my late Kenai, way back at 10 wks old
Many of us who’ve trained a dog have come to really understand the principle of cause and effect: the more we reward a pup for something, the more they do it. Many have also learned the more opportunities you find to reward a pup, the more enjoyable your time together is.
It’s why I like clicker training–the person gets trained to look for things to reward, rather than just things to correct. Sure, there’s always something that needs some corrective attention, like teaching a pup to “go” outside or not to chew the furniture.
But even those times present the chance to reward when they do “go” outside and ignore their chewing post you call a table leg. The more your pup is rewarded for choosing a behavior on their own that is “right”, the more they realize they have a choice and can choose well. Confidence soars!
Clicker training teaches dogs they aren’t entirely at the mercy of whatever impulse or event happens. It’s all about choice and positive recognition. Somehow, that understanding of cause and effect gets “lost in translation” when it comes to how we treat ourselves and other people.
The more you take note of and give weight to the positive in yourself and your life, the more confident you become. You can “positive train” yourself, too, if you are willing and consistent. This can really be hard to do when you’re used to being hard on yourself. It’s worth the effort.
One of the things I’ve had to learn to do, and re-learn to do many times over, is to alter my internal focus. What are you really giving weight to? How do you talk to yourself or your spouse? Do you take note of more things to correct then things to be proud of?
This isn’t trivial or pollyanna stuff: if I spend my time noticing the negative, and passing up chances to recognize the positive, I will become less confident and constructive. The more we “correct” a dog, the more uncertain of themselves they can become. Great Danes are typically sensitive dogs, and if they can’t seem to do anything that pleases you, anxiety rather than confidence increases. So do behaviors you’ll need to “correct”. It becomes a negative feedback loop.
That reality is equally true for people, and becomes very stark to me when I talk to my mother. She’s suffering from depression, and long term PTSD. When I ask her what she likes about herself, she literally cannot think of one thing. Mom does not give any notice or weight to her triumphs, so the negatives totally overwhelm her. She is anxious, and chronically negative. Cause and effect manifests.
I’ve suggested she keep a little notebook with her, and write down what’s positive in her actions and thoughts. That’s been remarkably hard for her–she finds it difficult to even think of what she does in positive terms, and when she does, it is very quickly forgotten. Now I can point things out for her, like she went to pilates when she didn’t feel like it. Big things, little things, matters not.
But until Mom chooses to begin noticing and giving weight to the positive herself, my pointing out the positive becomes yet another means of dependency and “I can’t for myself”. That endless dependency is exhausting for me, and a reinforcement of the negative for her. When somebody can rapidly turn a positive like encouragement into a negative like neediness, you have to be very cautious and deliberate about how, and how much, you “help”.
The correlation in dog training is when we try to reassure and soothe a fearful reaction by petting and affection. What we’ve inadvertantly done is reward timidity and neediness. A better response is to let them settle down some, then go investigate what rattled them: what made that sound, did you hear that (click/treat)? See that skateboard, sniff it (click/treat).
This teaches a pup that they can rather than they can’t. At first you may have to take the lead, but when they begin to do this on their own, you’ve laid the groundwork for a dog that can cope and overcome! The pup’s discovering they can figure out what that was. They can touch it, and move it, and even play with it themselves.
They can move away if they need to, but they can also move towards “it” with curiosity after the initial fright. They can lose their fear, be empowered, and be rewarded. They can turn a negative into a positive, and with consistency in rewarding, they begin to make that response a habit. It changes how they think and feel.
I came across this pic on facebook, and taking this advice to heart and putting it in practice is tremendously powerful. You have a choice for positive or negative, every moment of the day. That choice of positive or negative comes with every feeling that arises, every thought that you have, every interaction you’re a part of. Choose wisely…