January is National Train Your Dog Month, which led me to reflect upon some of the things I’ve learned in dog-training classes. I recently enrolled in a Reactive Rover class with my foster dog, Crystal, who has leash aggression. During the training, we’ve learned about several concepts that are useful in redirecting unwanted canine behavior. I couldn’t help but relate them to my understanding of human behavior. In fact, the more I thought about the dog-training techniques I was learning, the more I wondered why we don’t train humans the same way we train dogs.
Here are five dog-training concepts I think could work well for humans, too.
1. Using treats freely
When discussing program outcomes and achievements at work with my boss, I always ask if we can have a pizza party as a reward. My pleas so far have remained ignored, but the idea fills me with delight.
I am fairly certain that my motivation in any area of life would improve if I were to be rewarded with pizza. For example, if I were to receive a slice of pizza immediately after paying my cell phone bill, I might be more inclined to do so in a timely manner. And I hope that if I ever date again, my suitor will use treats lavishly when trying to win my heart.
Why was this concept not taught to me years ago? This idea should probably be a part of any life-skills class. When trigger stacking was explained to me, I was 100-percent certain that this same kind of awareness of human behavior would be beneficial to us all.
In my case, I had to take certain life-skills classes when I was on welfare many years ago. You are taught common sense about paying bills, the value of work, etc. But one thing I wasn’t taught was the concept of trigger stacking and how to manage accordingly. As humans, we hear about the importance of self-care, but rarely do we discuss becoming aware of what can trigger a stress response, which then leads to unwanted physical or emotional reactions.
As a single mom with a full-time job, I often feel trigger stacked. For all the children who are being raised in less than ideal circumstances, I imagine this is also a very common experience.
Unfortunately, we live in a time in which school shootings have become common. I work for the largest urban school district in my state and have a child enrolled in the public school system. This means I have become desensitized to lockdowns, shelter-in-place events, and news releases announcing threats in, or near, our schools. Add busy commutes, trouble paying the bills, drama from a person’s ex, and you can see how trigger stacking affects humans on a daily basis.
What if we had a language for and awareness of this as a society? Might be able to prevent more public violence if we paid more attention to the everyday stresses experienced by children and families and did more to reduce them, like we do for our dogs.
The importance of a daily walk cannot be underestimated. A common saying is, “A tired dog is a good dog.” This can also be said for humans. A tired child is a good child. My son, Justin, is the most physically energetic person in our household. I know it is as good for him, and the rest of us, to get out for a walk with our dogs. Although I also know that what it takes to make one dog or person tired is different than what it might take another dog or person to get tired.
In the spring, summer, and early fall, we are a lot better about taking our dogs out for longer walks and visits to both dog and human parks. In the cold, rainy season, my dog Lilly has eaten more pairs of shoes than I want to think about. And my son spends more time playing Nintendo games than is ideal.
I should probably do more of this with my own children — however, with one child who likes to take risks, such as climbing on furniture adjacent to third-floor windows, I am also aware that simply ignoring an undesired behavior is not always the best choice. I’ve also observed that if I don’t say anything to the teenager about a litter box that has not been scooped, then it does not get done. So there needs to be some thought invested in which undesired behaviors are ignored and which aren’t. In regards to my own behavior, I would be very favorable to the billing companies choosing to ignore the fact that a particular bill is a little late as opposed to charging me extra for it.
This principle connects back to the first one, but one cannot underestimate the power of the treat. I wouldn’t mind receiving a treat for every load of laundry that I wash, fold, and put away. Or for paying my bills on time. Or every time I ask my children to do something in the nice-mommy voice. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t reward desired behavior in the moment. We have to learn to let the reward be a sense of integrity, I guess.
But treats would definitely work for me! And I know they work for my kids, too.
How about you? What training techniques have you tried on your dog that would work on the humans in your household? Let us know in the comments!
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About the author: Kezia Willingham is a Breadwinning Laundry Queen who works as a Health Coordinator for Head Start. She is a regular contributor to Catster and Dogster. Her writing has appeared in Literary Mama, The New York Times, The Seattle Times, and multiple anthologies. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, which includes a number of rescued cats and dogs. You can follow her on Twitter.