a brain stem and eats, you can train it."

Karen was talking specifically about clicker training, a practical powerful way to implement positive training in everyday life.

The thought of using this animal-training methodology to raise well-behaved kids is off-putting to many parents, though. So, when used with humans, it's referred to as TAGteaching. (TAG is an acronym for "Teaching with Acoustical Guidance.)

The surprising thing is that the whether we are TAGteaching young kids or training exuberant Labradors, the approach is the same. The only difference is that we've all had experience at being a kid, whereas we know next to nothing about being a dog.

FYI for behavior junkies: The 38th Annual Convention of the Association for Behavior Analysis International® will be held in Seattle May 25-29, 2012, at the Washington State Convention Center. Included will be 466 posters, 256 panels and symposia, 77 papers, 38 invited addresses, 7 invited tutorials, 57 business meetings, 17 reunions, 23 special events, 133 Expo posters, and 92 workshops. Whew!

Kathy Sdao

Kathy Sdao, an Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist in Tacoma, has trained dolphins at the University of Hawaii and for the U.S. Navy and was a whale- and walrus-trainer at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium . Since 1998, Kathy has owned Bright Spot Dog Training, which provides behavior-modification services for pet owners. She teaches about a dozen workshops annually, for trainers around the world. Her first book, "Plenty in Life Is Free: Reflections on Dogs, Training and Finding Grace", was published this year.

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Do you have a question about pet behavior? Ask now! We'll pose some of your questions to a local trainer in an upcoming post.

Read earlier Q&A columns here.