For many readers, you might know a little about author and innovator, Karen Pryor… Karen is most easily known for training dolphins with whistle-marked behavior and tasty fish rewards. Being the pioneer that she is, she eventually transferring all of that great experience to dog training via the clicker method. She is the author of one of the most popular how-to positive reinforcement manuals of dog trainers and corporate executives alike, “Don’t Shoot the Dog.”
This musing isn’t a mantra to Karen Pryor. Although, she is pretty great. It’s simply a reiteration of what we all know about human nature, and dog nature too, is that “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” (Why the first person to say this wanted so many flies, I’m sure I don’t know…)
Anyway, a key takeaway of Pryor’s book is that positive reinforcement and a dash of creative thinking and preparation – paired with a great attitude – works… It works at home with your spouse and your kids, it works in the workplace with difficult co-workers and customers, and it works with your dog.
We all know that force and threats can get the job done, and quickly, too. In the workplace, for example, if your boss threatens you to pick up as many new customers in the next 2 days or else it’s your job on the line, would you pay attention? Of course. Would you hit the streets and beg anyone and everyone you knew to see if they would bite on your poorly-prepared sales bait? Likely. Would you just barely meet your quota and then avoid your boss like the plague from this day forward? You betcha.
Imagine a different scenario where your boss gave you a little more notice to prepare a quality target list, with very defined and strategic customer criteria. You have a high-quality digital presentation, clean price lists and lots of sales samples to show potential customers. Not only that, but for every new customer you sign up, you’ll receive a $200 cash incentive. You might not bring in the most customers with your sales pitch, but you bring in the best new customer partnerships with the most long-term profit potential. You receive high praise from your boss, and you’ve pocketed some much-needed extra cash.
Translating that into training your dog… So if you’re an owner or trainer that feels resorted to yelling, screaming, pushing and pulling on your dog out of sheer frustration, it likely tends to get the job done somewhat quickly. However, will you get that behavior willingly and consistently? Will your dog go above and beyond to do what’s expected of him, or will he do just barely enough to not get poked and prodded? Will your dog want to hang out with you on a regular basis, or avoid your out-of-the-blue, unpredictable outbursts and unrealistic requirements?
Let’s come back to reality before I start imagining dogs with glasses and laser pointers burning the midnight oil preparing interactive PowerPoint presentations. Whoops, too late. In “Don’t Shoot the Dog,” Karen outlines eight different methods to getting rid of behavior – and not just in dogs, in people too. The first method outlined is aptly named “Shoot the Animal.” For example, if the dog is in the yard barking all night, you could shoot the dog. That would definitely do the trick to quieting the dog. She writes, “This always works. You will never have that behavioral problem with that subject again.”
This is a rather dramatic way to demonstrate how to deal with behavior. If you have trouble with your roommate, get a different roommate. If you have trouble with your spouse, get a divorce. She also mentions capital punishment as the ultimate example of this method of dealing with behavior. Of course, the book goes on to explain much more effective ways of dealing with undesirable behavior from both dogs and people. Certainly, I’m not so idealistic as to believe that dogs are just like people. Of course, dogs are dogs. And they are motivated by different things: tasty food, scratching certain areas, sniffing wonderful smells, rolling in the mud… Okay, maybe we are more similar than different!
Kidding aside, humans are humans and we have different biology, different brain sizes, different motivators and different social processes. But let’s not ignore the similarities, as well. We’re selfish, self-centered and materialistic beings. But we appreciate being rewarded from time to time, even if it’s a small reward or memento of recognition. And we relish in the basic necessities of life: food, water, shelter, fresh air and a place to be free.
So whether your interacting with your spouse, your mother-in-law, your boss or your dog, remember that the foolproof way (the metaphorical shooting of the dog) isn’t always the best or most realistic way to your desired goal. Consider rethinking your approach to include a little touch o’ honey.
Great Clicker Expo
Old Dog New Tricks
To Click Or Not To Click