Recently, another dog trainer asked for comments about involving children in clicker training lessons.
I replied with these comments.
I think there are two issues. If you are shaping a behaviour, it’s best for one person to work on it. Generally if two people try to shape the same behaviour, they are inconsistent about criteria, and this can get confusing and inefficient. However, there’s no reason why two people can’t work on different behaviours.
The other issue you are raising is about involving children in training the family dog. I have always welcomed the involvement of kids in my classes. This includes group classes as well as private consultations, which usually happen in the family home.
Kids sometimes catch on a lot more quickly than their parents, even kids a lot younger than 11. Of course young kids do need adult supervision, and, like puppies, may not be able to concentrate for an hour long lesson. I don’t think there’s anything especially difficult about clicker training for kids, as compared to any other form of training. Kids do get the point. Sometimes they understand contingency better than their parents, so they get better results, and they practice more if there is a competition to see who can make more progress by next week.
Generally speaking though I have a rule of thumb that a young person has to be about 14 before they have the authority or ability to be solely responsible for a dog, as opposed to training with adult supervision. This varies though with how emotionally mature the young person is as well as how big they are physically. It’s something to do with the way dogs perceive children to be juvenile and treat them differently to older people. Having said that, I can remember a friend years ago asking her daughter, who was probably not yet two years old, to put their German Shepherd outside. The little girl calmly walked up to the dog, and with the voice of unmistakable authority, said “outside!” and accompanied the compliant dog to the door.
So yes, by all means include the kids in your training. The best insurance against dog bite injuries to children is for the children to be confident with dogs and able to elicit good behaviour through positive reinforcement. Controlling the reward also gives younger children more authority and respect in the dog’s eyes.