How to Stop Chasing Cats

A Shiba Inu not chasing a catI have a great life. One of the best parts of it is the brilliant people I get to talk to, interact with, and discuss the great ideas of life with. For example, Sunday I was chatting with a Feminism Studies major formerly a professional dog trainer about my new Shiba Inu and its propensity to chase the cat.

So her very self-regulated response was “Shiba getting along with any other animal is not something I would have suggested. They have a high protective and hunting drive.” We then went on to talk about training approaches, positive versus negative reinforcement, and which was more effective in the long run.

Her recommendation, although it takes a bit more patience and effort, was positive reinforcement. At first we might have to wait for Bjorn (that’s the dog) to just even look away from the dog before using a clicker, offering praise, and then giving him a treat. Or maybe just blink.

The key was for Bjorn to quickly identify the behaviour (avoiding the cat) we wanted. Pretty soon he’d start associating the praise with a treat, and begin offering other behaviors hoping to get a treat. Then we would just have to watch to select the behaviours we wanted to reinforce and keep reinforcing them.

The problem with using a spray bottle (or shock collar, which we inherited from the previous owner) is that it often accidentally reinforces “superstitious” behaviour. That is Bjorn might associate the spray bottle with a person, or a coincidental noise like a cough. Not the desired behaviour. In other words, we have to praise him towards a desired behaviour. Not punish him to not do something.

Just writing that last sentence makes my head hurt. Imagine the dog trying to figure out what we wanted him not to do.

I’m not saying that people are like dogs, or skateboarding monkeys, that are endlessly manipulable. People still need mastery, autonomy, and purpose to thrive and engage. But (big but) if we want to adopt a feedback strategy, all my reading and research strongly suggests positive reinforcement is the way to go. And that the less time between the feedback and what we’re giving feedback for the better.

Question for the Comments:

How many times a day do you give feedback?

Other Reading

Manager Tools Feedback Model
Your Brain At Work
The Four F`s of Feedback

Bernie works as a leadership and strategic business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well. He believes that not doing anything about bad leadership, once you know about it, is abuse. And poor business practice. He believes organizations are founded on their values. He believes that the workplace is a place for both people and businesses to thrive. Not just survive. Check out his other articles at practicalmanagers.com

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