I can’t resist: I’m training our 6-month old, exuberant, I-must-sniff-and-greet-everything-and-everyone puppy, Birdie, and can’t help but notice a few things.
Positive reinforcement works much better than negative reinforcement.
Catching her in the act of doing something wrong and correcting works much less well than creating a situation in which undesired behaviors are less likely to happen.
If she’s distracted, she cannot learn.
If she’s afraid or triggered in any way, she cannot learn.
Just because she did it right yesterday doesn’t mean she’ll do it right today.
Every new behavior has to be repeated, repeated, and repeated some more.
The distance between “I understand what this is and how to do this,” and “I will do this all the time” is huge. Getting her from one to the other requires extra-ordinary patience.
Things go wrong when my expectations get ahead of where we are, today.
Context matters tremendously. If I want her to demonstrate a new behavior, I have to ask her to do it in the simplest, safest context first. Only once she’s mastered the behavior in that environment can she succeed in a more challenging context.
When my expectations get ahead of where we are, we are both frustrated.
If she messes up, it’s on me.
Of course, I understand that human beings have frontal lobes, that we can practice meta cognition and that we don’t only learn by getting lots and lots and lots of little rewards for good behavior.
But we could set ourselves up for success with a bunch of lessons from Birdie.
To develop or teach a new skill, start small and in a safe environment, and allow plenty of time for practice before moving on to a more challenging environment.
Just because we got it right yesterday doesn’t mean we know how to do it today.
If we’re frustrated, it’s probably because our expectations got ahead of us.
Be patient with yourself or with the person you’re coaching.
Repeat so much that you’re a little bored, and then repeat some more.
Most of all, keep at it and treat yourself kindly. Remember that daily progress is almost undetectable, but that weekly, monthly and yearly progress (when we keep at it) will be remarkable.