Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How to Train Just About Anything

This weekend I was talking to my sister about training animals and giving her some advice. In doing so, I realized that my methods for training my pets is really consistent, even though I have a wide range of creatures (from a lizard, all the way to a horse). It may be possible that I use these principles on my 7th grade students as well... The point is, anything is trainable if you approach it in the right manner.

I am basing my training tips on my experience as a person who has trained multiple animals & my experience from my Bachelor's Psychology degree. So without further ado, here are my training tips.

1. Don't put with up bad behaviors, in fact, it is best to be scary.
I think that oftentimes people are afraid of seeming "mean" or of hurting their pet's feelings, but this does not work out for them in the long run because then the pet doesn't take their reprimands seriously. Your pet needs to know where the lines are drawn so that they can act appropriately. That means, if they cross a line, your pet needs to deal with immediate negative consequences. This can look really different based on the bad behavior & the pet's personality (also the punishment should fit the crime), but it is important to be mean for the consequence.

Some of the problem behaviors that I deal with my pets & the consequences for them are as follows:
- Bad behavior: Remy (cat) tries to beat up Eden (dog); Consequence: I pick Remy up and talk sternly to her
- Bad behavior: Eden (dog) starts barking at the door; Consequence: I lightly hold his snout and tell him "no"
- Bad behavior: Aldo (lizard) flares up and threatens me; Consequence: I pick him up and stroke his beard so that he stops flaring up.
- Bad behavior: Casey (horse) paws at the ground; Consequence: I yell at her and/or smack her on the shoulder.
Holding high expectations is necessary

You can see that I do use a wide range of consequences that differ in terms of severity and "meanness." It is important to keep in mind the type of pet (as in my lizard doesn't care what I say, so I don't use verbal cues with him) and how bad the behavior really is (the horse's bad physical behaviors are worse than my cat's because she is bigger and can actually hurt me if she wanted to). The most important thing is that if your pet does a bad behavior, you have to immediately react. If you react after the fact, the pet won't make the connection between their behavior and you flipping out on them.
Smaller consequences for smaller bad behaviors

2. Be kind and loving at all other times.
I haven't tried this any other way, but my theory is that the "mean" consequence works so well on my pets, because I am so kind and loving towards that at all other times. It's the idea of unconditional love. Children do best when they know that their parents love them no matter what, and I think that the same is probably true of pets. If your pet knows that you love them and will always take care of them, then their world won't fall apart when you do have to get mean with them. It's just good for their emotional balance for them to get doted upon. Also, give positive reinforcement when they do good things (aka lots of cookies at all times).
Lots of cookies necessary
Unconditional love

3. Be consistent.
Above all else, the most important thing when it comes to training is the need to be consistent. If you are wishy-washy about which rules need to be followed, then you are not being clear and consistent with your pet. Even if they want to learn your rules, they won't be able to because you aren't showing them what the rules are. That means every time they do something wrong, you have to give them the same consequence, but also, every time they do something right you need to praise them. This is essential in the skills/behaviors that take a really long time to learn, like potty-training a dog, or teaching a horse to stand quietly in the crossties.
Consistency is key - even though Eden knows well how to sit, I still give him praise for doing so.

4. Break "tricks" down into as small of steps as is possible.
When training my dog in particular, I would try to get the smallest improvements in a trick and would do motions that would lead to my dog naturally moving in a way that related to the trick. So the trick "sit" for instance, was taught to my dog by putting my hand into a fist with a treat in it and moving my hand slowly backwards over his head until he would sink back onto his butt. Breaking it down into small steps helps the pet be successful and feel like they are "getting" it, which will keep them motivated to keep trying.
Step 1
Step 2
Step 3
Step 4
And that's it! Those all the training principles that I follow for all instances in which I want or don't want a certain behavior out of my pets.

Fellow pet owners, do you think I missed anything? Anyone disagree with me about any of these?

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