Archive | February 2012

How To Uncondition Your Canine Companion

In Psychology we have just learned about conditioned responses.  Basically, a neutral stimulus (like your arrival home) has the potential to cause your dog to have a conditioned response (such as peeing or salivating) if you habitually take your dog for a walk or feed her right after you get home.  I am just learning the vocabulary to describe this phenomenon, but I have understood it for years.

Many people report these conditioned responses as bad behavior.  If you regularly feed your dog at a certain time of the day, she will come to expect food at that time, and act out until she is fed.  If you always take her out the moment you wake up in the morning, she will get anxious waiting and might have an accident.  These behaviors are learned, and so they have the potential to be “un-learned.”

Bad behavior: Peeing when owner first returns home

Don’t act excited when you first greet your dog.  Sometimes the pee is just a submissive response to seeing you as the dominate figure arriving home.  It can also be a response to the fact that you always take your dog outside the moment you return home, and the pee in response to your return is a conditioned response.  You might try ignoring your dog for just the first 5 minutes and THEN take her out.  Then build up to longer times.  If she does not expect to go out the moment you return, the automatic peeing should cease.  The only exception to this is if your dog genuinely NEEDS to pee, which should only be the case if she has been alone too long.  As a general rule of thumb, an adult dog should be able to “hold it” at least 6-8 hours with no issues.  My dog is 5, and she can easily make it through the night (8-9 hours), and she has on many occasions waited 10-12 hours without having an accident.  Much older dogs lose some bladder control, so the “comfortable” window will be different for every dog.  But if you are returning within the window, just let your dog wait it out a few extra minutes to “un-learn” the behavior.

Bad behavior: Begging for food at certain times of the day.

I have friends who keep their dogs on an elaborate feeding schedule.  For example, Jack-the-dog gets breakfast in the morning, a bone at lunch time, dinner at 5pm, and a treat in the evening.  That’s a lot for his owner to manage every day.  And when I see him at the park, he is anxious to go home and get his dinner.  In contrast, my dog gets breakfast whenever I wake up in the morning (it varies), and that’s about it.  She doesn’t always eat all the food in the morning, but generally within 24 hours, it’s all gone.  Basically, she eats when she’s hungry, not on a specific schedule.  This means that there are never times of the day when she is in the kitchen begging for her treat.  I give her treats at random times (not even once per day), so that she never learns to expect them.

The lesson here is that it’s very easy to condition dogs to have “bad behaviors” like begging or peeing indoors.  But it’s also easy to change your behavior towards your dog so that they no longer act that way.  Give your dog lots of love, but stay away from routines that promote neuroses and your and your dog will BOTH be happier.



Two days ago, upon the completion of my second test in Intro Psychology, I was completely inflated with a combination of rage and righteous anger.  Our professor, though disorganized, had made it a point to give us a study guide and practice questions before the first test that were a pretty accurate reflection of what could be expected on the exam.  And when I say accurate, I mean that she gave us the same test questions, verbatim, on the practice and on the graded test.  She did the same thing for the second test, giving us a study guide and practice questions.  HOWEVER, on the second test, there was very little correlation between the practice and the test.  Now, you could argue that she doesn’t owe it to us to give us the exact material on the test before the actual test, but she did condition us to expect that, given her behavior on the first test.  Further, she verbally emphasized that we should ONLY study information mentioned in the study guide, and that if we studied other material, we would be wasting our time.  But on this test, she gave us questions on information NOT MENTIONED on her study guide.  She picked out, it seemed, that most obscure facts and theories for the test, rather than selecting material we covered more thoroughly.  I was sure I missed points all over the place, particularly in the multiple choice section.  I was worried

But when she returned the tests today and I received a 96%, I felt completely deflated.  I feel like my high pass was a product of luck  (guessing on multiple choice), intuition (I’m a naturally good test-taker), prior knowledge (much of this class is, after all, common sense), and osmosis (a joke, by which I mean that I absorbed some information unconsciously by reading it once, as opposed to thoroughly studying it).  I still feel like the test was unfair, and that she set us up to fail by her shift in expectations from the first to the second test.  But I feel like my right to complain has been taken away, because I miraculously performed well.  Had I gotten a C or below, I could somehow “prove” that the test was flawed.

That’s why I feel deflated…  I am frustrated because test expectations are now completely unclear to me.  Another specific instance angered me.  She has a bonus question on a motivation theory that some people claimed wasn’t covered in class.  To prove a point, she brought up the PowerPoint slide where it was covered.  I do consent that she talked about it briefly, but I spoke up with the comment that she “hadn’t talked about it extensively.”  To this, she responded by practically chewing my head off, insisting that this was a critical theory in Psychology, and of COURSE she emphasized it.  But a quick survey of the other students in class confirms that none of us picked up on that point.  Whether or not is important, it is clear to me that she did NOT point that out to us.  But she’s so sure that she’s right, it’s pointless to argue with her.  Only ONE person in a 40 person class answered the question correctly: doesn’t that say something?

This class and this professor are completely opposite from my Biology class, which is highly organized and has clear objectives and expectations.  My biology professor is always willing to address questions, see new perspectives, and tell us how to correctly prepare for tests.  What has really become clear to me is that my mind works in such a orderly and logical way that I can’t follow the “soft science” format.  What I am learning from this Psychology course, I am only learning because I approach it systematically and scientifically, despite the way she teaches.  Here’s hoping the majority of the Nursing degree is taught from a scientific perspective, rather than from a social perspective.

The Pursuit of Free

This afternoon I got a free movie promo code from RedBox, and because I wasn’t busy with anything else at the moment, I decided to just go and pick up my movie while there was still a good selection. However, I implemented one little twist.  The weather was lovely again today, and I didn’t have time to get a full run in, so I decided to bike there!

I embarked on my journey after pumping air into my bike’s poor deflated tires.  There’s a RedBox less than half a mile from me, so I figured it would be quite a quick trip.  However, the RedBox at that gas station wasn’t working properly, and when I called and reported it to customer service, their only immediate advice was to go to another RedBox location.

Fortunately, there’s another one at a grocery store less than 2 miles further down the road, so my bike journey was extended just a bit.  The road itself is fairly busy, and the one major downside is that there’s not a good way to bike back other than on the sidewalk, which is technically not allowed.  Lots of people bike on the sidewalk, myself included, I just try to avoid it when I can.

Anyway, with the beautiful day to keep me company it was no sweat to bike down to the grocery store, where the movie I originally wanted was still available!  And my promo code still worked!  So I was successful in my venture, and returned home safely within just a few minutes.

I do love a free movie, even if the actual cash value of the freebie is less than $2.  But what I loved more about the journey was the freedom of riding my bike.  It may not be far, but this is the first time I have made the obvious choice between bike and car and chosen to bike on my errand.  I hope this is the start of a trend for me!  I’m just loving that in February it’s warm enough to bike 4 miles in a tee shirt.

This entry was supposed to have more of a moral…or be funnier…but this is what I’ve got for now!  Off to take the puppy to the park and keep enjoying the wonderful weather 🙂

The “Does Not Care” Gene

Admittedly genetics probably has very little to do with attitude, but I wanted a provocative title for this interesting thought experiment on which I’m about to embark.

What is it about the majority of young people that makes them care very little about formal education?  I still consider myself a young person, so I am speaking about my generational peers, though I am older than most of them.  I am defining ‘formal education’ as classroom instruction in basic topics like biology.  I’d like to look at a few possible factors that may explain the high level of apathy I have observed in students.

Of course, I am going to start by generalizing, with the caveat that not all students are apathetic.  However, from what I have observed in my community college courses, and what my high-school-teacher friends tell me on a regular basis, the overwhelming majority of students demonstrate very little effort or concern in the realm of of academics.  There may be several reasons why this is happening, and it may be completely different for different individuals, but this trend is widespread enough to warrant exploration.

Let me start on the opposite spectrum, with a personal anecdote.  I excelled academically in high school, and then transitioned immediately into a high-caliber college.  As a result, I was regularly surrounded by like-minded students who also sought to achieve their full potential.  It never occurred to me to toss education aside like it didn’t matter, which I realize places me very much in the minority.  It was only as I returned to school (for a career change) that I realized how the “typical” student acts in an academic setting.

First and foremost, most students do not understand academic concepts right away.  From what I have seen, there are two main responses to this lack of understanding; the student either brushes off the knowledge as irrelevant and moves on, or the student becomes frustrated at his lack of understanding and gets overwhelmed.  The number of times I’ve heard a student mutter, “When am I ever going to use this?” really makes me wonder about the disconnect between formal education and real world experiences.  But I’ll get back to that.

What I don’t see typical students do is approach complicated concepts from a “can-do” perspective.  I don’t see them study the material until they understand.  I don’t see those students ask the instructor to explain the concept in a different way.  I don’t see them try to approach the material from an alternative perspective in order to gain a new level of understanding.  The concepts within formal education may not be directly applicable to every day life, but the practice of LEARNING is really the main goal.  And how are you, as a member of your community, going to approach real-world problems if you don’t know how to think, research, and learn new things?  In real life, there is no instructor to clarify a difficult concept; as a student of life, you must rely on your own knowledge base, your peers, the opinion of paid professionals (who probably excelled in school), or your ability to reason and research.  You can expand your knowledge and your skill set by working diligently in a formal education setting.

Why don’t typical students feel empowered to learn?  If they feel inept in a certain subject, why do they respond by thinking of that as an insurmountable barrier to their progress in that subject.  Some students are positive that they are bad a math.  Well, you know what, I am bad at playing the trombone, but if I practiced diligently, I would certainly improve.  No one is born with inherent math skills, but some are exposed to math from a young age.  The biggest concession I will make to struggling students is that they could be “behind” in subjects like math, but that doesn’t mean they are incapable of gaining the knowledge they need to succeed.  But how do you motivate students to work towards self-improvement in formal education settings?

I think what students these days lack is an understand that all knowledge has value, and all knowledge empowers you to make informed decisions in life.  Not only that, but education has a unifying value across all disciplines of teaching you how to learn.  My mother instilled in me the understanding that a 4-year post secondary “liberal arts education” was the most valuable thing I could do, because it would make me a well-rounded person who knew how to think.  Now that I am back in school specifically for Nursing, I realize just how right she was.  Unlike many of my classmates, I am absorbing the knowledge presented, making connections to reality, and actually enjoying the experience.  But even when I was learning more abstract things during my 4-year college experience, I still found ways to be engaged.

There are certainly social factors that influence a student’s lack of concern about formal education.  Doing well in school is not the “cool” thing to do, nor is it always the most fun.  As an example, I have already been teased by my community college classmates for being “too smart” in class.  But I really don’t think it’s my level of knowledge or intelligence that intimidates them; it’s my high level of engagement in class that truly sets me apart.

While my peers do not lack the basic knowledge or cognitive ability to do well in class, the certainly do lack the motivation to excel.  Do they not understand that hard work in school can pay off?  Not only can it lead to a lucrative career, but it also leads to a more informed life.  Who looks around one day and decides, “I would rather earn less money, have a harder life, and know as little as possible about the world around me?”  I’m not trying to say that the final grade in any one formal education class will dictate a student’s future success, but the general level of apathy that most students demonstrate will certainly lead to a life that is below that student’s potential.

I just think it’s so important to expose yourself to new concepts with an open mind; whether that means new music, new political ideologies, or new concepts in biology, what is the harm in learning more?  You may be learning more than you think you need to know, and you may forget some of what you’ve learned over time, but all knowledge builds on itself.  And how do you know what might be beneficial to you in the future?  (Hint: You don’t know what the future holds, so it is helpful to prepare yourself as fully as possible with a wide base of knowledge from a formal education.)

If you wish to be an active member of society, it is important to be educated about the world, and because the world is always changing, it is important to learn HOW TO LEARN.  Every formal education class that I have ever had from English Literature to US History to Biology has taught me a little bit more about the world, helped me make connections across disciplines, and most importantly, has taught me about the many different avenues I can employ to continue my education for the rest of my life.

Most people only spend the first 20 years of their lives in formal education, and that’s supposed to last for a lifetime of 70-90 years!  Every student should be making the most of that time so that their formal education can contribute to their success as an adult.

Progress in Spurts

I feel like I can never really focus on a personal improvement project without letting other areas of my life lapse.  I’ve been searching for a good rhythm at school, but then forget to keep the house clean.  Then when I get down to brass tacks with the house, I look up and realize a week has gone by without my working out once.  My current schedule with school and working out does NOT jive, and I need to figure out a way around that.  And my housekeeping is likely to become less cumbersome once I play catch-up from the past several months.

Still, it strikes me that I lack the focus to tackle more than one big project at once.  And I wonder if it’s just that I’m trying to make lifestyle changes too quickly, or if I’m missing some key component that would make my strategy a success.  Oh, I forgot to include my social life in the above list.  There are some weeks when I prioritize time with friends, and then there are weeks like this one where I hardly see any friends.  Well, that’s not entirely true, but I did choose to be alone much more than I sought out the company of others.  This was a school/organizing week.  The week before was more of an exercise/social week.  This upcoming week is likely to be an organizing/exercise week.

I spent most of today reorganizing my office space.  I’m not 100% done, but I’ve made noticeable progress.  I started this project in earnest last summer, but I haven’t really made any more forward motion since then.  The ultimate goal is for the office to no longer look like an attic.  I also need to resolve that same problem in my bedroom, to a lesser degree.

I blame this “attic” status on the fact that I live in a 2-bedroom house with no roommate, so it is far to easy to put my disorganization “out of sight, out of mind” by spending time in other rooms.  I barely spent any time in this office before I got the desktop computer, and now I spent a great deal of time here.  I also deposit dishes in the kitchen, where the spend the majority of the week before they get washed.  I do a pretty good job keeping the living room and dining room clean, but my guest bedroom is starting to fall prey to the “attic” effect.  I’m having a house guest in just a few weeks, though, and I’ve got enough cleaning work to keep me busy until then, so I’m trying to get a jump on things.  I generally only clean when I have a reason like a guest or a party to inspire me.

So, I should probably get off of WordPress and get back to the evening’s cleaning project.  I’m going to try and eliminate some of the desk clutter and scan in some more paperwork.  Wish me luck!



Do you remember all those friends you have had in the past – specifically the connections that have been severed, mostly due to time an a lack of communication?  Well, it’s never to late to welcome them back into your life.  I am completely reeling because I just spent over an hour talking to someone I haven’t spoken to in 5+ years, and haven’t seen in almost 10 years.  Now, that doesn’t sound like a ridiculous amount of time, but I’m not even 25, so it’s a significant portion of my whole life, and the majority of my adult life.  This is a person with whom I was once very, very close.  Out of the blue, we reconnected on facebook and it feels like a breath of fresh air to talk again.  All of this is possible because of the interconnectedness of the internet.  And yet, though I am “connected” to over 900 facebook friends, I talk to most of them rarely.  Why bother being so connected if there’s no reward?  Is it really that important to me to have a large audience for my status posts?  Because I have to answer no to that second question, there must be a more important reason for staying “connected” to so many former friends.

So my advice is to take a moment and reconnect with a long-lost friend.  You’ll probably be surprised by how positive the interaction can be.  But here are some tips to make that conversation go as well as it can.

1) Acknowledge that you knew a past-version of your friend, and will need to get acquainted with the current-version.

2) Don’t be afraid to mention things you saw on his/her facebook profile.  If it’s on there, that means it’s public enough that he/she shouldn’t be uncomfortable that you know.  This may spark more in-depth conversation.  It’s certainly better than pretending you don’t know when you clearly know already.

3) Try to pick up where you left off.  You’ll have to fill in the gaps, but don’t forget that you have at least some sort of history in common with him/her.

4) Pay attention to social cues and timing.  If the conversation is lagging, you might end it early.  If the conversation is really picking up, try not to be ADHD and click over to another screen.  I’ve been in too many online chats where the other person completely forgot they were talking to me, and I always perceive it as rudeness.  But I sometimes do it, too, so this is very much a “note to self.”

5) Prepare for it to be awkward.  There was probably some sort of reason you stopped talking to this person.  If it was a bad event or a fight, the chances are that it doesn’t matter anymore and has faded away in retrospect.  Try to embrace the awkward and just roll with it.  It can still be a fun conversation.

6) Don’t let this be the end, again.  I decided to end my recent reconnect with, “Should we exchange phone numbers?  Would that be too weird?”  And though we exchanged numbers, we made no specific promise to talk or text regularly.

7) Don’t expect things to be just like they were.  I will need to get to know this friend of mine all over again, despite the fact that we have some past things in common.  But so much time has passed that things just can’t be quite the same.  For one, we are both older, and for another, so much has happened in each of our lives that the other doesn’t know about.

8) Take it one step at a time.  But do take the first step.  I just did, and I have high hopes that it will turn out well.

Here’s to new-old friendships!  It’s not quite a cliche as reconnecting at a high school reunion, but it’s close.  And it’s within your reach, through the power of the internet.  Now, go reconnect with a former friend!  If it’s awesome, you’re welcome; if it sucks, don’t blame me.

When Life takes a U-Turn

As great as life has been, as much as it had been tending towards “peaceful” and “normal,” all of that changed last week.  My grandfather, who had been recovering from a stroke, passed away last Tuesday.  He was a wonderful man who had made it through 90 years with no bad health of any consequence.  And yet within one month of his stroke, he was gone.  I was lucky enough to go see him twice in that month, most recently the weekend before he died.  He was such a special person in my life; because I grew up with a single mom, he was the closest thing in my life to a father.

It may be confusing to some people, but when I talk about his widow, I don’t actually mean my maternal grandmother.  My grandmother passed away in the spring of 2009, and my grandfather was remarried later that year to his also-widowed former next-door-neighbor.  I’ve also known her all my life, so it was a very natural thing for me when they were married.  I love her like a second grandmother.  (Don’t forget, most people do have two sets, but because I never met my father and his family, I grew up with just one.)

So this weekend, I was back in my hometown for his memorial service.  He was cremated and his remains stored in First Presbyterian’s memorial wall.  Because he was so near and dear to me, and because I had the presence of mind to offer (unlike when my mom died and I was completely beside myself), I said a few words at his service.  Nearly everyone who stopped by after to greet the family told me I paid him a nice tribute.  Thankfully I held it together enough to be understood, but there sure were a LOT of tears and sobs.

I know life will get back to normal again, but this sure has been a tough couple of years.  Since 2009, I have not-so-gradually transitioned from a naive college student, completely surrounded by a blanket of familial love and support, to a wary young adult living completely independently.  I know all people die, and thus all people eventually lose their loved ones, but it seems unfair that this happened to me so soon, and all at once.  At least I am lucky to have my new grandmother and her two daughters as my family, but because I have only known them well over the past two years, it will be a slightly different relationship.  They really are in-laws, just family that hasn’t known you your whole life.

Anyway, that explains the silence over the past week, and the fact that I am more somber than usual.  Also, Saturday was the one year anniversary of my mom’s death, so it really all came down on me at once.  But I am picking up and going back to classes and my normal routine as much as I can.

PS: This is apparently my 90th post on the blog.  My grandfather was 90 when he died.  I did not plan this, but it’s kind of a nifty coincidence.