tiistai 1. joulukuuta 2015

Let’s focus on what we want to accomplish

Many times I hear how some animal owners are annoyed of behaviors which are performed by their pets; dog or any other animal.

“How can I fix that barging or screaming?”, or hopping or whatever it is they’d like to change at that time.

I believe that often times we focus more on so called “wrong” behaviors our animals are performing than to the proper ones.  Therefore we are actually giving more attention to the misbehaved patterns than to the ones we’d consider to be the good behaviors. In short we are … yes; reinforcing the behaviors we consider being the bad ones.
Great ! That is exactly what we don't want to do! The balance of our communication and interaction is gradually getting more and more into the negative side of reinforcement.

Zooming into something we actually don't want to reinforce
I do many times refer to small children when talking about animal training. We humans are of course more complex when it comes to behavior management but still there are many-many things common with us and animals. How some of our basic behaviors can be modified is following often similar trends as what we are using in animal training. Many of the animal training “tips” or methods are after all from inventions in human psychological research which have been studied on us humans.

I believe that small kids are reactive just like animals are. If there’s something they don’t like - they will surely show it instantly. The same goes for the things they like. Make a game out of cleaning their toys and you are winner of the situation.  I believe the salt in working or being with kids and animals is the enthusiasm and intensity they react upon on our feedback. Therefore, in my opinion, it is far more fruitful to try to redirect their attention into something that is interesting and which makes them focus on a positive way of acting. It is also far better to get there a little bit in advance than a little too late. I believe many of you have experienced this.  If you know your animal well enough you can tell if it is going to bark or jump.

Absolutely the best way to correct that behavior is when it has not yet happened!
Does that surprise you?

Well this is true. If you can anticipate correctly i.e. you dogs or bird’s behavior - you can modify its behavior before the misbehaving occurs. This methodology can be found in most articles and literature concerning any kind of aggressive behavior management.  Just redirect the attention of your pet into something more acceptable when you see the first small hints or the "head lifting" of the unwanted behavior.  On the other hand we have to be careful not to anticipate too much as the animals tend to take advantage of our predictable behaviors. Balance between these two therefore plays a key role in finding the proper way of behavior management in this kind of situations.
Quite some time ago I was listening to one psychologist and I think the best thought she gave to me was that when we are focusing ourselves on some action or emotion, we are at the same time emphasizing our energy to that state of mind. In general I don’t like to talk about energy when I’m talking about animal training but there are a few exceptions. This one is one of them.

 I believe that animal training in many cases is actually redirecting the attention of the animal in question to something that will avoid the execution of the disliked misbehavior. By paying our attention to these kinds of disliked behaviors we are at the same time focusing our energy on that particular action.
Anticipation is very important together with successive approximation.

Let me tell you an example from our cat at home.  She is a sort of a wild one as she was an orphan for quite some time after she was born. Therefore she never fully got marked to humans at her early days. I knew that there would be occasions when I’d have to transport her by car for quite some distance. The trip would take more than 6 hour. By using good approximations, taking short trips with her i.e. to the nearby grocery occasionally I managed to have her successfully in my  car also on those long trips. I even have taken that “wildish” little fellow in a plane to fly small distances.

In short I focused on a behavior I wanted her to do. I focused on a calm response of being in a car for a short period of time. By using a little anticipation and approximation one can make a great difference. Gradually we extended the time of transportation and ended the trips on a high note. I managed to keep her in good comfort level and therefore I was not forced to direct my energy into that particular type of bad behavior.

Try it and you’ll fall in love with this simple way of behavior management.

 Kai Mattsson

Meritime Consulting, Finland
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