An old Cherokee told his grandson, “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy and truth.”
The boy thought about it, and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”
The old man quietly replied, “The one you feed.”
This is one of my favorite stories. I’ve heard many variations, but they are all roughly the same. To me this is not only a story about personal growth, but an easy way to understand learning theory as well. You always get the behavior you reinforce; the wolf you feed.
In any behavior you can focus your attention on one of two aspects; the one you want, and the one you don’t. You want your dog to greet people by sitting politely, you don’t want him to jump 6 feet in the air and body slam them into the wall. You can attempt to kill the bad wolf by yelling, hitting your dog, locking him away from guests, or by any other means that suit you. Or you can simply feed the good wolf, giving treats and affection while your dog sits calmly, and it will extinguish the bad wolf all by itself.
Both these methods will usually work. Often times punishment leads to a dog who is frightened by guests, or it isn’t harsh enough to work and the dog persists to be more physical with guests until he is removed from the area. Feeding your good wolf in this situation will always work better, and often quicker, but it takes patience and peacefulness from you to work. It’s usually the human that fails at this; they can’t hold their temper or frustration and resort to punishment. Thus working to feed your dog’s inner good wolf feeds yours too; and visa versa as people who instead focus on their dogs bad behavior often end up feeding the wrong wolf in themselves; becoming tense, harsh, irritable, and angry.
But really training any behavior is so simple that it’s laughable when you look at it from the base perspective, feed the behavior you want and let the other one starve. You can feed it with affection, excitement, a game, or even food. In alpacas you can feed the behavior of coming toward you, and they will stop running away. Feed the dog for sitting politely by the door, or for walking nicely on the leash. Feed you horse’s good behavior of being easy to catch, or standing well at the mounting block. It’s a cumulative effect of many soft touches, butt scratches, cookies, and Frisbee games to build your perfect animal companion; and in the meantime this feeds your inner good wolf, your compassion, kindness, empathy, patience, calmness and love. In the end you and your animals will grow from each other.