I was surprised at Chitra Ramaswamy’s strongly worded condemnation of C4’s Train Your Baby Like a Dog (G2, 21 August). Perhaps I’m naive, but I found Jo-Rosie Haffenden, the animal trainer, to be sensitive to the needs of these children and their parents, who were, like so many of us, unaware of their failure to meet their children’s basic needs for attention and safety. Many viewers would – I think – have learned a lot.
It seemed clear to me that Haffenden’s extensive experience with dogs made her highly sensitive to the animals’ basic needs, and that these translated naturally to humans. Why does it so offend Ramaswamy (and the others who wanted the show stopped before it went on air) to allow for the possibility that we humans might share common psychological traits with animals and that dog-training skills might be transferable to humans?
Is there a fear that these children might never fully grow up – be permanently obedient – and unable to move on to live healthy independent lives? Perhaps there is a danger that these methods could be misused and abused by malevolent adults. But the reality is – as the programme showed – that many current child-rearing methods, such as “crying it out”, may be equally or more damaging.
It looked as though Haffenden’s interventions offered these children, and their parents, the possibility of a happier, more loving and contented family life – which I would have thought is the foundation stone for a happier life in adulthood.
• I did not agree with Chitra Ramaswamy’s review. The learning procedure the trainer was using was classical conditioning, which was first developed by Pavlov on dogs and later transferred for use with people. Each “behaviour”, whether it is a baby or a dog, can be acquired by positive reinforcement with a stimulus, eg a dog biscuit or half a milk chocolate drop, and paired with a simple stimulus, eg a clicker or, as in Pavlov’s case, a bell. Eventually, after a few pairings, the dog/child will respond to the simple stimulus only. I think the programme was stimulating and interesting and showed positive results without talking to the baby like a dog.
• In the late 1950s I overheard my recently acquired stepmother declaring that raising children was easy. It was, she said, just like training dogs, of which she had two. This of course explains why I can sit on command, walk to heel, fetch objects, eat my food from a bowl on the floor and go to the loo outside; and also perhaps why I became a psychologist and psychotherapist.
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