My friend’s son struggled with reading, despite her fabulous parenting. Reading was difficult for him, which removed all of his motivation. Picking up a book made him anxious, not happy.
We cleverly put him on a positive reinforcement schedule, where each reading got him a prize. It worked like a hot damn, and he turned into a reading machine. However, there was a giant consequence that neither of us had anticipated. He developed no love for reading, and we had taught him to quickly read to cash out for his prize. He was reading only for the end result of the prize, and not for the reading. We had failed to teach him enjoyment of the book itself. We were trapped; prizes had gotten him reading, but as soon as we removed the prizes, his reading would be gone. His behaviour was temporary and dependent upon the reward.
This happens when we are training our dogs too. The brilliant German Trainers at Team Heuwinkle realized this concept with their dogs, and while of course they are training with positive reinforcement, the emphasis and the entire success of their training program is based upon the emotions before the food reward. If we only work for a prize, the love of the work gets lost along the way. However, if we can build up the dog’s emotions for the work – the work itself will become the reward.
My friend and I quickly realized this too. With her son, before any reward was given, she told him how clever he was, and asked questions about his work that he was able to answer. His pride was built by his mother’s excitement with how clever he was. He received feedback and realized reading made her proud, and she believed him to be very clever. His realized that his reading really pleased her. Once she had developed pride in him for his reading, it was easy to remove the prizes, and maintain the reading. He continues to be an avid reader, and now reads to his younger brother every day.
I frequently talk of the flaws of positive reinforcement. Everything in life has flaws. It doesn’t mean the method is wrong. Positive Reinforcement must be used to train dogs and is the best way to teach any behaviour. However, if we can improve upon the flaws by tweaking certain details, then we need to learn, grow, and move forwards.
We know now how to teach our dogs in a humane and fun way, and know how to remove the rewards of food and toys so that the behaviour can maintain on its own. We can put pride and joy into our dogs work by simply being happy with them, and telling them that. Step one is always making sure you genuinely tell them when you are happy with them – by speaking from your heart.
Many people have no idea how to talk to their dogs. Often our talk is demeaning to them. We talk down, like they are weak babies. Or we get shrill, in an over-excited cheer-leader voice that also indicates they are weak. Pride and Joy are not reflected by increased volume or pitch. Try using your voice to express different emotions, and see if your dog believes you. You will know by watching their tail rise, and starting to get higher and higher.
Getting more work-ethic from your dog, by using emotions to make them proud of their own work, while a very easy concept to understand, can be a challenge to execute. We are forced to control our voices and mental place in our heads. Most people train with one tone of voice only, but this method is going to force you to come up with many. However, once you learn it, you will have unearthed a secret that will make every dog (and child) in your life adore you, and want to please you.
Happy Dog Training Folks,
The Naughty Dogge