2010年07月

2010年07月25日

dog days of summer

good dogMy dog Linda is one of those kinda-trained types that follows directions just often enough to allow the humans around her to feel a sense of control. After many years of daily feedings, morning and evening exercise runs, mock fights on the living room floor, and everything else we have shared, we both know the regular routines and hardly need to glance at each other to get through most activities without a hitch. But now that she is getting on in years, she is starting to pick and choose a little bit more whether to follow non-standard commands (refusing to go upstairs for bed until a certain time,  not shutting  up and sitting still  when the rest of the family heads out on a Saturday ride to the pool and leaves her in the yard...).

Two books that I read recently made me think a little bit more about how Linda might be seeing things. And they also gave me some insights into how I might better deal with the people around me as well, especially those that I need to coach and teach in my job.

I highly recommend the first one, The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. It is narrated in the first person by the eloquent Enzo, a lovable mutt firmly devoted to his master Denny, an aspiring race care driver with a sick wife and lovely young daughter. They go through a lot together, with Enzo constantly frustrated by his inability to communicate consistently with Denny because of his lack of thumbs and an effective tongue to speak with. As he says in the first sentence: "Gestures are all that I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature." And as with my Linda, those gestures range from wild barking and jumping to urinating on papers and ripping up a roomful of girl's dolls. But the power of the writing makes you really understand Enzo - and made me really think again about how little I sometimes work to truly listen to and understand those around me. And I don't just mean Linda.

If you are into car racing, there are also some real treats in this book - including the scene where Enzo accompanies Denny out for some hot laps on a test track. "Two barks means faster!"

The other book, Don't Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training by Karen Pryor is basically a how-to approach to applying the rules of training by reinforcement. If you can get used to its kind of weird mix of technical academic terminology (conditioned reinforcers, event markers), animal anecdotes ("I shaped a large hermit crab once to ring a dinner bell by pulling on a string with its claw.") and human behavior examples (from conducting orchestras to learning how to putt), it offers some really valuable insights into how you to motivate and "shape" yourself and those around you in a positive way. And not just by bringing a clicker to the next company meeting...

 

     



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