Train Your Baby Like a Dog

Channel 4

IT is a close run race between Channels 4 and 5 as to which can come up with the most barking mad title for a TV show. My Granny the Escort, anyone, or 2000 Tattoos, 40 Piercings and a Pickled Ear?

The cognoscenti might reckon Channel 4 has just about (wet) nosed it with its latest contribution to the debate about how best to bring up baby: get the ankle-biters off the naughty step and into the dog house. Well, not quite.

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Animal behaviourist Jo-Rosie Haffenden knows a lot about training dogs. She has seven of her own and teaches other people to be trainers. When she had a baby three years ago she had a brainwave: if encouraging good behaviour worked with dogs, might it do the same with her son, Santino? “If everybody parented their child in the same way that we are training our dogs we’d end up with much more confident, compassionate and curious human beings,” she told the camera.

Haffenden’s views have been controversial, with the Professional Association of Canine Trainers calling the programme “unethical and sensationalist”. The show did have the whiff of a gimmick about it, with the narrator talking to viewers as if they were children. Here’s Jo-Rosie’s sidekick superdog Tango, everyone! And it was jarring to hear Haffenden refer to “animals” rather than children, even if they are. But never mind that: did her methods work?

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Jo and Garrett from Bristol were trying their best to cope with son Greydon, who had gone through the terrible twos and kept on going. Greydon, now three, was LOUD. He was ANGRY. His parents were at a loss, and with just three weeks until baby number two was born, they were desperate for help.

Enter Haffenden, travelling over from her home in Spain, zen master dog Tango in tow. Greydon’s first words on meeting them was “Kill that dog”. It was not going terribly well. But then Haffenden, who also has a degree in human psychology, began to dispense some juicy common sense. Child proof a room the way you would puppy proof it, putting temptation out of the way. Learn to recognise when bad behaviour is escalating so it can be nipped in the bud. If a situation is going south, change the environment, provide distraction. All the while, click, reward, click, reward,either with something yummy or plain old praise. Mum and dad were impressed. “They all want to be good boys,” said dad as Greydon’s behaviour improved. “You have to say it a little less like he is a dog,” coached mum.

Next in need of advice was Rose, from London. Her daughter, 18-month-old Dulcie, screamed the night away and would not sleep in her cot. Comparing her to a puppy that did not feel safe, Haffenden went back to basics. Get her dinner right: lots of little things, “baby tapas” she called it, like bits of cheese and apples, and let her relax. After bath - more clicks and half a chocolate button for good behaviour - put her to bed, and do not leave the room till she is settled, continuing to cuddle her if she becomes agitated. After half an hour Dulcie was asleep.

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A message at the end of the show stated that all parenting techniques used were approved by a clinical psychologist. Haffenden went back to Spain leaving some relieved parents in her wake. “She’s a child whisperer,” said Rose, not knowing whether to laugh or cry with relief. In Bristol, Garrett was convinced. “It’s a thousand times better.” Haffenden’s dog looked happy to be going home. Everyone had been Tango’d, and peace had broken out, at least for now. Result.

Available on All 4 catch-up