Saturday, 29 October 2011

Training the puppy

Recently we got a new pup and she was everything a pup should be: fun, pretty, cuddly, and very naughty.  She was into everything and anything, she chewed anything, she'd drag things around, and, of course, she'd pee.  Anywhere, everywhere and any time.  Just like any pup.  Eventually once she got to know the system, and once we got to know her better, she started to settle down. 

Just a few weeks ago, I decided to hire a personal puppy trainer.  Kind of like a puppy whisperer...this wonderful woman came out to our place and for three hours she trained both me and the pup.  Both of us were trained to respond to good behaviour, and both of us were rewarded, the pup with something she really liked (in this instance liver treats) and me with the knowledge that the pup was learning to respond to me and respond to commands that would help both her and our family live together in harmony.

The essence of the puppy training was to reward good behaviour and ignore the bad.  Each time the pup leapt up onto the trainer, she would turn aside and ignore.  Once the pup stopped, she was rewarded with a 'key' word (in this case it was simply the word "yes!!"), and given a small treat.  Same with learning to come when called, to sit, lie down, and to walk nicely on the lead.   Later, my trainer told me, we could cut out the treats and just reward with a kind word and petting.  Within 3 hours, the trainer had both the pup and me following a very successful "ignore, redirect, and praise" routine.

On the other hand, elsewhere this week I also saw a young horse being trained to walk quietly and behave without constantly dancing around on its hind legs.  The person doing the training spent much time jerking the horse's head down and flapping a plastic bag in its face.  After watching this for an hour, with no change in behaviour in the horse, I said to my friend, "where's the reward for the horse's good behaviour?"  She said, "well, it doesn't get jerked around!"  Hmmm.... I thought.  I wonder if the horse knows that's the reward?

I bet you're beginning to see where this is going? 

And you'd be right if you said it sounded a lot like working with people with an intellectual disability.  Or maybe you said it sounded like raising your own child.  You'd be right on both counts.  It's such a simple and successful method: ignore the unwanted behaviour, redirect to the preferred behaviour, and immediately reward the new 'good' behaviour.  It's so simply that it almost gets lost in the mountains of information on behaviour management that's available these days.  Of course, there is a huge amount of really good stuff about behaviour that you can learn and apply, and many experts have added to the excellent resources available, but the core to it all, the base on which to build a good relationship of care, trust and understanding, is this simple premise - reward good behaviour whenever you see it, wherever you are. 

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