Here’s an idea for the recalcitrant man in your life: train him like a dolphin.
These minor annoyances are not the stuff of separation and divorce, but in sum they began to dull my love for Scott. I wanted — needed — to nudge him a little closer to perfect, to make him into a mate who might annoy me a little less, who wouldn’t keep me waiting at restaurants, a mate who would be easier to love.
So, like many wives before me, I ignored a library of advice books and set about improving him. By nagging, of course, which only made his behavior worse: he’d drive faster instead of slower; shave less frequently, not more; and leave his reeking bike garb on the bedroom floor longer than ever.
We went to a counselor to smooth the edges off our marriage. She didn’t understand what we were doing there and complimented us repeatedly on how well we communicated. I gave up. I guessed she was right — our union was better than most — and resigned myself to stretches of slow-boil resentment and occasional sarcasm.
Then something magical happened. For a book I was writing about a school for exotic animal trainers, I started commuting from Maine to California, where I spent my days watching students do the seemingly impossible: teaching hyenas to pirouette on command, cougars to offer their paws for a nail clipping, and baboons to skateboard.
I listened, rapt, as professional trainers explained how they taught dolphins to flip and elephants to paint. Eventually it hit me that the same techniques might work on that stubborn but lovable species, the American husband.
The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don’t. After all, you don’t get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband.
Clicker training for dogs is based on the same principle, and was based on dolphin training. Negative consequences don’t work on dolphins, who can just swim away from you if you start yelling. But take away their bucket of fish, and they notice. With dogs, you use treats to motivate the dog and mark the behavior you want with the clicker, which makes a consistent reward. Click-treat. Works great. At least it worked great with my previous dog. Junebug was terrified of the sound of the clicker when I first got her and still isn’t over it.
The thing is, once you figure out how well the technique works on your dog, you start seeing everything in terms of clicking — getting the behavior you want through positive motivation. And, yes, it does work on people. I mean, how well does it work when people yell at you when you do something wrong? Do you feel motivated to do it right the next time? Or are you happier getting rewarded for the things you do right and just having the things you do wrong not get those rewards?
But as easy as it is to letting the click-treat mindset when you’re training a dog cross over into other areas of your life, it’s just distasteful to read an article like this, setting out in the New York Times the idea that men are just there to be shaped and women are manipulative.
But why do I expect better from Sunday Styles?
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