Recently I was blessed to receive an adorable little pup named Ninja who is loads of fun, however as you would expect she requires proper training to learn some basic skills such as potty training, sit, stay, and maybe even a couple fancier tricks like paw, lay down and roll over etc. If you’ve ever trained a puppy before you probably already know that patience is most certainly a pre-requisite, just like when dealing with children, especially those who are between the ages of four to six (this is the age that our Kids Jiu Jitsu program begins at). Now as much as you would like your puppy to learn new tricks right away, imagine for a moment trying to learn a Jiu Jitsu technique for your first time with no previous experience or get your black belt for that matter. It’s important to acknowledge that the best things in life take time to develop so we must always try to be cognizant of the learning process while doing our best to remain consistent. Just like we are, your puppy is a product of their training and conditioning, their consistency will play a major part in their progress.
While many people like to give treats to their animals to reward good behavior, something that will save you money and work just as well is positive reinforcement. I laugh trying to imagine giving one of our four to six year old Jiu Jitsu students a candy bar every time they did something good, while it may work to some degree one of the things your puppy, our kids and we as humans have in common is the desire for praise. When you praise your dog they get excited, as evident by their wagging tail and come closer to you with the hopes of receiving more love and affection. What’s funny is as humans we also tend to respond in a similar fashion, very rarely would someone run in the opposite direction when receiving a “Good job!”. When we receive praise we usually light up and consciously or sub-consciously begin to demonstrate more of whatever behavior got us attention. As a coach this is a big mindset change as it is natural for us to want to be critical and correct things that we see are out of place but once we train our brains to start looking for the good in our kids, just like our puppy, and award them the praise they deserve you will notice a shift in their behavior almost instantaneously. The hard part, of course, starts with ourselves as it is understandably uncommon, from a perspective of human nature, to search for what our puppy or the people around us are doing right. Like all habits, they are much easier to form than to break. We’ve all heard the adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” at one point or another. Now, this isn’t exactly true, but rather the difficulty that comes with teaching an older dog in comparison to a puppy is quite simply the fact that you may have to erase some bad habits and behaviors (in the event the dog is ill-trained or not trained at all) along with teaching it a new skill. That is one of the cool things about both the kinder ages and puppies is that they are essentially a blank canvas for you to work with! Just keep in mind that as exciting as it is, this comes with great responsibility as you are just as capable of instilling negative traits or habits within the students because ultimately what they learn stems from the teacher.
The point of rewarding students for good behavior is to encourage more of the actions you want to see. With a puppy for example when “crate training” it is common for them to bark or whine to get attention. You’ll see owners yell at the dog to be quiet or something to the effect, but while this may come as a surprise, dogs do not speak English. LOL. On a serious note, when you speak to the puppy you are giving it “attention” and unfortunately the kind that you don’t want to enforce! Remember, whether it’s positive or negative attention is besides the fact but the pup is learning that when it makes noise, there’s a chance you’ll respond. We apply the same strategy in reverse when it comes to all the kids in our program, we coach our instructors to actively seek good behavior to reward with praise rather than criticizing bad behavior. When it comes to bad behavior, unless it’s disruptive to other students, we ignore it. At such a young age, both kids and puppies are unlikely to have bad intentions behind their actions but they are motivated by the actions that receive the most attention whether it’s good or bad. A puppy in a crate usually will get bored and lay down after a few attempts (maybe more) to get noticed. Young children are often the same, once they feel they are getting ignored they begin to notice that the students who are listening and having good posture are being complimented. From that point on it’s usually just a matter of time untill they start to take part in the good behavior that seems to be giving the other kids the spotlight.
It’s also important to consider that both groups (puppies and kids) have very short attention spans and I would argue many adults do as well, although we are able to act as if we are listening when our thoughts really were interrupted where young children on the other hand tend to have their thoughts on their sleeve, so be patient and understand that as long you are seeing growth it may just take some time. We have kids in our program who we absolutely love, but that doesn’t mean they are the easiest. What motivates us is their progress since day one and at the same time, kids will be kids, if they were all perfect all the time it would take the fun out of it and it would be hard to appreciate what good behavior truly is! Just remember that everything is trainable, so if you aren’t seeing the results, keep trying different things until you do. It’s no different than what anyone with a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black a belt did. Despite the inevitable discouragements that accompany an art form like Jiu Jitsu if you give it the time necessary, like a plant that receives the appropriate amount of sunlight, water, oxygen, it will eventually grow into something amazing that you can be very proud of and glad you did. For your dog that might mean it can sit, stay and high five while for your child it might mean that they can concentrate for an entire class (this is definitely something to reward lavishly) or that they stayed long enough to get their next stripe or belt. Like many of you, the coaches want to see your child do well, it gives us a sense of pride. We have so many stories of kids who were terrified to get on the mats, to the point of tears, who are now strong, little confident Martial Artists who’s behaviors are now inspiring the newer batches of students to listen, pay attention and stay on the journey to become their best versions. Something we as coaches, parents, dog trainers can all be proud of.