Reinforcing Good Behavior Around Us
What works with dogs and other animals also works with humans. Seriously, Karen Pryor's "Don't Shoot The Dog" changed my life in so many ways, that I find myself far less stressed because I am able to find operant solutions to everyday problems.
For instance, my husband had heart surgery, and while my service dog and I were crusing the hospital, I rolled past the duck pond courtyard and saw a young child terrorizing the ducks. As her mother watched, the child chased the mama duck and three ducklings round and round a bush.
The mama duck honked her threats, the babies flapped their downy wings, trying to stay with mom. The child kept trying to "catch " them. I watched, aghast, as this child's mother just allowed this to happen without a seeming concern.
I finally tucked my head outside the door, hollered to the child, "Hi Sweetie--could you let the duckies rest now? They are very tired. Hey, how about coming over here and petting my service dog, "Peekaboo"? I can show you alllll the great tricks he can do. Want to see him pick up a dime off the sidewalk?"
Now I could have just verbally leash popped her and left it at that, but by diverting the child's attention, getting her focused on something totally different but interesting, I was able to achieve not only the goal of getting the child to stop chasing the ducks, but got her to sit down quietly.
Then, as we talked about the dog and his "tricks", I was able to inject little bits of info about how even my working doggie needs "time off" and sometimes just has to rest, just like her, and just like the duckies.
And before I left, I asked her if she'd keep a close watch on those duckies to make sure they got their rest, and to make sure no children chased them. She nodded, and seemed to take her "job" seriously. How seriously?
When I came back down that hall 5 minutes later, I saw the child sitting on the grass about 50 feet from the ducks, just quietly watching them "rest." Sadly, I also saw the mom toss a cigarette butt into the duck pond. Ah, well...
Another time, one of the nurses was in a mad rush--obviously overworked, overtaxed, and treating her patients curtly, abruptly in her haste to get things done. I could see she was right on the edge, and stressed to the max. So I decided I could either just watch her fall apart, or I could try to help.
Drawing on my clicker training background, I immediately noted the things she was doing well and effectively. I rolled up to her, said, "Gloria, I can see you really have your hands full. You have so much more than you can possibly do, and I'd like to help you if I can. How about if I take over some of the things that you obviously just don't have time for, like smoothing the patient's bedding, emptying bedpans, fetching linens, that sort of thing?"
I was able to spend an hour doing these mundane things, giving Gloria time to attend to the things I could not do. She was able to catch up, and I watched her stress level visably lower.
I could have verbally leash popped her for rushing the patient, who happened to be MY husband. But I chose instead to try to find an operant solution so that I could get the behaviors I wanted. By doing this, I relieved her load, I gave her time to slow down, and I showed her that I was aware of the stress she was under, not just reacting to her behaviors. We all won.
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