Carrot or Stick – What’s the Best Way to Get Your Livestock to Do Something?

The other day I was talking to a friend who was trying to figure out how to get her kid to quit yelling in the house. One idea was to tell him that if he yelled he would lose Gamebox time. But then, if he started out the day yelling, and he lost his game time, he'd have no reason not to yell the entire rest of the day. So that didn't seem like a good solution. Another idea was to tell him that for every hour he could spend using his "indoor" voice, he'd be given a certain amount of time to play his games. But what to do if he yelled some and used his indoor voice some? This is a problem we've all faced when trying to create a consequence that will get someone or something to do what we want. Trying to decide whether to use something positive (a carrot) or something negative (the stick) can be a little tricky. So let's break it down to see if that helps. Reinforcement Consequences that increase the likelihood of a behavior are reinforcers and they can be either positive or negative. Reinforcement is there to increase the likelihood of a behavior. If you want your kids to clear their dishes from the table after a meal every time, you want to reinforce that behavior by either positive or negative consequences. Those consequences are reinforcers. Creatures seek positive reinforcers. For example, when a hungry animal searches for a nutritious food, or a thirsty animal walks to water, or a hot animal seeks shade, they do so because food, water and shade are positive reinf

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One thought on “Carrot or Stick – What’s the Best Way to Get Your Livestock to Do Something?

  1. I have a long history of doing the wrong thing. I used to try to be gentle when getting a cow into a loading chute, but ended up yelling, running, waving my arms, etc. (To my shame, I occasionally still yell at my helper, but in a whisper, through gritted teeth.)

    Over the last few years, I made a concentrated effort to talk quietly to the cows while I move among them (not exactly a cow whisperer, but I’m learning) and introducing them to new things through repetition of actions with positive consequences, like leading them through the chute (probably frowned upon by safety experts) to some fresh hay in the corral.

    I’m sure lots of people have also given treat to their cattle. Right now, I’m chopping kale plants through the snow and hand-feeding leaves of kale to the animals every day, which they anticipate.

    The last thing that has really helped me is having a helper (Marius) who is calmness personified. He says, “Should I try walking over there?” Or, “I guess we could just let them stand for a minute?” And to the cow (while giving her a gentle push in the chute), “C’mon, girl, it’s not so bad.”

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