A Better Way of Training

While it’s easy to spot a behavior you dislike and to mull over how you want to stop it, the deep body of research on animal behavior, ranging from rats, pigeons, mice and dogs to human adults, children, and individuals with behavioral disorders such as autism, have shown time and time again that there is a much better way. The newer approach takes into account the motivations for learning, what the individual can actually comprehend, and the incremental steps for learning. In spite of the nuances to this more refined approach, the overarching philosophy is simple and direct.

Keys to Modifying Behavior

Modification is surprisingly simple, and easy, at least for the pet. Animals both in the wild and those in our homes, do whatever is rewarding to them. So their behavior quickly changes if existing behaviors are no longer rewarded and alternate appropriate behaviors are rewarded in instead. It’s the execution of the plan by humans that proves a challenge because it requires thought and it involves our modifying our own habits when we are around pets.

Interestingly, this combination of rewarding good behavior and removing rewards for bad behavior also guides behavior modification in children. But with kids we have the advantage of being able to convey the rules and communicate what earns rewards with spoken language. We can say, “ I like how you behaved when we went out for dinner,” or “When you helped with the chores that was very good. As a reward, tonight I’ll spend extra time playing with you.”

With animals, we have to rely on rewarding behavior as it occurs or within seconds, and we must remove rewards for bad behavior before the animal is actually rewarded. This is how you communicate with them. In addition, while animals may learn individual words, they don’t understand human language. They do, however, rely acutely on our body language, even our subconscious movements. As a result we have to be aware of every action and movement we make because they all communicate something. And we have to realize that whether we’re aware of it or not, every interaction we have with the pet is a training session.

Learn to Lead – Like a Partner in a Dance

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Once people approach behavior modification in this rich manner it becomes clear that training is like a dance. When partners dance as a couple, one leads and the other follows. The leader’s job is to decide ahead of time which steps to perform and then guide his partner in a clear manner so that the partner CAN follow. Partners who have to shout out the steps or who yank their follower around don’t make the cut. With animals the approach is similar. If we set rules and have a clear picture of what we want, then we can consistently convey this information to the animal through our body language and perfectly timed rewards. When learning to lead, it is essential to realize that positive does not mean permissive. We still set stringent rules and limits for behavior. It’s just that we convey the rules by rewarding good behaviors as they occur and remove rewards for bad behavior. And we stick to the plan until good behavior is a habit.

Develop the Skills You Will Need

For anyone who has tried to learn to dance, it’s probably now evident that training animals is a skill, or a sport. It’s more than saying something like, "To have a great serve in tennis, just toss the ball up in the air and do this." Rather it’s about understanding the big picture and breaking the movements down into little steps.

While many trainers are primarily good at training animals themselves, I can help YOU gain the needed skills too. I have studied the effects of handler movement on the pet and compiled a collection of successful techniques. I routinely have owners perform exercises first without the pet so that they can develop the mechanical skills they need in order to guide their pet and communicate with them effectively. And I’ve created videos that show how little differences in movement can make big differences in behavior. I also have handlers start the training in silence so they can focus on their body language, rewarding the animal with the right timing, and watching the pet’s response.

By exploring this site you’ll take away many free lessons and techniques that you can use right away. For more detailed information, I encourage you to look into the videos, books, and publications I have written, check out the suggested reading I’ve posted in the resources section, or attend a class or seminar that promotes fun, scientifically sound methods of modification. My goal is that through this web site and my other products I can help people connect with our animal companions in a deeper, more compassionate way.