As part of my homework for our class project, I have been rereading a book a friend recommended to me when my twins were toddlers. It is Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor, and a great teaching manual to have on hand whether you are working with dogs, dolphins, or college students. No, I can’t claim to be much of a trainer, but the message I’ve absorbed from multiple readings is that it isn’t really the animal’s behavior (or the child’s) that you have control over, it’s your own. It’s also filled with good humored anecdotes (from her cat’s perspective, Pryor tells us, “she is training me; she has found a way to get me to ‘Come'” — and offer food, besides).
Pryor saved my life when my children were small by showing me that catching them doing something right was a key to the entire process. Okay, so they don’t clean their rooms, and at least two of them are still the slowest girls in the entire world. But they have great hearts, and they care about their parents and each other. I’ve been too lazy to “train” the other stuff.
Here’s an eye-opening passage: “One of the most useful practical applications of reinforcement is reinforcing yourself. This is something we often neglect to do, partly because it doesn’t occur to us, and partly because we tend to demand a lot more of ourselves than we would of others. …As a result we often go for days at a time without letup, going from task to task to task unnoticed and unthanked even by ourselves. Quite aside from reinforcing oneself for some habit change or new skill, a certain amount of reinforcement is desirable just for surviving daily life; deprivation of reinforcement is one factor, I think, in states of anxiety and depression.”
Writing every day is a big commitment. I think I now deserve a latte and a few minutes sitting outside in the sunshine. I’ll take Don’t Shoot the Dog with me and read a few pages.