The Many Gifts of Sharing Your Home with a Dog

pack-leader-mentalityRecently I met a young nutritionist. She told me that as well as giving people information about what to eat, a major part of her job is encouraging them to identify the road blocks to behavior change that have stopped them losing weight in the past. These people have failed a lot and become afraid of trying. She coaches them to make little changes at their own pace.

I started wondering whether to retrain as a nutritionist ... (Seriously, I did think about it!) Coaching people is what I want to do, however, my pathway to it is dog training, rather than weight loss, and it’s a much harder sell. Pet parents often don’t  realize that effective dog training can be very hard work, and that behavior change in their dog will only come after behavior change in themselves. I think perhaps that because so many people have dogs, people think having one is meant to be easy. Doing anything well isn’t usually easy.

Committing to a dog, learning about that animal, developing a shared language, taking the time to train, exercise and socialize the dog and provide an interesting, enriched life for him/ her takes time and energy, yet provides a way to learn many valuable life skills which can be used anywhere and everywhere. That’s why many people want to get dog care and training into prisons. It can be life changing if people see it and use it that way.

Here are some skills that mindful pet parenting can help you develop and practice:

1. Seeing and appreciating the dog as a living, breathing creature with needs somewhat the same, but also perhaps quite different from your needs, requires empathy and a shift in perspective.

2. Training requires development of a language of clear communication. Until this is established, training can be messy and discouraging.

3. You’ll need to be observant and learn to accurately interpret what your dog is trying to tell you. After all, communication should be a two way street.

4. Patience and perseverance is required to establish that shared communication, and to persist through difficulties.

5. Researching dog body language, and learning to analyze and problem solve behavior and training issues will build your understanding, focus, engagement and sense of purpose.

6. Organizational skills help you to set up the pup’s living quarters, puppy proof your home and consistently set aside time to train, care for, bond with and socialize the pup.

7. You’ll need your sense of humor when you forget to put your shoes up high and they get chewed beyond recognition.

8. You’ll benefit from being open minded and willing to experiment as you learn about your dog, develop your training skills and discover the most effective practices.

9. You’ll need to train and socialize your pup regularly and consistently. That takes goal setting and prioritizing.

10. You’ll need humility as you fail repeatedly and realize your training skills are rusty, or not yet honed well enough to work effectively with this dog.

11. You’ll need strong resolve to set limits and stand firm, while reminding yourself that the pup will be able to safely enjoy more freedom as his/ her training continues.

12. You can develop self awareness of your emotional triggers (frustration) and the self control to quit training while things are going well or as soon as they aren’t (before you explode!)

13. You can feel empowered as you see small successes and realize that doing little things every day (even including mistakes) is slowly and steadily training and socializing your puppy.

14. You can remind yourself that beginners make mistakes. The trick is to learn from them. Lighten up on yourself, think about the learning and try again. Do the same for your dog.

15. You’ll develop enthusiasm and trust in your learner, who will feel safe enough to experiment too. That’s very encouraging for any teacher!

16. You can learn to be kind to yourself and your dog, and keep your eyes on the goal. As long as you are on the way there, every tiny step counts.

Do I need to continue?

Remember the product (outcome) of training and socialisation is the dog's behavior. The process is where the learning happens - for you and the dog. Make the most of it and help your dog to make the most of it too. He/ she will be learning from you and about you. This is where the relationship will be built. Be dedicated and strive to improve. Perfection isn't necessary (or even possible!)

This is in your hands. You can begin the change now, and you needn’t go it alone. There are any number of dog trainers, friends, family members, employers, teachers, coaches etc who would love to support you in your journey if only they knew what you were trying to achieve. Who knows, maybe you will inspire them to see pet parenting in a different, more valuable light too.

Good luck!

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Positively Expert: Diana Bird

Diana lives in NZ. She is intensely interested in behaviour, teaching, learning, and self development. She strives to generalise positive reinforcement ideas to her life and relationships with other people.


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