Tonawanda News

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July 14, 2013

CRITTER COMPANIONS: Don't force dominance over pets

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Tonawanda News — Being dominant, pushing a dog down to sit, barking at them when they make a mess, can and will work, but it is not the most constructive relationship one could have with their pet.

Good parents set limits for their children’s safety and teach manners so when things do arise when the neighbors are watching they can be corrected quickly. Following this logic, we can teach our pets a foundation of acceptable behaviors using positive reinforcement to strengthen our relationship.

I was in high school, working at the Aquarium of Niagara, when I “audited” (absorbed as much information as I could) a college class called Animal Training and Learning. I didn’t attend all the classes, but the classes that I did attend were quite fascinating. On the first day of class, a few brown-nosers would raise their hand to volley a slew of answers back at the teacher. Some of the responses were correct. Some answers were wrong. No matter what they said a small foam animal — much like the kind you could find for a craft project — was placed on their desk.

There was no explanation, just a foam animal deposited on the desk. The class went on for 50 minutes, at the end the professor said for every five foam animals, you will get a credit to be used as a bonus point for your final exam. The next class I attended, many more hands were going up answering questions.

At the end of this class the teacher asked, “Why are you getting foam animals on your desk?” A student raised their hand and said, “For replying with the correct answer.” The teacher placed a foam animal on her desk and said, “Good answer, but wrong.”

The teacher was giving foam animals for participation. By actively learning and contributing, the students paid attention and at the end of the class learned many things including that the individual being trained doesn’t need to be aware that training is taking place.

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