Whether pets or people, it’s all about training

I have an 11-month-old grandson, and I’m constantly joking with my daughter about “training” him (meaning using dog training techniques with him).

She’ll tell me about something good he has done and I’ll ask her if she “clicked and treated” him. This refers to a popular dog training technique called clicker training, where every time the dog does something correct during training sessions, you click a small clicker tool and then you treat the dog.

But, even though we have joked about this, training your dog is very much the same as “training” your child, husband, wife, employee, etc. Many people will get upset with me using the word “training” regarding people, but actually we train or teach or program, or whatever you want to call it, in all aspects of our lives. And if people would look at it the same way, more people might have better luck with training their dogs.

Take, for instance, employees at work. A new employee is shown and told what their new job responsibilities are and what is expected of them. The trainer will then often demonstrate the job to the new employee and then will have the new employee do the new job with the trainer telling them things like, “good job,” “that’s right,” and also negative things, like, “no, this way,” or “that’s not right.”

The new employee is being trained. Their reward for doing the job correctly is first, generally, praise. Later on, their reward is often a raise and or promotion where they will be taught another new job.

Compare this to training a dog. They are often “shown” a behavior or trick. (Like when the dog sits on its own or is maneuvered into the sit position) Then they are rewarded with praise, treats, a clicker or a combination of them. As the dog learns this trick or behavior, it is moved into learning a new trick or behavior.

In regards to spouses: When a couple first marries, they each have their own ways of doing things, which often result in conflicts with the new couple. As they grow in their relationship, they learn which things upset, anger or irritate their spouse. They also learn the consequences of these actions.

An example: husband comes home late from work and has forgotten to phone his wife to tell her he was going to be late for dinner. When he does arrive home, his wife has left him a plate of cold and overcooked food on the dining table. She ignores him when he comes home. She won’t speak to him, and when she does give in and “speak” to him, it is yelling.

Because of her reaction, he never again forgets to phone home if he is going to be late. This is negative reinforcement, which many dog trainers do not believe in currently; however, it was used for many years in animal training.

Also, couples use “bribery” to get a more positive reaction. An example: the wife wants the husband to not get upset because she has bought something new, so she prepares his favorite meal. When he arrives home she greets him cheerfully. She serves him a favorite drink. She serves him his favorite meal along with a special dessert. She insists they watch what he wants on TV.

Basically, she tries to “butter him up” or “bribe” him into a less negative reaction when he finds out she spent money she wasn’t supposed to. This would be the treat training commonly used in modern dog training.

With our children: We do many positive and negative training techniques with our children. First that wonderful word “No.” This is a negative enforcer. Sometimes it is used in combination with a positive enforcer, too. When we shout that overused, “No!” and the child stops, we often them praise them (positive reward).

This is also often used with a new puppy. Example: the new puppy starts to “piddle” in the house, we shout “No!” which startles the puppy and they stop the action, then we praise them (positive), grab them, take them outside and after a few moments they relieve themselves in the appropriate place, and we reward them with praise, and possibly treats.

With children, we use various types of positive reinforcement, such as reward charts, stickers, money, toys, food rewards, special outings, clothes, cars, etc. We also use negative enforcers, such as timeouts, taking away things, lectures, punishments, loss of privileges and even spankings, by some people.

It’s also a little ironic how raising children and training dogs also seems to go in phases. Currently, dog training is on the all-positive/no-negative training phase. Back in the 1970s, childrearing started the less-negative/more-positive phase. Child rearing has readjusted to start including some negative enforcement again.

I believe that all training should have a mix of positive and negative. In life there are consequences for our actions. If we don’t do a good at work, we will lose our job. If we commit a crime, we will get arrested and go to jail. Life is not all positives. Training should also include positives and negatives. Now, I am not advocating to beat your dog or your child, but there can be punishments.

I’m sure you can all see there are similarities in all aspects of training and teaching. With people, you can use more verbal explanations. With animals, you need to be more creative in demonstrating what you do and do not want. So, go, get creative and have some fun training your pet.

Cheryl Loveland is a dog groomer, pet-sitter, dog trainer and fosterer for many unwanted animals. She does rescue work for all types of animals and has owned or fostered most types of domestic animals and many wild ones. She currently resides with her bloodhound, which she has shown in conformation and is currently training for search-and-rescue work. Also residing with her are a bichon frisée, two cats and two birds. She welcomes comments, questions and suggestions for future articles at countryservice@comcast.net. Remember, she is not an expert: she offers her opinions and suggestions from her experience and research.