Controversial TV show causes outrage from the early years sector

The controversial TV show, ‘Train your baby like a dog’ aired on Channel 4 on 20th August despite widespread calls of outrage from professionals across the early years sector.

The TV show followed Jo-Rosie Haffenden, a dog trainer who believes that ‘training’ babies using clickers and other techniques used within canine training to reinforce ‘good’ behaviour can support parents to shape/modify their children’s behaviour to ‘end up with more confident, compassionate and curious human beings’.

Jo-Rosie Haffenden insists that “kids are a lot more like dogs than people like to think” in the programme and a disclaimer at the end of the programme tells us that all techniques used within this often troubling, 45 minute slot are approved by a clinical psychologist. So, does that mean that the programme was ok, after all?

Some think so, with Markie Robson-Scott’s review of the programme at inews.co.uk declaring the programme ‘hardly controversial’, but sector experts still have grave concerns.

Mine Conkbayir, PhD researcher, is supporting the development of new neuroscience-informed CACHE Level 2 and Level 4 qualifications in Early Years, and has expressed her concerns about the programme, calling it ‘cheap entertainment’ and hopes that parents do not implement damaging or toxic practices from the programme without fully understanding them.

Whilst the messages and techniques in the programme were gentler than the title might suggest, the programme lacked depth and seemed to reinforce the idea that ‘good behaviour’ would lead to well-adjusted and happy children, whereas evidence shows that this might not be the case.

A spokesperson for Channel 4, in a statement for the Huffington Post, said that the show “explores a new approach to childcare, grounded in positive, science-based motivational techniques that are used widely by parenting coaches and animal behaviour experts”, though this doesn’t feel new.

Whilst some conditioning techniques may be used by clinicians to support those with phobias, using conditioning techniques to elicit behaviour changes without addressing the underlying cause of the behaviour risks harm to children caused by their inability to communicate circumstances that cause them unrest, increasing in turn the risk of abuse or neglect.

Criticism of the programme hasn’t been solely from the side of Early Years professionals, however.  Alongside the petition for the show to be cancelled, which gathered over 35,000 signatures, the Professional Association of Dog Trainers has also spoken out against the messages of the programme.  In a statement on their own website, the association expresses serious concerns with ‘suggesting the use of a framework for changing behaviour in children which is already questionable in dogs’, branding the programme ‘absurd’.  The statement recognises that ‘whether morally acceptable or not – suggesting clicker training your baby or toddler to change his or her behaviour is not only a step backward, it ignores several important points.’

Ultimately, it seems that the programme was designed to promote controversy and boost ratings, ignoring current scientific research from experts in both canine and human behaviour, which is disappointing at a time where Early Years Education professionals are easily accessible and, in this case, actively voicing their concerns.

It’s hoped that Channel 4 will stop at the pilot and choose not to pursue further episodes of this troublesome and potentially damaging show.

If you’d like to explore behaviour and self-regulation ideas which are supported by research and Early Years experts, you can find articles and resources (including free e-learning) on CACHEAlumni.org.uk.

If you’d like to find out more about the work of Mine Conkbayir’s research, books or CACHE Endorsed e-learning programmes, you can find her website at https://mineconkbayir.co.uk