A Lesson from Dog Training
We got our first family puppy this year. For those of you considering getting a family puppy, I urge caution. Raising a puppy is like raising a baby. Each has their own unique pros and cons. A puppy doesn’t have a diaper to change, but a baby can’t bite your fingers.
As part of raising our puppy, I am taking her to obedience training once a week. We are working on all the basic commands a dog should know and master. The other day, we were practicing the “come” command, and our instructor shared some advice that I feel applies to all relationships.
If you call your dog to come, you must reward her when she does. This will teach her that when she comes to you, she will get something good, so she will always come to you.
Imagine your dog was digging in your garden. You call her to come and immediately snap at her for digging in the garden. The dog doesn’t understand that you are mad about her past actions. Instead, she has learned that when she responds to your call, something terrible will happen. Next time, she won’t want to come to you.
Now, imagine the same scenario, but instead of berating your dog, you give her a treat and take her to play somewhere else. Your dog has just learned that coming when you call means good things happen. She has also stopped digging in the garden. She might try to dig in the garden again the future, but if she does, you know that you can call her away from it.
What lessons are we teaching our children or our students or our loved ones when they come to us after a mistake? If you are like me, you sometimes teach the wrong lesson because you are tired, frustrated, or distracted.
My son is a spiller. He seems to spill everything he touches. When he was younger, he spilled so often that I began to snap at him when he did it. I was so overwhelmed with everything I had to do raising three kids and working that I didn’t think about the effect I was having on him. As a result, he ended up bursting into tears whenever he spilled. He burst into tears before I could say anything. You know what the only thing worse than a persistent spiller is? A persistent spiller that sobs uncontrollably.
Luckily, I realized what I had been doing and changed my approach. When he spilled, I took a few seconds to comfort him, and I showed him how to clean up his spill. Now, several years later, he can clean up his own spills without coming to me for help.
This technique is not easy. It is exhausting because you have to overcome your own amygdala’s immediate reaction to a frustrating situation, but you feel better after helping someone. I never felt better after snapping at my son.
There are so many ways to use this technique at school. Do you have students who frequently come to you with questions or for help on assignments? If you are like me, your first reaction might be to get frustrated. After all, you just gave the directions, and the class has been learning about this topic for a week. These students are just lazy. If you let those feelings come out, your students are learning the lesson that they can’t ask you for help. They are going to struggle on their own or give up on the topic.
What if instead, you respond with excitement when a student asks you for help? “I am so glad you asked that question!” Then, you can show the student how to get the information on their own. If it is a question about the directions, read the instructions together. If it is a question about old details, look through his notebook to find the answer. Not only are you teaching the student that it is safe to ask you for help, but you are also showing him how he can be successful in the future.
There is one more lesson I have learned from dog training that applies to our relationships. When you catch your dog doing something right, reward her.
If your dog walks by the garden without digging, give her a treat. If your student writes her name on her paper without being reminded, praise her. If your husband does the dishes, thank him. These small rewards will make the people in your life feel good, so they will want to do more things to earn rewards.
Share your stories about teaching kids with our reactions in the comments! Have you learned a lesson in an unexpected place? Share those too!