Tag Archives: behavior modification

MUM’s The Word: Reinforcing Bad Behavior

The other day, I arrived home just in time to see the garbage truck pull up to the house. Our youngest lab stood at the end of the driveway and barked her tail off at the sanitation specialist (I think that’s PC!). He promptly chucked a dog biscuit into the yard. As soon as Bailey took off after it, he went about his business of collecting our trash.

I was furious.

I mean, I get that he doesn’t want to be attacked by vicious, slobbery dogs all day long, but seriously, he just compounded his problem 100 fold.

He absolutely reinforced to her that standing her ground and barking at him earned her a treat. A treat! As in, “Good dog. Please bark at me again, and I’ll give you another yummy biscuit.”

Yeesh! No wonder beating her to keep her quiet doesn’t work. Okay, I don’t really beat her, but I do hold her muzzle and sternly tell her no. Though for her, this method of behavior modification isn’t nearly as fun as the dog treat from the sanitation worker. Nor is it nearly as effective.

I don’t think you’ll be surprised to learn that we send our kids the exact same kind of mixed messages. (Or our significant others, too, for that matter.) We are so apt to respond to the moment that we fail to keep focused on our long-term goals. In the end, we can be met with disasterous results.

The hardest part often comes in when someone else reinforces a behavior we don’t agree with. Every home and every setting has a different set of rules. Daycare, school, grandparents and church might all have different expectations that clash with those we want to instill in our children.

Quick tip for garbage men everywhere: Don’t give the dog a bone until it sits nicely. Seriously. It wouldn’t take but a few times of withholding the bone and making a dog sit before he’d plop his butt down the second your truck rumbled up the road. Imagine how much more pleasurable that would be?

Same with you, parents and teachers and caregivers and coaches. Think beyond the moment. Determine how you want your charges to act and enforce those behaviors instead of the other way around. And don’t forget to consider the ramifications of acting on short term rewards. It may not be in your best interest for the long run.

Which kid behaviors drive you crazy, and how do you handle it? How do you enforce good behavior? How do you deal with bad behavior reinforced by others? Do the children in your life have different rules you must help them navigate? If so, your examples would be appreciated.

Bonus writer question: Can we, as writers, encourage bad habits/behaviors of other writers in the communities we frequent? If so, how do we combat this tendency?

Curious minds want to know.

Bad Dog: train the writer in you.

When Sock-dog gets caught with a Ked in her mouth, we take it away and scold her.  She cowers and slinks away–likely to look for another sock that she’s not quite so willing to give up.  What we should do is scold her WHEN she digs them out of the hamper so the punishment is linked to the behavior we want to change. 

As it is, she associates “Bad Dog.  No.  Naughty.” with giving us the sock.

Hello, yes we’ve raised other dogs, as well as four children.  It’s amazing they all don’t piddle on themselves and have more tic(k)s than a crazed coon hound running through the forest. 

Sometimes parents–and dog trainers–are just dumb about certain things.

Writers, too.

We punish, not reward.  Our consequences rarely fit the crime.  

As a writer, my biggest naughtiness is my desire to write.  I could sit with my manuscript from the second I wake up to the minute I fall asleep and be happy.  Seriously, it’s about as addictive as a tube sock is to our lab.

And so the training begins.  “Self,” I ask.  “What do you need to accomplish today?”

My answer: write, laundry, write, floors, write, work out and WRITE

“Self, what is the least pleasant of these activities?”

*hold on while I change out a load of whites*

And so I play games to reward my good behavior.

HERE’S MY SYSTEM

  •  Throw a load in, blog.
  • When the load is done washing, I will work on housework only until the buzzer announces that my laundry is dry and can be switched out–my cue to take a writing break.
  • During this laundry cycle, I will write.
  • Wash, dry, repeat until there is nothing left to do but write. 

If I don’t vac floors, cook dinner, put away laundry and shape up my tushy with a sweaty work out, I’ll hang my head and slink away when DH comes home.  The guilt will eat me up and I’ll feel crappy.  Then I’ll promise to redeem myself tomorrow by getting above list done, only to write my day away…again.  Because truly, writing is the reward and I got my fix by writing.

 It’s what makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

But I want to feel fuzzy without the guilt.  Just like Sock-dog does.  So today when she gets caught with a sock in her mouth, I’m going to praise her for giving it up, let her follow me into the laundry room where I will put the sock in the basket–deliberately in front of her.  When she leans in to sniff it–cuz that’s what dogs do–I’ll let loose my litany of “Bad dog.  No.  Naughty.”

I vow to be a better trainer from this day forth, whether I’m training my dog, my kids or myself.

I’ll try to reward the good behavior and make sure the punishment fits the crime.  That said, if you don’t see me around for a day or two,  you’ll know that I’ll be wallowing in heaps of unwashed clothes, a dog-hairy floor and a self-imposed punishment. 

How about you?  What stands in your way of writing guilt-free?  How do you plan to curb your inner, naughty-dog?

Curious minds want to know.