Behavior is fascinating.  Just when I think I’ve figured things out, I either learn something new or remember something I’ve forgotten.  This week, it was the latter.  And in the process, I was also reminded about some basic universal principles on shaping behavior.

On Tuesday we celebrated an educational milestone for the youngest member of our family.  LaRoux, our newest pet, graduated from puppy school.  After six weeks of classes, she follows directions (sits, lies down, comes), pays attention (great eye contact), delays gratification (stays/waits when prompted) and shows excellent manners (shakes/high fives). 

Though we have had many dogs, we haven’t had one that has so consistently demonstrated these skills.  Of course, it helps getting her as a pup when her brain is young and malleable – and I know she is super smart.  But the real reason I believe she is doing so well is because my wife and I have become better teachers in this process.

Lessons learned? 

  • Shaping behavior is about developing habits, so having a routine is critical.
  • If you don’t provide attention, attention will be demanded – often in negative ways.
  • Positive attention strengthens relationships, which shapes behavior better than when using criticism.
  • The more you teach and practice appropriate behaviors, the stronger those behaviors get.
  • When you take time to get to know individuals (or pups), you learn about – and can then provide – the proper level of support needed to set them up for success.
  • The most effective directions are very short ones that start with action verbs.
  • Behavior is communication – we just need to get better at deciphering codes and working to meet the needs.

I know this canine course was designed to teach my pup good behaviors, but ultimately, my behaviors were the ones that needed shaping more.  Go figure.  I feel certain I could have used this information to a greater extent had I taken this course when my four children were youngsters.

LaRoux starts her next course on Tuesday.  Yes, she is going on for an advanced degree since we can always learn new things.  For example, we are still working on the skill of respecting personal space, but I’m certain that given her developmental age and stage, this is to be expected.  Stay tuned; I’ll keep you posted on her progress.