I’m currently attending obedience training. (No, this isn’t a class for me to learn how to better respond to my wife Azra’s requests. This is a class I attend with our dog Jack* where he and I are learning how to communicate with each other and are developing good behaviors.)
The approach used within this class is one of “positive reinforcement”**. With this approach, when I communicate clearly and in a way Jack understands and he does what is desired, he is rewarded (with treats, affection, toys, etc.). Only positive results are rewarded. If Jack does something incorrectly, I do not reward him, but I don’t correct him or punish him. I just ignore what he did and we try it again. Only if Jack does something that could endanger him or another dog (becoming aggressive, going somewhere he shouldn’t such as into traffic, etc.) do I use a harsh or stern tone or physically restrain Jack. (And even in such cases, this is done, as Cesar Milan, the dog trainer known as “The Dog Whisperer”, advocates, in a calm and assertive manner.)
Most dogs respond extremely well to positive reinforcement and learn very quickly. With this method I’m convinced it would be possible to teach Jack to do most anything. (Jack understands many commands in both English and Turkish, my wife’s native language.)
Experiencing positive reinforcement and watching how effective it is has been, made me think back on those times I’ve either been managed or observed management of someone else, by a manager whose only approach was “negative reinforcement”. From such observations, it seems to be that all too often only incorrect behavior is acknowledged. My experience, and I suspect that of most of our readers, is that this approach is much less effective. (And I’m sure as a manager I’ve been guilty of managing in such a way.)
The class has certainly made me more aware of how I manage both myself and others and I consciously focus on reinforcing positive behavior and results.
* I’ve written about dog Jack, an American Staffordshire Bull Terrier (one of the many breeds mistakenly referred as a Pit Bull and often unfairly banned through breed specific legislation [BSL]), in a post titled “Don’t Ban the Breed“.)
** Two books/authors that advocate positive reinforcement which I highly recommend are “The Loved Dog” (Tamar Gellar) and “Animals in Translation” (Temple Grandin)