A Positively New Year (pssst, it’s not just for dog training)


Photo by Kevin Lowery | www.kevinlowery.com

Photo by Kevin Lowery | www.kevinlowery.com

Victoria Stilwell has the most awesome fans. You are passionate about animals, care deeply about promoting positive approaches to animal training, and want to make this world a more compassionate place. Take a moment and congratulate yourself (in our culture, it isn’t always easy to follow the positive path.)

Many of my clients (I’m a clinical psychologist) are MAJOR animal lovers. I’ve noticed that many dog owners are willing to do almost anything for their animals. They’ll take them for walks after a long day of work (when eyes can barely stay open.) Feed their animals quality food (even when they themselves live on noodles and soup to save money.) Then there’s all the effort made when training an animal--the accidents to clean off the carpet, the leash walking that can feel like a tug-a-war, the fear that your pet may never “get it.” Animal lovers will put their own needs aside in order to have a happy and healthy pet. Can you see where this blog post might be heading? (Shrink says people will do anything to keep their pets happy, yet, when it comes to themselves, not so much.)

Losing weight, exercising, quitting smoking etc. are pretty common resolutions. I want to invite you to consider an intention for the new year. An intention is about setting a direction and not necessarily a black or white resolution that once you feel like you’ve “blown it”, you just give up ‘till next year.

Of course I can dish out advice and not follow it (I do that all the time.) But, in my experience, I have more credibility when I’m willing to be vulnerable. So, let me tell you about my intention for the year. I find it helpful to choose one guiding word. Mine is (drumroll please)...COMPASSION.

I want to be more compassionate with friends, family, strangers and animals--basically, all living beings. One “being” that easily gets overlooked, however, is MYSELF. I don’t know about you, but if someone talked to me the way I talk to myself they might get punched (wait, not now that I’m trying to be all zen and everything, but I’d probably still think it.) I criticize my aging face, overweight body, mistakes made, lack of discipline and productivity, lessons not yet learned, blah..blah..blah. Yup, I can be my own worst bully. (Oh, and as a mom, if my kids were bullied that way there might be hell to pay---wait, I’m all zen now,right?..whatever.)

If you are reading this blog, I am going to assume that you know that the dominance path isn’t the right one. That, as Victoria often says (as do her t-shirts) “KINDNESS IS POWERFUL.” So here’s my message to all of you--how about you treat yourself with the same compassion you extend to your animals. Think of yourself as an untrained puppy. You need a lot of consistency and repetition to learn new behaviors. Sometimes you might backslide. Yelling, screaming and beating up on yourself will not motivate you to make better choices. Positive reinforcement will.

Here's an idea/challenge: Any time you are reading about positive training (and I find that many of you care so deeply that you spend hours pouring over books, blog posts and videos in order to improve your skills,) take a moment and think about how you might apply these strategies to changes you want to make in your own life. If it helps, remind yourself that humans are animals. You deserve the same compassion you’d give your animal.

I’d love to hear how you take principles from positive training and apply them to living a more positive life. We are all traveling this journey together. Sharing positive experiences inspires and motivates others.

Happy New Year!

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Positively Expert: Paula Bloom

Paula Bloom is a practicing clinical psychologist, frequent guest on CNN networks and has contributed blogs for PBS.org and Huffington Post. Dr. Paula connects with clients, readers and viewers in an engaging, down-to-earth style. She is also a regular guest on the Positively Podcast.


4 thoughts on “A Positively New Year (pssst, it’s not just for dog training)

  1. Ashley O

    Wonderful post! I've recently started reading a few books about changing people's habits the same way we change behavior in dogs (or any animal). The title of the books:Unpredictably Irrational, The Power of Habit, & Blink. One specifically mentions Antecedents, Behavior & Consequences and how they relate to successful advertising campaigns. It's facsinating and familiar at the same time! Thinking of how you treat yourself in a similar mindset of how you would treat a puppy is a fantastic way (with lots of patience & repetition) to take better care of yourself. Better habits will develop with this approach and with those habits, more success in countless other aspects of your life and those around you. Thank you for being compassionate!

  2. Dominika

    Absolutely. I used to be a manager in a restaurant and always followed a kindness is powerful frame of mind with my team. Not many people take me seriously when I talk about the connection between treating dogs and people the same way. I am just a 'minion' now and can't help compare the way the managers treat me now and the way I was/am.

    A little more compassion everyone, please!!! Listen and then react, that helps 🙂

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