The power of Yes and No - Rewards and Consequences

Imagine that you’re learning to drive a car. For the sake of this little story, we will assume that you are attempting to drive an automatic car. It is your first time in the vehicle and you’re quite keen to get going. Your teacher is sitting next to you, of course, but he’s a rather quiet chap and doesn't give you any instructions. You have watched many Hollywood car chases on TV so you decide that wearing the seat belt is probably a good place to start. As you click it in, the teacher says “YES” and hands you a pound coin. Slightly confused by this, but happy for the praise and the pound, you decide it’s time to try and start the car. You put the key into the ignition, you turn the key and...nothing. What? You’re quite sure that “turning the key” part is essential, your parents does that every single time to start their car. You’ve seen it a thousand times! Ten thousand times!!

Your teacher remain quiet.

Slightly frustrated by not being able to start the car, you fiddle around with the sticks that are around the steering wheel, and get a bit overwhelmed by windscreen wipers and indicators, but you realise that they don’t actually do anything to help get the car going, they only made the windscreen messy. To the right of you there’s a stick with some numbers and letters on it, and you think it may have something to do with it all so you try to move it, but it doesn’t budge. There’s another handle there but you are quite sure that has to do with parking. Yes, quite sure, your parents always pull that handle when they park. Feeling utterly defeated you decide to take a break. You remove the seat belt and open the door, time for a breather. After you feel calmer, you pop your head in the car to tell your teacher that you’ve had enough, but you get distracted by two pedals you hadn’t noticed until now, down where you kept your feet!

Aha! You get back into the car seat, there is something new to try! You press the right one first, nothing. You press the second one, nothing. “Sigh”. You decide to try some different things; you press the right pedal and try to start the car, nothing. You press the left pedal and try to start the car, and you’re rewarded with a satisfying roar from the engine as well as another “YES” and a pound coin from your teacher. Finally! This little exercise has already taken you about 30 minutes and you’re getting a bit tired and bored with it, not to mentioned stressed out.

However, as you’re still quite keen to know what it is like to drive, you push on. Having had some success with the pedals, you try the left one again, nothing. You press the right one and the engine roars even louder, but the car still doesn’t move. The only thing you haven’t been able to change yet, is that stick to your right, the one with letters and numbers on it. Going back to what worked before, you press the left pedal again and try to move the stick. Nope, still stuck. You suddenly notice that there is a button on the stick, so you press that and now the stick moves! Kerching, another “YES” and a pound coin. Where to move the stick too though? You’ve used DVD players and music listening devices etc. so it feels kind of natural to think of R as reverse. The stick was in P so you assume that is for Parking. All that leaves is D and 1 and 2. D is at the top so you leave it there. Ah, you can feel the car almost pulling forward a bit, it wants to go, but it feels like it’s stuck! Ahhh that other stick, the parking handle thingymajig! You try and push it down but it won’t budge. You remember the gear stick trick, so you look for and find a button, and down the handle goes.

AND FORWARD TO CAR GOES!! You’re so excited but you’ve just realised that there was no “YES - Kerching” involved. You look to your teacher, who is slightly pale, and oddly enough, he is waving a pound coin in your face. You try to take it, but he removes it from your reach every time. What? What does he want? What is the right thing to do here? You start all over again, touching all the sticks and all the pedals, getting more and more frustrated the more things you try without success. Suddenly the car accelerates rapidly and you have no idea what you’ve done. You try and stop the car, you look at the teacher and ask for help, but he’s just holding that damn coin, just out of your reach. You can’t see anything due to the messy screen, but you can hear the busy road that’s just next to the car park, come closer and closer. You desperately try to stop the car, but….. It is too late.

If your teacher had told you what to do, and what NOT to do, you would have been learnt to drive far quicker, far safer and far calmer, and you would have been alive. Nobody told you to put that seat belt back on either, did they..?

Only saying Yes, and never No, is not only a slower and more stressful way to learn, it can lead to down right dangerous behaviours. You might have gotten lucky in the above scenario and, by chance, got it all right to begin with. You still would not have learned what NOT to do.

It’s not only OK to say NO to your dog, it is essential for the learning process as well as for safety. The above story is very exaggerated of course, but perhaps it will help you think and feel OK with saying No to your dog, so long as it is done in a calm, fair manner. You can stop an unwanted or dangerous behaviour, which will help you make way to teach a new, safer and better way.

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