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Canine University 71 Clinton St. Malden, MA

How We Train

Catch Your Family Doing Something Right!

You spend lots of time with the people you love but they can drive you crazy. They leave their laundry all over the floor, dishes piled high in the sink, they never walk or feed the dog, do the grocery shopping, fold the laundry. Wouldn't it be nice if each member of the family did their fair share without having to be yelled at or even told to do it ? It's really all in the training. The principles of operant conditioning that we use to train our dogs can also be used to improve our relationships with the people we love or even people we barely tolerate (like a co-worker or neighbor). The key to using the principles of operant conditioning with people is to know what you want from them. If you are vague about what you want out of your relationships you will not get the results you desire, you need to have a clear goal and be willing to be flexible.

I can see you grinning now, chuckling to yourself about what I'm suggesting.....training people, but yes you can train people. The great news is that it's so much fun for everyone that they soon start training other people and before you know it your relationships with the people around you are more fulfilling and fun rather than stressful and irritating. There is nothing manipulative about taking steps to improve the quality of life for all parties involved.

So, let's get started. To begin you must have a clear goal in mind like everyone pitching in to do the laundry. Sit down with the family kids and adults and explain the problem. It might go something like this.... OK guys, I really need your help around here. I feel like all I do is pick up dirty socks and quite frankly I don't think I can take it anymore I need your help. Explain what you would like the family to do: 'I bought five new hampers, one for each of your rooms and one for the bathroom. When you undress please put ALL of your clothes in the hamper in your room everyday'. Delegate tasks: 'Jimmy, I want you to be in charge of gathering up all the hampers on Friday morning and bring them downstairs and put them in front of the washing machine. Jill, after school on Friday you are to come right home and start the first batch. Everyone else will take turns going downstairs to switch loads until bedtime or it's done which ever comes first... Sarah, you are in charge of bringing the dry clothes upstairs, and Michael you and Sarah are in charge of folding the laundry and putting each persons clothes in the designated basket and returning it to the rightful owner. Rightful owners you are to put away your clean clothes right away.' If I can get my family to help out like this, I just gave myself about four more hours of free time. It is no longer one person's job to do the laundry it's a family effort.

Now, here comes the hard part: what if someone doesn't do their job? Stating the job clearly isn't always enough to get the job done. Keep in mind the age of the child or the experience level of the adult and make sure everyone understands and can execute his job. If after some trial and error for instance you've found that Jimmy is too small to carry all the laundry downstairs, either assign him someone to help, supervise and coach him until he can do it on his own, or switch his job with someone else. This is where the being flexible part comes in, it isn't important who does what, it's important that everyone works together to get the job done.

Now, you need to reinforce everyone who gets it right. How many times have you done something right at work and actually had the boss come up and congratulate you on a job well done ? If you answer 'hardly ever' you are in good company. Most people report that no one notices when they've done something right, they get absolutely no feedback at all. We live in a "gotcha" world where people only tend to see what's wrong not what's right. Remember, just like in dog training, you get more of what you pay attention to, whether it's intentional or not. The more you draw attention to what's going wrong the more wrong you are going to get.

But what if nothing is going right ? Remember you are teaching, you are not just barking orders and waiting for results. If nothing is going right you are looking for a whole behavior to come together on it's own instead of shaping it in small steps. Go back over the instructions with each family member and see what's going wrong. You may find that you assigned a task to someone who doesn't understand the job or is physically incapable of carrying it out. A five year old can't carry six loads of laundry down a steep flight of cellar stairs. This tool is called redirection: you go back over the task and break it down into smaller steps and then reward ANY progress in the right direction. You might say, gee, everyone has been so great about picking up their laundry and putting it in the hamper that we're going out for dinner on Saturday night. Or wow, Julie has been getting the laundry started so early on Friday afternoon that we are done by dinner time. We're going to go to the movies tonight as a treat.

Acknowledging the pieces that make up the behavior is actually more important to the overall success of your plan than waiting for the right outcome. The ultimate goal here is self motivation. If you teach your family what you want them to do, break it down in little steps, reward progress in the right direction and notice the stuff that is going right, your whole world will change. What happens after a short time is the people you are shaping begin to take an interest and a pride in the jobs assigned to them and gradually take on other responsibilities without being asked. You will also see even the youngest family members start to compliment and reward each other for getting things right.

The whole flavor of your interactions will be different: instead of picking each other apart for all the things you do wrong, you will learn to reinforce each other for the things that are going right. Isn't this much more fun than nagging and irritating each other?! Try it, you just might uncover a whole new way of relating to those you love. Happy Training !

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