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I Passed Calculus!

By Michelle Mullins, Training and Behavior Education Department Manager

Most of us are familiar with using positive reinforcement with our pets to teach behaviors we want, such as sit, stay and even “tricks” like roll over or shake. This positive reinforcement, be it a treat, a favorite toy or just a belly rub lets the dog know we like what they have done. Pretty simple, huh? However, how often do we think of using positive reinforcement for other relationships? We reward spouses for cooking dinner and taking out the trash, and children for good grades.

That’s positive reinforcement too! Sometimes we forget how effective it is to positively reinforce those we spend so much time with such as our colleagues. Co-workers often help out with projects, cover duties during absences and can make the work environment more pleasant. Are you rewarding them for this behavior? You certainly could. Behavior that gets positively reinforced is more likely to be repeated!

An old professor of mine recently sent me a package in the mail after I helped her out with some training advice for her new puppy. It contained an unpopped bag of microwave popcorn and a thank you card. Initially, I was confused by the odd contents but as I read the note I recalled how “popcorn” had become a positive reinforcer in our history.

During my school days both physics and calculus were challenging subjects for me. I knew I’d need some extra tutoring so I quickly set out to find help from this professor. She mentioned she loved popcorn so I showed up with microwave popcorn in hand. From that day on, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday you could find us in her office sharing popcorn while I struggled to keep up with my hardest subjects! I didn’t really think of the popcorn as a positive reinforcer for her help, until the day I opened a thank you package and there was the popcorn!

Next time someone helps you out or just does their job efficiently and happily – reward them. It doesn’t take much – a kind word, a Hershey’s kiss, a morning coffee or a bag of microwave popcorn will do the trick! They will probably be more than happy to help you again and again.

Karen Pryor’s book, Don’t Shoot the Dog, details methods for using positive reinforcement and rewards in almost every aspect of your life and in every relationship. It is a great read.  Check it out! So now that I’ve finished this blog ahead of schedule, I wonder if Mandie will bring me a cookie?

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