The skills of ideas, techniques, and strategies used by positive reinforcement dog trainers are broadly applicable to other situations and can easily be used to influence the behavior of many other species (including humans). Karen B. London, PhD, in her new book, Treat Everyone Like a Dog, examines how these skills can be used to make life easier for everyone – dogs and humans alike.
In Part 1, she shares some of the book’s backstory and explains why it is helpful to replace criticism with kindness.
Bark: Why did you choose to write this book, and who do you think might benefit from reading it?
Karen London: In the almost 25 years that I’ve worked as a dog trainer and dog behavior researcher, I’ve increasingly integrated what I do as a professional into situations outside of work. As a social species, we humans are naturally interested in influencing the behavior of our fellow human beings by teaching other people things or by encouraging them to do what we want them to do.
My work with dogs is a huge effort to influence dog behavior, be it aggressive behavior (a factor that affects the majority of the dogs I work with) or other behavioral problems and concerns, however minor. All of the behavior changes and training I do serve one of two general purposes: to get dogs to do what their owners want them to do, or to get dogs to do something their owners don’t want them to do. The former involves sitting on demand or coming when called, and the latter often involves biting, barking, lounging, or pulling on a leash while walking.
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I had used the knowledge I had gained in my career for many years in other contexts, but the moment the idea for this book really was born was when my sons (now teenagers) were still quite young – in preschool or still earlier. I yelled at them because they hadn’t put their shoes in the trash can (where they belonged) the night before and we couldn’t find them. I was tired and frustrated and angry. Their eyes widened and they looked alarmed; It made me sick to realize that I was the source of her bad feelings.
The thought that got into my sleep deprived brain was that I wouldn’t get upset or angry with dogs if they didn’t do what I wanted them to do, and I certainly never have dogs that don’t act yelled at like I wanted. In situations like this, I would just pause and consider what to do, as I clearly had not trained the dog sufficiently to be able to respond to the cue on this particular occasion in this situation.
In retrospect, I wish I had done the same thing to my kids at that moment. I realized – with the grave guilt known to parents everywhere – that I was not doing this upbringing as well as I wanted. I also realized that I had a better plan: to treat them with the same respect and loving kindness that I always showed dogs. My children – and all people – deserve this.
I wrote this book for anyone (like me) who would like to use the friendliest, gentlest, most effective methods of teaching and training others. Since I started treating everyone like a dog, I’ve been more effective at teaching and influencing the behavior of others. I’m nicer and the behavior around me and the relationships I am in are better. Who doesn’t want that for themselves? One wonderful thing about dog training ideas and skills is that they are available to everyone. The concepts are understandable and easy to apply if we just think of applying them beyond the world of dog training.
The people who are most likely to benefit from reading the book are trainers, teachers, parents, and those in leadership positions, but anyone who interacts with others on a regular basis (and isn’t each of us, even in these pandemic times?) Will find certain ones . practical ideas to make these interactions easier and more enjoyable.
B: They discuss how common it is to be critical of others (including dogs) when they make mistakes instead of thinking about how we can help them. Why do you think we tend to tend towards the former rather than the latter so often? How can we change that?
KL: I think people tend to get angry about what other people are doing because they think (consciously or unconsciously) that others are doing something wrong or problematic on purpose. The problem is often empathy; Too often we are slow to realize that another person is having problems or doesn’t know what to do. For many people, it is easier to apply the label persistently or difficultly without realizing that other people’s behavior has nothing to do with authority or defiance or a desire to make things difficult for us.
People often act in undesirable ways because they feel lost, stuck, or confused. The easiest way to redefine the problem is that a person often does not give us a hard time, but has a hard time. For example, when we can see that when a person is pokey, he is not trying to piss us off by walking slowly but is not sure what to do and that makes him hesitate. Or they are not deliberately late, but are faced with an obstacle to punctuality that we don’t know about.
The natural reaction of many people to behaviors they do not like is to punish with screaming in frustration, with contempt or contempt, or with serious anger. We can correct quickly, but we are slow to offer help. Whenever someone does something that we don’t want or don’t like, it is so easy to react negatively out of irritation. I think this tendency is based on the idea that another person should be doing something else without realizing that for various reasons they are unable to do so. With practice, we can do better if we think, “What can I do to make it more likely that you will be able to do this successfully?” or “Can I do something to make it easier for you?” It is often the case that when we offer help rather than criticism, a person is more likely to change behavior in a positive direction.
Once we acknowledge and accept this truth, we can better influence that person’s behavior in a way we want and in a way they are likely to want, too.
More will follow shortly in Part 2 …