Saturday, February 13, 2010

If You Don't Eat Your Meat, You Can't Have Any Pudding!

My niece is at an interesting time in her development.  At 19 mos. old, she's constantly testing her environment.  She will cry if she wants something and if she is rewarded with what she wants, she's learned, "the next time I want something, cry." If I withhold giving her what she wants until she is no longer crying and I wait until she politely asks for it, I've taught her that the next time she wants something, crying may or may not work; however, if shes just asks for it, she will get it quicker.  Similarly, if she wants dessert, she has to finish her dinner. No dinner? No dessert.  The rule is straightforward and clear. I am consistent so that she knows what to expect every single time.

At the risk of receiving eyerolls from skeptics, this is no different from training your dog. 

If your dog wants something, they have an arsenal of behaviors readily available for experimentation.  They look in to their doggie database and recall what has worked best in the past.

"Let's see...last time I wanted this toy, I barked."  BARK!

This is when the ball is in your court. You can choose to give them the toy or you can ask them to sit instead.

"Sit, Puppy."

If they sit, you reward them with the toy. This provides them with a wealth of information. You've not only told them what TO do, but you've indiscretely told them what NOT to do.  Without reprimand. Without yelling. Without correction.  You've told your dog, "If you want something, barking will reap no reward. Sitting will."

Clear. Concise. To the point.

If I vary these rules before my dog understands them, I've only muddied the waters.  If I sometimes let my dog have the toy after a bark, my dog learns, "try barking next time, it sometimes works".

My niece is testing out how what kind of consequence (good or bad) crying will yield.  She will still test me when it comes to finishing her dinner and expecting dessert.  That's fine - I know the rules because I set them.  If I'm sure to stick with it, the unwanted and unrewarded behavior will fade because it's just not paying off.


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