I have a favorite essay that doesn’t get talked about much, but which I think is very timely as we enter the season of giving. “Creating a Culture of Abundance” is part of a collection titled On My Mind, Reflections on Animal Behavior and Learning published by the much-beloved Karen Pryor. The book was published in 2014, and is not well known.  The essay I am referring to is a short two-page essay in which Pryor tells us of her friend Lynn who is a social worker. Lynn had started a program with her client families, most of whom were at risk for child abuse. In the program, the families trained shelter dogs once a week.  Lynn kept a big jar of candy on the table in the training room.  It was, of course, intended for the people to use with each other.  While they worked through their dog training projects, they were encouraged by the staff to reinforce each other with candy. The staff would also walk around and reinforce behaviors. Lynn is quoted as saying, “That big bowl of candy on the table is obviously more than we need, far more than we are going to use. There is plenty. There is more than plenty. That bowl in the room creates a climate where it is alright to be generous.”

Pryor goes on to say that stinginess is the enemy of clicker training. This has always stuck with me. In our culture where we are working to save more and spend less, and people talk about downsizing and minimalism, I often have to work very hard to get my clients to be generous with their dogs.  So as we are in the season of giving, I challenge you to give more to your dog.  Find all the moments they are doing something right and tell them with a click and a cookie even if they just walk by something and don’t jump up or put their paws on the table. Don’t take that choice for granted; pay for it. Be freehanded and generous with the reinforcers.  Create a climate of abundance for your dogs.  This does not mean cow ears and bones every night, although I’m sure your dog would love that too.  I mean chop the hot dogs even smaller and give “twice” as many cookies.  Create the culture. Give three pieces of hot dog where you would have given just one.  You can hold back that last bite of meat on your plate and give it later that night for an awesome recall.  Share and share alike.  Pryor reminds us at the end of the essay that like most things in dog training, we must also move this personal growth into our real lives. So give abundantly! To yourselves and your friends. Maybe this year you spend half as much on each gift and give twice as many.  Or give the gift of time with someone — a long, generous afternoon coffee with someone you care about. They will feel loved, and you will have spent the same amount of money on that cup of coffee as if it was a five-minute coffee with them. And don’t forget to be generous with yourself!  Let yourself take a nap instead of stressing about the holidays.  Create a culture of abundance and generosity with your dog, your friends, and yourself.

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