April 1, 2014 by Julia West
I recently held orientation for my very first Beginner 101 class as lead trainer. One of my students asked “It’s really more people training than dog training, isn’t it?” While I love working with a group who asks that question on the first night, it got me thinking (and we all know what happens when I get thinkin’) – what if our people “training” was handled like dog training?
Most people involved in dog training today use positive reinforcement as their primary tool, focusing on setting up the dog for success so that corrections are minimal. How many of us approach our spouses, family, or co-workers with positive reinforcement first and correction second?
Don’t get it twisted, I’m not talking about the “special snowflake” approach where everyone gets a ribbon just for showing up. I’m talking about actually recognizing the “right” things people do, rather than getting stuck on the “wrong” ones. Problem solving and asking questions when things go wrong rather than correcting. We even correct people for behavior we didn’t witness – would we correct a dog days later for something someone else told us they’d done?
And how many people do you assume are doing these “wrong” things on purpose? To piss you off or because they don’t give a shit what you think? I like to think we should give humanity a little credit and consider that most people aren’t out to be rude or contrary. Yet we approach problems as though the actions were deliberately incorrect, rather than being misunderstandings or different expectations.
If you think about it, when we go to correction first we are living a kind of insanity. If you were correcting a dog’s behavior for months, or years, wouldn’t you either give up or change tactics? Yet we’ll hound, and nag, and remind people for ages, maybe even lifetimes.
But wait, you say, I’m working with HUMANS. People that I live with, work with, spend a significant portion of my life with! We speak the same language, we have the same social structure, they should GET what I’m saying. They should know better.
Maybe we have all those things in common, but these people aren’t living in your head. They don’t see things the way that you do, they don’t have the exact same desires, attention, or expectations as you do. They might not see their behavior the same way, or they may not even be aware of it.
So here is what I propose: When you can, when your brain or emotions allow, try to approach a human problem the way you’d approach a dog problem. Don’t be condescending, just recognize that you don’t truly know what is going on in someone else’s head. Start by asking questions instead of making statements. Will you feel a little less frustrated? Will you be able to approach the person with a little more empathy?
Maybe you’ll get different results. Maybe it’ll even be a learning experience for both of you.
Speaking of a learning experience – two weeks ago my boy Dash got to participate in a fun weight pull put on by UDSNNE at Finish Forward Dogs. Weight pull events are held with one-way traffic that make them ideal for reactive dogs like my boy. We’d done it once before and he’d loved it, so I was excited to bring him back. He ended up pulling just shy of 14 times his body weight, which impressed the heck out of me! I’m trying to figure out ways to give him more exposure to the sport, because he seems to enjoy it and I love giving him an activity that is “just for him”.