Obama-Critic Dobson Based Child Rearing Ideas On Flawed Dog Training Method
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 10:12:01 PM EST
Mainstream media has been very compliant in broadcasting Focus On The Family head James Dobson's recent attack [1,2] on Barack Obama, in which Dobson said Obama holds "fruitcake" views on church-state Separation. Dr. James Dobson, through his books on child rearing that have sold into the millions or tens of millions, has influenced millions of American parents. Why, asks FrameShop's Jeffrey Feldman, does the media give James Dobson a pass given how far out of the mainstream his parenting ideas really are ? The following post examines the apparent origins of Dobson's views on child-discipline which seem to be tied to or grounded in Dobson's sense of how to train dogs - by beating them into abject submission, an approach that's generally held by professional dog trainers to be less than worthless and even dangerous. James Dobson has taught to an entire generation of Americans a parental approach based in a failed, crackpot "break their will to resist, beat them into submission" dog training theory and, while Barack Obama actually taught Constitutional law professionally for twelve years, Dr. Dobson, as a dog trainer, would likely either be hounded out of town, sued, bitten or mauled. But, rather than train dogs, Dobson translated his crackpot dog-beating ethic into books of advice, for American parents, on child discipline and so made a small fortune.
Focus on The Family head James Dobson advises millions of Americans on how to discipline their children - violently and often, and that seems in line with Dobson's identification, in his book "The Strong Willed Child", of the "self will" of toddlers as perhaps the "essence of 'original sin' which has infiltrated the human family." Toddlers would seem, in Dobson's view, positively satanic. Perhaps the good doctor thinks whupping young children on a regular basis will chase the demons out. Fruitcake, anyone ?

In "Tsst!", an episode of the popular, satirical animated series "South Park" by Matt Parker and Trey Stone, which aired two seasons ago, the mother of one of the central characters in the series, Eric Cartman, tries to deal with little Eric's behavioral problems by hiring "Dog Whisperer" Cesar Milan, a nationally famous dog trainer, to train her son with Milan's proven techniques. Even though South Park's episode was unabashedly satirical, the dog training ideas espoused in it were sound.

In South Park episode 1007, "Tsst!", Cesar Milan tells Eric Cartman's mother that she needs to dominate Eric but, as Milan explains, the idea is not for her to actually fight with Eric, in a confrontation or in actual physical combat. As Milan knows, to get into such battles with dogs in training is to let them know they have a shot at winning the dominance struggle that all dogs will engage in if given the opportunity. The point isn't for the dog trainer to fight with dogs in training, it's to simply dominate those dogs, to put on and act out the attitude of a dominant pack leader.

As the attached essay, "How Obama-Critic James Dobson Whipped The Mini Weiner Dog Rebellion", by an anonymous author and which might or might not be satire, describes, the origin of James Dobson's wildly popular child-rearing ideas, which have probably sold tens of millions of Dobson's books, appear to have been based in a fundamentally flawed approach to dog training which Dr. Dobson then adapted for children. Unlike Cesar Milan's solid methods showcased in the fictional South Park episode, Dr. Dobson's crackpot dog-training notions were neither competent or useful for training dogs, let alone children. Except, suggests Digby at Hullaballoo, if one wants them to mature into violent and abusive adults, the "future fascists of America."

James Dobson's conception of dog training, as described in his book "The Strong Willed Child", is that one can "train" dogs by beating them into submission, breaking their wills that is. Though the approach was tried recently at Iran's Abu Ghraib prison on human beings, in the context of torture, as a dog training approach (if it can be dignified as an "approach" rather than simply a mindless application of brute force) it is widely understood to be a deeply ignorant and wildly counterproductive, even dangerous approach to dog training which, at best, can successfully produce the sort of uncontrollable and violent behaviors sometimes desired in 'Pit' Bull terriers.

But, James Dobson isn't a dog trainer - he's a child psychologist. And, he's translated his ideas on brute-force dog coercion into questionable at least and often crackpot, bizzare and cruel training and disciplinary methods for children that were then spread widely in American culture through Dobson's hugely popular, blockbuster books grounded in Dobson's view that parents should deal with difficult children through violent confrontation, by beating or otherwise coercing them into submission, ultimately breaking their spirits to resist.

The reality of it what James Dobson has accomplished amounts to a type of black comedy, but one that involves a considerable amount of human suffering. Dr. Dobson has rebranded his own cracked dog training concepts as child disciplining methods and in the hands of a less competent and publicly genial popularist James Dobson's penchant for advocating beating children and blaming them for original sin might be dismissed as sadistic or psychotic. Instead, Dobson has leveraged his cleverly disguised, dubious dog-training manuals to build up a 200-plus million dollar a year nonprofit empire with international clout The following essay, perhaps serious or perhaps farcical, describes the genesis of Dr. James Dobson's dog training/child training concepts - during a pivotal fight Dobson, armed with a belt, initiated to force his 12 pound miniature Dachshund off a fuzzy, warm toilet seat cover.

How Obama-Critic James Dobson Whipped The Mini Weiner Dog Rebellion

Lately there's been a bit of a flap over Dr. James Dobson's public declaration that Barack Obama has "fruitcake ideas" about the US Constitution and church-state separation. Although he has no degree in Constitutional Law, in choosing to go head to head with Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama, who taught Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago for twelve years, Dr. Dobson is at less of a disadvantage than it might seem at first. No intellectual lightweight, he is a pioneer and titan in the field of child-rearing. Dobson's blockbuster books "The Strong Willed Child", which sold over 1.75 million copies and "Dare To Discipline", which sold a whopping 3.5 million copies, have informed an entire generation of parents and empowered them with Dr. Dobson's core insight that, from a disciplinary standpoint, children are like dogs. But, Dobson's revolutionary "child-whisperer" child-rearing methods did not arise from floofy navel gazing. Dobson's theory was born from praxis and struggle, in an epic battle between Dobson and his 12 pound miniature Dachshund "Siggie" - to force the little Weiner Dog off its napping spot on a fuzzy toilet seat cover. For Dobson, the incident gave rise to a core insight into the need for parents, and society, to forcefully combat, overcome and whup those satanic urges which drive all rebellions and rebelliousness - against parental authority, against society, against President George W. Bush.

In "The Strong Willed Child" the nationally celebrated child-rearing expert and Christian family values champion James Dobson describes the titanic clash, between man and vicious, snarling miniature weiner dog - which led to Dobson's breathtaking, radical insight into core, basic behavioral similarities between human children and Dachshunds or, more generally, dogs:

"That tiny dog and I had the most vicious fight ever staged between man and beast. I fought him up one wall and down the other, with both of us scratching and clawing and growling and swinging the belt."

From that description would seem that in a certain stage of the struggle the Dachshund had wrested control of the belt, to whip Dobson, but that is almost certainly a stylistic flourish on Dr. Dobson's part. The high pitch of the drama suggests the saga might be grist for a musical, even an opera, especially for the added complexity of the almost Oedipal cast of the narrative - which seems to concern what was, at base, a sexual and dominance struggle:

"The greatest confrontation occurred a few years ago when I had been in Miami for a three-day conference. I returned to observe that Siggie had become boss of the house while I was gone. But I didn't realize until later that evening just how strongly he felt about his new position as Captain."

Who knows what that dog had been up to while Dobson was away ? To the those inclined toward such crude perspectives (which is to say almost anyone, at least on a subconscious level) Dachshunds are in effect mobile phallic symbols, on legs. Dr. James Dobson was thus compelled, forced to reassert his Biblical and God-given authority over wife and family, and over his suggestively elongated mini weiner dog:

"At eleven o'clock that night, I told Siggie to go get into his bed, which is a permanent enclosure in the family room [sounds like a doghouse]. For six years I had given him that order at the end of each day, and for six years Siggie had obeyed.

On this occasion, however, he refused to budge. You see, he was in the bathroom, seated comfortably on the furry lid of the toilet seat. That is his favorite spot in the house, because it allows him to bask in the warmth of a nearby electric heater. . ."

As any colonial power with staying power well knows, rebellions are to be put down with absolute, prejudicial brutality. In the movie "Burn!", about a Nineteenth-Century Caribbean Island slave revolt, British Colonial authorities were too timid to put down the rebellion and had to call in Marlin Brando to care of the mess. Which he did. But, by the time of the 1920's British occupation of Iraq, the British had learned better and showed the Iraqis "tough love" - by bombing and strafing Iraqi villages for non-payment of taxes. Had the British lacked such disciplinary resolve it's hard to even imagine what a mess Iraq might be in today.

As did Marlin Brando, Dr. James Dobson, faced with a similarly dire, even apocalyptic rebellion, rose to the challenge. Dobson, now head of the over $200 million dollar a year nonprofit behemoth, Focus On The Family, wisely made a tactical decision to integrate a force-multiplier (a belt that is) into his counterinsurgency battle plan:

"When I told Sigmund to leave his warm seat and go to bed, he flattened his ears and slowly turned his head toward me. He deliberately braced himself by placing one paw on the edge of the furry lid, then hunched his shoulders, raised his lips to reveal the molars on both sides, and uttered his most threatening growl. That was Siggie's way of saying. "Get lost!"

"I had seen this defiant mood before, and knew there was only one way to deal with it. The ONLY way to make Siggie obey is to threaten him with destruction. Nothing else works. I turned and went to my closet and got a small belt to help me 'reason' with Mr. Freud."

James Dobson seems to have been concerned that his rebellious miniature Dachshund "Siggie" (short for "Sigmund Freud") might usurp Dobson's spot as head of the family and the household, and the sexual danger and threat of mini weiner dogs is legendary - as is their tenacity in battle. A relative of mine has a miniature wire-haired miniature Dachshund that obsessively fetches rocks, even fairly big ones, thrown into the pond in her backyard. I've seen firsthand how single mindedly tenacious and fierce these wee Dachshunds truly are. One wouldn't want to be on their bad side or allow them to get the upper hand - ever.

It was man against brute beast, touch and go:

"What developed next is impossible to describe. That tiny dog and I had the most vicious fight ever staged between man and beast. I fought him up one wall and down the other, with both of us scratching and clawing and growling and swinging the belt. I am embarrassed by the memory of the entire scene. Inch by inch I moved him toward the family room and his bed. As a final desperate maneuver, Siggie backed into the corner for one last snarling stand. I eventually got him to bed, only because I outweighed him 200 to 12!"

Dobson chose to showcase this gripping personal account in his book of child rearing advice, on how to cope with "strong-willed" children, and the saga fits perfectly - as many relevant experts, enlightened by Dobson's bold insights, have come to appreciate, Dachshunds are remarkably like human children. Both are bilaterally symmetrical chordates, mammals with four limbs and relatively large brains, both are more or less omnivorous, both are highly social and travel in packs, both engage in dominance struggles. Both respond to operant conditioning. The similarities would seem endless.

As a recent episode of 'South Park' has amply demonstrated, dog training techniques work marvelously well on troublesome children and James Dobson was an early pioneer and leader of this revolutionary, breakthrough school of child rearing:

"But this is not a book about the discipline of dogs; there is an important moral to my story that is highly relevant to the world of children. JUST AS SURELY AS A DOG WILL OCCASIONALLY CHALLENGE THE AUTHORITY OF HIS LEADERS, SO WILL A LITTLE CHILD -- ONLY MORE SO." (emphasis Dobson's)"

Woof. Woof woof.

There's a religious, metaphysical component to this as well, and it is that textual, narrative richness which could lend the story to the musical/opera format - moving past the mere mechanics of human/Dachshund mortal combat and also the realm of canine/toddler psychology, Dobson brings the discussion into the realm of deep metaphysical, theological inquiry:

"Perhaps this tendency toward self-will is the essence of 'original sin' which has infiltrated the human family. It certainly explains why I place such stress on the proper response to willful defiance during childhood, for that rebellion can plant the seeds of personal disaster."

As with the invention of the wheel, or fire, or the principles of geometry and basic math, many revolutionary human breakthrough discoveries seem transparently obvious in retrospect such that all look back, in astonishment, with the same question: "Why didn't I think of that ?"

But, no one had grasped it before James Dobson and the insight may well place Dr. Dobson in the pantheon of greats such as Einstein, Fermi, Leonardo, Tesla, Madam Curie and other such pioneers of human inquiry. Dobson's hypothesis, ventured in "The Strong Willed Child", places blame for human conflict, wars and strife, historical evils of all sorts, stemming from the breakdown of the core human social institution, the family, squarely where it truly belongs: on toddlers.

Dr. James Dobson's epiphany, his satori was the realization that because the family is the most basic, irreducible element and building block of the human social order, the very genesis of evil in human family life, the original sin, the first taint, has to therefore originate in the blasphemous refusal of very young children to toe the line and obey parental authority. That is why it is of such paramount importance to beat such inclinations out of children - with each and every mother and father who choose to mollycoddle their children rather than practice the discipline of tough love, the very social order and fate of the world as we know it are put at risk.

For James Dobson and a growing cadre of supporters armed with Dobson's breakthrough theory and insight, the only sane approach parents can take towards childhood rebellion is to beat it out of them. Otherwise chaos, socialism and Satan will prevail.

In truth it's the moral duty, the obligation of Christian parents who take their faith seriously, unlike those alleged Christians who merely mumble the tenets of their faith during their sporadic Sunday forays to degenerate liberal church services rife with pagan ritual and coded Satanic-sexual symbolism, to break the will of their children to resist and rebel much like torturers break the wills of prisoners to resist and rebel - in the end, it's for their own, and society's, best interest. The enterprise is, in a very real sense, the project of chasing out the devil, demonic spirits that otherwise can infest children and lead them into ruin, into future lives corrupted with iniquity and sin, drug and alcohol abuse, gayness and liberal political opinions, feminazi bigotry and eco-terrorism, into apartments in New York or San Fransisco and the wearing of sexually suggestive or sexually ambiguous clothing, into the consumption of tofu and tempeh rather than proper sirloin, proper bacon, into seductive lifestyles leading inexorably to eternal torment in the flaming pits of Hell.

That cosmic battle of Good versus Evil, writ small, is one in which one party alone, you the parents, must come out on top; so give no quarter; crush their resistance! - if you don't they'll take over and through them Satan will rule. The family, society even, will break down and devolve into a Hobbesian war of all against all. Chaos will rule. Cannibalism and Buddhism will flourish, as will gay marriage. Teletubbies will proliferate on Television and gays in Black Helicopters will swoop down to seize our guns, take our property, sodomize us and teach our women and wives to talk back to our authority. . .

So, Dr. James Dobson had to conquer the little weiner dog. Thus was The Family, and perhaps even Christianity itself, saved on that day.

...spread as much as anything Dobson says!

Oh, I've been reading FOTF's "Plugged In," a media guide for parents, ever since my youngest cousins started complaining to me about how it's ruined things for them. This is what their critic says about Alan Jackson's "Good Time" as "objectionable content" on his new CD of the same title:

"A misuse of God's name appears on "Good Time," a partyer's musical toast to beer, tequila and women."


"Good Time" is as innocuous, sweet, summery, and small-town as a Sonic Cherry Limeade. Listen:


These people have no business, at *all*, telling us what is "pro-social", "objectionable," or "fruitcake." But we knew that. Time to let everyone know!

by GreenEyed Lilo on Wed Jun 25, 2008 at 07:52:50 AM EST

I have to put this piece through a few edits. Then, I'll take it for a walk around the block.

by Bruce Wilson on Wed Jun 25, 2008 at 08:57:32 AM EST

His career would have been a lot different. No human can be the "alpha cat". He'd be in private practice in some suburb.

Good dog training practice does have the human assume the role of alpha dog, but the goal is to have the dog come when called, heel, sit, wait until owner indicates to approach another human (translated, please train your dogs not to jump up on my best clothes with muddy paws). These objectives are achieved with trust and firmness and patience, and a realization that the dog is not a machine.

Bullying a dog is disastrous. A fearful, nervous dog is more likely to bite, wet/shit, chew everything in the house, etc  inappropriately.

One wonders what the bed-wetting prevalence is among children raised the Dobson way.

by NancyP on Wed Jun 25, 2008 at 12:33:12 PM EST

And, the correct methods were showcased in that "South Park" episode.

by Bruce Wilson on Wed Jun 25, 2008 at 01:21:51 PM EST

He should make James Dobson spend all eternity trying to raise Eric Cartman.

by Dave on Thu Jun 26, 2008 at 09:57:41 PM EST

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