Dodge Ball, Dogs, And The Motivating Power of Praise

20160112_103030-EFFECTSI have a pound dog. And, like many shelter animals she suffers from fear aggression, which means she responds negatively to anything new or scary.

It can be a challenge when training her.

She does not respond to negative reinforcement. The other day when she grabbed my daughter’s unprotected sandwich and started to eat it, despite several firm commands to Drop it, she did not.

I knew she wouldn’t even as I utter the command.

Positive Reinforcement

She’s not a bad dog. In fact, Versa is normally well behaved (I know I’m bias). She will sit on command, lie down on command, fetch a ball and even catch a ball — all on command. She did not learn those skills with negative reinforcement. They were taught using the clicker training method. With this system a dog learns to associate the clicking sound with something positive — like a treat or praise.

And, Versa will do anything for a treat or praise. She will work hard. She will think and repeatedly try to master a new skill because she knows what is waiting for her. I even mix it up, giving her surprise jackpot treats which brings out the excitement even more.

I’m the same way. So are you.

One of the most positive experiences I had in grade school involved a not-so-fun game of dodge ball. As a small, underweight and athletically disadvantaged child, sports were not my place to shine. Unfortunately, then as now, even for the athletically challenged, sports are a huge part of the socialization process for children.

But, what I lacked physically I made up for in persistence. And, by the end of the day’s first dodge ball game, I found myself alone against five or six opponents, including the ‘toughest’ kid in the class.

As I dodged, threw, caught and played, my teammates were yelling — not words of encouragement, like ‘you got this’ or ‘you can do this’, but rather words like ‘give up’, ‘let them hit you’, and ‘get out so we can start a new game’. Of course, I didn’t give up and by some twist of fate, I outlasted my opponents and my team won.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Our gym teacher, Mr. Gilmore, (yes, I do remember his name), pulled the class aside, praising my hard work and perseverance.

That’s how you do it, he said.

One of the toughest battles bloggers and writers face, I believe, is the lack of positive feedback. Writing can be a vacuum with little to fill the void. We write, we post, and are often uncertain if our words touch anyone. The struggle is real. It is difficult to find your voice in the midst of the millions of other voices. It is hard to find the audience. As one talented writer notes,

I have my moments of doubt, when I wonder that I am talentless and all this education and practice and persistence means nothing because I just don’t have that mystical spark that makes a ‘real’ writer.

In those moments it’s definitely easier to quit. To throw in the towel — say I gave it my best shot — get a do-over and start a new game. Just like my fellow blogger, some days doubt fills the void. But, she doesn’t stop there. She offers these pearls of wisdom,

However, I also know that every person on the planet has these moments of angst, and I go on writing until the doubt dies down.

Thanks, Mr. Gilmore

When doubt creeps in, Mr. Gilmore resurfaces in my mind and I remember outlasting, outmaneuvering a more physically capable opponent. I did it then. I can do it now.

That’s what Mr. Gilmore said.

And I still believe him.

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