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Friday, February 13, 2009

Training Secrets For Any Situation

Several years ago I attended a management class to help me be a better leader at my hospital. One of the main principles I learned there is a phrase that has really stuck with me.

"Behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated."

This was intended as a way to manage people in the workplace. The idea is that you reward the behaviors you want people to do, and they will continue to do them. Sometimes this is also called "positive reinforcement", but I like the other statement better. What is really interesting to me is that this phrase is appropriate to pretty much any situation involving people and pets.

Talk to any good pet trainer, and they will tout the benefits of positive reinforcement as the best method of training. When you're trying to discipline a dog, train it for a certain behavior, or correct bad behaviors, you want to look for the behaviors you want them to do, catch them in the act, and then reward them for it. So when you're housebreaking a dog (like I'm doing with Inara), you watch them going to the bathroom, and immediately praise them and give them a small treat as a reward. They learn what it takes to get rewarded, and try to do that same thing again.

This idea extends to raising children as well. With my own kids I have learned to take the same approach. I often tell them "when you do something good, good things happen to you." A few nights ago after supper my son decided to pick up everyone's dishes and cups and take them into the kitchen. He did this on his own without any prompting. We praised him and said what a good boy he was, and then allowed him an extra dessert. He responds well to this kind of a reward, and looks for more opportunities to get them. Which is exactly the point!

My Masters Degree is in animal behavior, and I have continued to be fascinated by it as a veterinarian. One of the things that I have learned is that humans and animals share many behavioral traits, and that similar training methods will work across species. All species like to receive rewards, even though it may not be obvious ones. To a dog, the pleasure of chewing on a shoe may be enough of a reward to keep it performing this behavior. To a cat, getting to taste people food after jumping on the kitchen counter is a similarly positive reward. To a child, getting to stay up late is a great reward for finishing their homework on time. To a receptionist, a special certificate and recognition for consistently excellent client service will help to make sure they want to continue performing that way.

Behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated. Look around in your work, family, and pets and see how you can use this principle every day.