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How to train your pet dragon / puppy / husband / team

Our “dog shrink” shared something fascinating this week in Rocco's first day at Puppy School. Dogs don't really understand being told off for doing the wrong things. The best way to train them is to reward positive behaviour immediately, and effectively. Their brains aren't really wired for us pointing out their errors, doing so does more to reinforce the bad behaviour. The old advice of rubbing a dog’s nose in it while shouting "no" is no longer in vogue. Instead a handful of liver treats, and lots of encouragement, is far more likely to get Rocco starting to do it outside.

Seems to be working well so far, and what's nice about it is that as we are united in providing him with praise, we have little bandwidth or time for shouting at or about him. It does seem, however, that in Rocco we got an "easy one", which I suspect is Gods way of balancing out the cards we were dealt with our children.

On reflection, it's clear that children work in a similar way to dogs. Doesn't matter how many times Jools or I scream about clothes on the floor, little changes. Until we highlight the behaviour we want, and hone in on recognising and rewarding what we want to happen, we only get what we focus on. And so it is inspiring to see that our schools are catching up with modern psychology, creating frameworks that go beyond testing for skills, to recognise and reward the behaviours that they want to inspire in the next generation. The APS Values, created through dialogue with teachers and pupils, are a great example. Learning behaviours such as “curiosity. Empathy and Hard Work” are the focus alongside academic excellence. Last year we got reports based on Yasmins reflection of these behaviours, not just her attainment and progress. The head at APS clearly understands how to motivate children and staff. The little touches, like Yasmin's award of an Empathy merit, and the Hard Work postcard we got last week, are making a difference and yielding results. It beautiful to see a previously unmotivated child start to grow and thrive with carefully focused encouragement.

APS Values postcard

(saved Yas the embarrassment of showing you the back!)

While world of work has been recognising the importance of values and rewarding excellence for some time, we still have some way to go. Some of the most valuable tools I know in this area are the power of feedback, and focused storytelling. Introducing these ideas in Switzerland last week in a workshop around customer service values, it was striking how moved participants were. Not just by stories of Rocco and his training. I was heartened at one participants reaction when he pointed out just how touching it was to receive positive feedback, and how warming it was to give it. It’s a shame that a reaction to such an exercise is common, because the value of recognition and rewarding positive behaviours

could be more widely realised. If my dog trainer and the kids schools are all onto it, then I shouldn't be needing to fly around the world making it clear.

So once again our new puppy Rocco has forced reflection on another simple, but impactful idea. In following the pet shrinks advice we are enjoying a far more enjoyable time of toilet training that the old-fashioned punishment method. In practicing the method at home we are all learning the power of positive praise, and our home is becoming lighter in the process.

I wonder where else we can apply this wisdom to create a better world around us?

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