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    A short story

    A short story

    If you find it difficult to understand the difference between positive and negative reinforcement, imagine this: you have joined a company where no-one speaks your language and no-one has told you what to do. You have not been given any training and your job description is vague. You cannot call a friend to ask for help so you try to work things out by yourself.

    You entertain yourself because no one has told you what to do

    You run around offering to do a bit of everything because you have so many natural, wonderful skills and so much energy. Everyone seems to disapprove. When you leap about frantically trying to protect the property, greet clients by planting a huge smacker on each cheek, barge in on the board meetings, grab everything that your colleagues leave lying around, and help yourself to what you think is your share of the corporate lunch, the company director either hits you or drags you from your desk and shuts you in another room. You shout at him, but he has no idea what you are trying to say. He leaves you alone. You have no direction, no defined tasks and you are confused. You are also getting bored. You start doodling on the in-house publications and making pretty shapes from the paper in the bin. Your boss does not give you anything to do but it also seems he does not want you working out a way to fill those endless hours. In time, you learn that it is pointless trying to communicate with other members of the team and your boss seems happier because you are quiet. You have not submitted You have given up. Suddenly, your boss starts to talk to you again and you are soooooo excited that he is engaging with you once more that you cannot override a burning desire to hug him. And you find yourself back in that boring, uninspiring, lonely place once more. You discover the art of learned helplessness, and depression becomes your middle name.

    Dogs like to know their role

    Your new boss tells you oh so very clearly that you are his PA!

    If you are lucky, your boss will fire you, or better still, go on a cracking course that teaches him alternative and more productive ways of working with the people he employs. Suddenly the Big Cheese understands you. He can communicate! Yippppeeee! He lets you know very calmly and very clearly that you are his PA. Hurrah! He teaches you how to accomplish every task that he expects you to do and he does this, one simple step at a time. He smiles at you. He is proud of you. He thanks you. He gives you presents – a super duper stapler and a shiny pen. He takes you places. Every time you do your job correctly you are praised. If you make a mistake your boss does not shout at you or ignore you for the rest of the week, because he knows it must have been his fault; he obviously didn’t teach you well enough or he confused you.

    You learn something new every day so you are never bored. Your boss gives you lunch breaks and he never overworks you. You love your job. You love your boss. And best of all it seems as though he loves you too. If you do occasionally slip back into your old habits, you are reminded gently that you do not to have to run the security section nor be the first to do the meet-and-greets, and are redirected to your beautiful desk so that you can perform the job you have been employed to do. Everyone is happy and everything one huge success. You are finally appreciated for the unique and loyal being that you are and all is well.

    Many dogs are living through the first part of this scenario because their owners simply do not know what else to do. Ignoring a dog and restricting exercise, or punishing him for unwanted behavior will not help him learn. Think about how your dog might view his life with you and look at yourself through his eyes. Would you understand what was being asked of you? Would you enjoy the partnership? Would you want to lead the lifestyle that you have chosen for him? Looking at ourselves in this way helps us be fairer in our expectations and more aware of our dog’s needs.

    Always remember your dog did not choose to live with you: you picked him.

    If you were your dog would you enjoy the life you have picked for him?

    From 100 Ways to Train the Perfect Dog, Copyright by Sarah Fisher, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with D & C

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