There is a local animal trainer named Uncle Matty that advertises his services saying that he specializes in training people’s pets (dogs mostly) with “love and affection” as opposed to using punishment when the animal doesn’t obey. Having had to house train a dog or two in my day I would have to agree with Uncle Matty. Though many trainers “get it done” with punitive measures, it is far easier and faster to use praise and affection. Why?
Because dogs have been bred to WANT to please their masters. It’s part of their pack mentality to want to be in good graces with the alpha pack leader. So they respond very well when praised for doing something. They eventually pick up on the cause and good effects and wha laa. Punitive measures sort of work for the same reason – they don’t like it when the alpha growls at them.
I was reading out on the front porch in the cool of the morning and observed a girl walking her golden retriever on a leash. She was training him to “sit & hold.” But when the dog would move or sit for just a moment she would pop him lightly with the leash and scold him. It went on for about a minute before the dog finally did what she wanted. She then moved on. And I was struck at how ugly the scene was. I did not like watching her be mean to the dog, partly because I know that praise works SO much better.
Children aren’t dogs of course, but I immediately made the connection. Training children using punitive measures is actually pretty counter productive. Children are born with a tremendous need to connect and relate to their caregivers (a.k.a. attachment). Without it their brains do not develop properly and if they survive infancy, will go on to be impaired for many years. Children WANT to please their caregivers. They want to be part of a close group of loving people. Praise and affection give FAR better results than punitive measures, especially with children from hard places. There is more to it than that, of course, but I think it would be helpful to us all just to contemplate this simple reminder that “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!”