In Depth

Why everyone’s talking about Train Your Baby Like a Dog

Channel 4’s new documentary has attracted poor reviews and an online petition

An autism association has launched a petition to try to get the Channel 4 documentary Train Your Baby Like a Dog cancelled.

The programme shows dog trainer and animal behaviourist Jo-Rosie Haffenden demonstrating the use of common dog-training techniques on children in an effort to make them behave. Methods include the use of a clicker and instructing children to “sit”.

“Kids are more like dogs than people think,” said Haffenden. “If everyone parented the way we train dogs, we would end up with more confident, compassionate and curious human beings.”

But, somewhat predictably, the show created to cause outrage has caused outrage.

Writing in The Guardian, Chitra Ramaswamy said the programme was a “shocking sight”. She added: “What a show like this … tends to forget is that children are neither animals nor some special category of person. They are us. Humans.”

A petition launched with the aim of getting the show cancelled has more than 28,000 signatures.

What happened?

Channel 4 aired the first episode of the documentary series on Tuesday evening. At the beginning of the show, Haffenden says: “I don’t understand why we haven’t been applying animal techniques to humans, universally.”

She goes on to “train” a number of children. When Haffenden says “sit”, says the Guardian, “two beautifully trained bottoms go down.

“One belongs to Haffenden’s cocker spaniel. The other to her three-year-old son. ‘Good boy!’ Haffenden says … to her son. It is a shocking sight.”

What was the response?

Autistic Inclusive Meets, an association created for families and individuals with autism to get together, has launched a change.org petition trying to get the show cancelled.

The petition’s accompanying text says that clicker training - as featured in the show - “is shown to cause PTSD in adults that were subjected to it”, citing a 2018 study.

It asks Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon to consider that the programme is “dehumanising to children” and agree “that it should not be given a platform and to consider cancelling the airing full stop.

“The children are shown no dignity or respect in clicker training behaviourism, and will be a prime target for grooming in the future as they will have been taught to comply to an adults demands,  regardless of their own comfort or autonomy for reward.”

The Guardian branded the show “dehumanising and indefensible”, while a two-star Telegraph review has called it “frothy” with a “tenuous premise”, adding that “if a full series gets the green light, Channel 4 could be in the doghouse”.

What next?

The change.org petition is still running, and signatures are gradually creeping up.

However, Channel 4 is used to courting controversy around its programmes, and it is unlikely they will bow to pressure and cancel the show.

A Channel 4 spokesperson said in Metro: “The programme explores a new approach to childcare, grounded in positive, science-based motivational techniques that are used widely by parenting coaches and animal behaviour experts.

“Throughout filming and broadcast, the welfare of all contributors in the programme is of paramount importance and the process is supervised by qualified child psychologists.”

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