Maxine Weber, volunteer and guest blogger, shares her thoughtful and often humorous observations from inside the WDC.
If left to his own devices, my teenage son would spend hours in front of his computer, playing Minecraft or some other online game. Last Saturday was a beautiful day, the perfect day for a mother-son outing. No amount of cajoling will coax him outside, I know that much by now. There is only one surefire thing that can lure him away from the siren call of the computer – sushi.
So, with the promise of a sushi lunch, my son exited the house and we set off for the short walk to our neighborhood Japanese restaurant. He was in a fairly good mood, visions of salmon rolls dancing in his head. We walked for several minutes in peaceful silence and then my mistake – I dared to engage him in conversation. The mother asks a question, the son mumbles an answer. “What did you say?” I asked him, “I couldn’t hear you.”
“Mom! That’s it. I’m going home” and he turned around to stomp off in the direction of home. My hope for a happy lunch with my son now faded with each step. I was racking my brain for a response that would not make the situation worse… we were one short block from the restaurant, how could he go now?
In a fit of desperation, I had a small flash of inspiration – I would try one of the techniques that the trainers use when the dogs misbehave. When a dog jumps up on a trainer at the Center, the trainers turn their back on the dog, standing still as wooden soldiers and refuse to make eye contact or acknowledge the jumping dog. And then they wait it out. “Any type of engagement”, I remember Trainer Danielle saying, “can reinforce the bad behavior.”
And so, as my son stomped off, yelling, “I’m going home now”, I turned away from him, avoiding eye contact, arms at my side and just stood there, not engaging him in any way. I…just…stood…there…and…waited. 5 seconds, 10 seconds, 15 seconds and then, (miraculously) he reappeared at my side! “I think I’m ready for some sushi”, I said and he nodded, as if nothing had happened. (I resisted the urge to pat his head and tell him he was a good boy.) We continued the rest of the way to the restaurant.
And that is how I used the dog training I learned at the Center on my teenage son. And how we both had a happy sushi lunch, thanks to Danielle.
Photo of volunteer Scott employing “turn away” technique.