Lulu and I have a ritual. First thing every morning we hit the boardwalk at the Elfin Forest for a 1.2 mile wake up power walk. More accurately, I power walk while she runs back and forth sniffing the bushes and pointing at whatever stirs in the them. Easily excited about everything and yet keeping an eye on me, she probably has the better time. If it wasn’t for her, I’d be reading the news and starting my day pissed off. This way, I breathe fresh air, look at nature, smell the ocean, and I usually think along – much better start of my day!
This morning being the day after her obedience training, I can’t help but consider how this positive reinforcement training for dogs should be for humans too. Lulu and I have been officially together for two months now. We knew each other before when I babysat her for a guy who clearly did not appreciate her. I offered to buy her off of him. Eventually, he agreed, probably because he ran out of use for her in his control dynamic with his ex-wife. I didn’t care. I got Lulu.
The first thing she taught me was the meaning of the bumper sticker “Wag more, bark less.” It turns out, people like it when you’re sweet. They pull away when you bark. Sweet and cute get’s you attention, pets on the head, treats, and lots of friends. Barking gets you “time out” in the dark closet with nothing interesting to explore. No attention, no treats. 30 sec. is enough to get a dog from monster to sweet again. Amazing.
Discourage the behaviors you don’t want, and encourage the behaviors you do want. Give a dog a choice once, saying “No” and if it does not stop the behavior, time out! Within a couple of days, little Lulu stopped what she was doing at the meer mention of the words. Why don’t people train their children like that?
The dog wants what you have to give – attention, treats, toys. You hold the resources. Whoever holds the resources has leverage. How’s this different from life among humans? The first few times you ask a dog to do something, it’s clumsy. It’s trying to figure out exactly what you want and how you want it. By rewarding the behavior, you keep showing the dog what it does right and when it does it right. It quickly learns. Eventually, you don’t need the treats. You just need the verbal approval and appreciation.
Same with humans. If you are trying to teach humans new tricks, don’t expect them to get it right the first time. If they are at least showing signs of trying, or making progress in the right direction, keep rewarding the behavior. They get excited to please you and will do better next time. It works with washing the dishes, picking up dirty socks off the floor, not leaving a mess behind, etc, etc. Breaking things down into simple and achievable steps gets one feeling successful right from the start. Rejoice and reward all small progress!
So, just these two lessons have made me a better person. All thanks to Lulu. I try to wag more and bark less these days. I also talk to a lot of strangers. She’s a great ice breaker. She introduced me to most of my neighbors, other dog walkers on the trail and in town, and just folks passing us on the street.
I’ve been practicing to be assertive and clear with my “no” and show my excitement and appreciation every time I get something that I want, solicited or unsolicited. I encourage the behaviors I want from others by saying “yes” and “thank you.” And I discourage what I don’t like by holding back my resources – saying “no” first, or “that’s not OK.” And if they don’t get it, I hold back my time and attention.
Thank you, little Lulu.