Positive Reinforcement Training

Is this a look of remorse? I’m not sure…

We adopted our beloved dog Rosie March of 2020. She was a year old and had come to the rescue shelter as a stray with a laceration on her paw. When she arrived, she already knew the “Sit” and “Shake” commands. This seems to imply that she had lived with people before. But whether she got lost or dumped and how long she was on her own is a mystery. She did come with a bunch of annoying behaviors, likely learned during her time in the wild. When we first got her she barked at almost everything that moved: humans, dogs, bikes, skateboards, squirrels, birds. And she whined every time I left the condo. If I forgot to close my bedroom door before I left, she would drag all my shoes out of the closet and place them carefully on my bed. She didn’t ever get on my bed when I was home, so I’m not really clear what the message was with the shoes.

Despite all that, her sweet and affectionate personality won us over and I endeavored to teach her to be a bit more civilized. I got a couple books on training using positive reinforcement and we started practicing. Some of the materials suggest that positive reinforcement is 50 times as successful as punitive training. I figured if these methods are successful in teaching whales to jump through hoops, surely I could teach my dog to walk through the park without lunging at bicyclists. Rosie became less reactive. A bit. But there was no way I could take her to the café down the block and have her placidly sit under the table watching the world go by.

Next, I hired a dog trainer, a behaviorist, who is teaching me how to interact with Rosie in a way that makes sense to her as a pack animal and again, the focus is on reinforcing positive behavior. Behavior that is not desired is ignored. As much as possible, I create an environment that will lead to successful interactions: distance between us and other dogs at the park, frozen peanut butter bones when I leave her alone, and treats (lots of treats) to reward desired behaviors.

All this effort to help Rosie learn to be a better roommate caused me to consider whether my inner monologue was positive reinforcement (Yeah, Fawn! All that effort to reduce your sodium intake has really helped to get your blood pressure down) or negative (What is wrong with you, Fawn? You used to work 16 hours without a break and now you want a nap before dinner?) I’m actually kind of surprised that how much negative talk there is.

Surely, my own precious self is worthy of the same kindness that I extend toward my Rosie.

So, I am determinedly changing those negative thoughts. When I notice a critical thought arising, I intentionally turn it around. The above negative thought might become: “Fawn, you have worked really hard your whole life. Your body is tired. Give it what it needs. Let’s have a nap before dinner.”

I would love to hear where you are learning kindness toward self.

And enjoy the bonus photos of things that Rosie has chewed to bits.

$50 worth of toys
Kong chew toy in bits. I still don’t think she looks sorry.
This is the fourth pair of reading glasses to meet a similar fate.

14 thoughts on “Positive Reinforcement Training

  1. Rosie is pretty strong if she can take apart a Kong. Your poor reading glasses!:-)

    When I catch myself with negative internal dialogue, I try to mother myself as if I were encouraging a child. I figure childhood is where the negative voices come from, so if I talk to my inner child, maybe it’ll have a positive effect.

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  2. I had to chuckle at Rosie putting your shoes on your bed. At least she didn’t chew them.
    I have been working VERY part time, & have been trying to let myself do what ever I feel like doing at the times I’m home. (watching a certain TV program, going for a walk, taking a nap, etc.) I’m trying to be as kind to myself as I would be to a friend. I’ll have to try your method of spinning the negative voices.

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    1. She has chewed my sandals, but not my walking shoes.

      Isn’t it strange that we are kinder to almost every other person than we are to ourselves?

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  3. Shoes on the bed may be her way of telling you that she wishes you wouldn’t leave her alone. It does seem to be kindly that she doesn’t chew them, since she’s a big-time chewer. But then there’s the glasses… Maybe she wants you to pay attention to her instead of that book?

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    1. Ha! Maybe.Or paying bills online. She has chewed three pair of sandals- but the walking shoes I wear when I take her out, just lightly placed on the bed. Ha!

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  4. I really enjoyed the story. I keep catching myself in negative talk both to myself and my family . I’m doing a mindfulness class online that seems to be helping

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  5. It took Betty eating many remotes and readers for me to finally learn she wanted things out of her reach, I needed to keep them high. But whenever I failed to perform, she gently reminded me with destruction. That was for the first two years. I have mostly learned, with her positive reinforcement, but I still tend to forget once in a while, and she reminds me with a chewed up book or charger cord that I need to be a good girl. Good girl Fawn, good girl! 🐕

    Bhavatu sabba mangalam ~ May all beings be happy

    >

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  6. My Old English Sheepdog was a chewer of all things including boxes of crayons, which lead to techno colored poops. Those rawhide bones from the grocery store really helped.The vet said she would out grow it
    and the morning of her third birthday, she stopped! Never chewed anything again.
    Enjoy that darling dog!

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    1. Good thing those crayons are non-toxic!
      Rosie can destroy a rawhide in 10 minutes. What I have found that satisfies her chewing instincts are the very durable nylon bones (come in flavors too!) and femur bones (pig? cow?) filled with peanut butter and frozen. The peanut butter bones can be washed and reused many times before she has gnawed the bone to bits.

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  7. Hello Fawn, I also seem to have so much more patience with every body else but myself ! I think that maybe some of that behaviour comes from being a people pleaser and always wanting to do things right in other peoples eyes and then feeling a failure if I think I have not reached the standard expected of me. I am gradually learning not to be so hard on myself and to just be me. I often ask myself what advice would I give a friend and always it is not the harsh advice and criticism I give myself. So like Linda I am also trying to be kinder to myself and also trying to like yourself to turn the negative thoughts into positive ones. Thank you once again for such an insightful and thought provoking post.

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    1. These are such common issues! I wish there was a way to teach this stuff to little kids, though I don’t think the overburdened school systems need another mandate.

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