This is the fifth post of a 6-part series. If you haven't read the others, here are links to the first, second, third and fourth posts. This post discusses the fourth of 5 meta-lessons that form the basis of the training I've done with my youngest dog Wyrm.
The best way to access what he wants is to figure out what I want.
…or bilateral happiness maximization
This is another lesson that can seem self-serving. Actually, it is self serving. It’s self-serving for both of us. Teaching this lesson increases my happiness, as it encourages Wyrm to figure out what I like, then demonstrate those behaviors more often. What you might not realize at first glance that there is a flip side to this lesson. In order for Wyrm to learn this lesson, and create and maintain this principle in Wyrm’s mind, I have to notice when he does things I like, and then I need to reply to those behaviors with something he likes, increasing his happiness.
This lesson is the perpetual-motion machine, the never-ending energy source that can power your dogs complete behavioral transformation. There’s just one catch. You need to notice and reward behavior you like. That’s simple to say, but for most people it’s difficult to do, myself included. For some reason, we humans have expectations of behavior, and we only notice behavior when it is outside our expectations. Additionally, we always notice behavior that falls below expectations, even if only slightly, but we only notice behavior that exceeds expectations when it does so by a large margin. We are mostly blind to behavior that merely meets or mildly exceeds our expectations. This is a big problem.
It’s a problem because if we don’t perceive when our dogs meet our expectations, we can’t hope to reward them. If we can’t reward them - can’t provide a motivation for them to continue demonstrating the behavior - the behavior will fade and eventually disappear. This is a process called extinction that can be extremely useful when used intentionally to modify unwanted behavior. Unfortunately it is also effective in eliminating desired behavior when we fail to notice and reward it.
So how do I teach this lesson? Well, first I needed to teach Wyrm the previous three lessons.
That was the easy part.
The hard part has been teaching myself to notice when Wyrm is meeting or exceeding my expectations. Not just in “training situations”, but in everyday life. Sounds simple, and it is. But it’s far from easy. Honestly, I’m naturally terrible at it. I think we all are. Getting better at it is all about learning to practice gratitude, and realizing how absolutely wonderful things are going most of the time. When I’m feeling authentic gratitude for how awesome my dog is, it’s easy to keep him motivated. The more you can notice and appreciate the moments when your dog is making you happy with his behavior, the more frequent those moments will become. The best part is that providing the rewards becomes easy when you truly feel gratitude. You want to share that wonderful feeling. But you can only share that feeling it when you make it a priority to feel it.
So notice when your dog meets your expectations.
Do it as often as you can.
Remember what a little miracle that is.
Make sure your dog knows it’s a miracle too.
The results are like compound interest. Exponential improvement.
More to notice and feel gratitude for.
The only limitation is your ability to notice when you’re happy, and feel and express gratitude.
This ability is something we could all stand to improve upon. It could not only change your dog, it could change your life.
It could even change the world.
Not too bad a lesson for you and for your dog!