Do we have an inner child or an inner dog?

Inner child is a widely recognized term that implies the presence in adults of unresolved problems or underdeveloped traits rooted in childhood.

Inner child further implies that full development of the adult requires “reparenting” or “retraining” the inner child as a way of resolving juvenile problems and advancing to full adulthood.

My FIML partner has been studying dog training and last night told me how much she thought effective dog training resembled FIML practice.

In a nutshell, FIML practice trains your inner dog, not your inner child.

For example, to stop bad behavior in a dog—say, barking at cars going by—its human trainer has to know how to intervene as quickly and as calmly as possible the moment that behavior arises. Quick intervention ensures that the dog knows what the trainer wants them to do. If you wait too long (as little as a few seconds), the dog won’t know what you want them to do. They will have forgotten the precise source of their behavior and thus any corrections they try to make will not address the root problem, which is they have interpreted a signal in the world (cars going by) as something they must react to.

When the trainer is calm and friendly as well as quick to intervene, they will prevent the dog from reacting to their (the trainer’s) excessive emotion, be it anger, panic, or an unskilled flustered state of mind.

The same sort of thing happens in FIML practice. When one FIML partner queries the other, the first thing they are doing is stopping their (own) inner dog before it starts behaving badly. They are intervening as soon as they feel their inner dog stir and start to rise from the floor (but before it starts barking).

The second thing they are doing is calmly asking their FIML partner a question about a very specific and precisely identified moment. They are gathering good data on that moment from their partner and will compare it to what their inner dog thought it saw or heard.

A FIML partner is in essence asking, should I be reacting right now as my inner dog is telling me or has my inner dog misinterpreted a signal coming from you?

The dog for much of its life has barked at cars going by, while the person for much of their life has reacted with sadness or anger to their interpretation of certain signs or signals (semiotics) coming from other people.

When you query your FIML partner about a sign that you have been reacting to for much of your life and discover that the sign you received was not the sign they sent, you will be like the dog who comes to understand that there is no reason to bark at cars going by, no reason to rise from the floor at all.

People are semiotic animals more than dogs, so we react very strongly to social semiotics. But we are just like dogs in that most of our reactions to semiotics can be changed without much effort as long as we arrest those reactions quickly and replace them with a more reasonable response.

My partner remarked last night especially on how easily a great deal of bad dog behavior can be corrected if the intervention of the trainer is quick and the dog is shown a more appropriate response. Oftentimes, just a few good interventions will correct the bad behavior.

What are some classic mistakes bad dog trainers make? They try to comfort or calm the barking dog by holding it and telling it everything is OK. That is, they treat it like a child. But all that actually does is reward the dog for the behavior they want to stop.

So if you reward yourself (your inner child) by indulging in childish feelings of abandonment when you misinterpret or over-interpret a sign of rejection, you are actually rewarding yourself for being wrong, for having an erroneous (or neurotic) interpretation of communicative signs.

It is better to treat your rapid and unthinking “limbic” responsivity like a dog than like a child. And rather than reparent your inner child, it is better to use good dog training techniques to retrain the actual semiotic responses that are the real roots of unwanted behaviors.

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