Life Lessons Thanks to Dog Training

You had to expect it sooner or later, the deeper-than-dog-training post. I’m sure most people experience this feeling with their passions: the idea that the impact is much more than simply “I get to do something I love.” You learn lessons from your passions and often they translate over to the way you live your life and the person you become.

I’ve never been a super over the top positive person. I’m not a downer by any means, but I’d put myself pretty much in the middle of being a Negative Nancy and being that person you dislike because they’re always chipper. I’m average. Growing up, when it came to animals I found myself in the middle, too. I loved them deeply, but I didn’t exactly have the most patience for their animal-ness sometimes. My horse and I would get into knock-down, drag-out arguments during dressage lessons because I would take personally the fact that she wasn’t doing what I wanted her to. My trainer would actually need to tell me to dismount sometimes. I was emotional and I thought if I just tell her a little bit LOUDER (harsher), maybe she’ll get it!  It makes me cringe now, but the fact of the matter is that is who I was.

How I became so enthralled with positive training after coming from that background still confuses me, but I don’t ask questions. My point in writing about my history of positivity is to show that I was a skeptic at first too. I was not easily won over. What do you mean I cannot correct my animals? After years of wanting to “win,” I finally came to terms with working on the same team as my animals (thanks to many books, seminars, lectures from professionals, etc. – but still). And it has been changing me for the better ever since.

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Aside from just the dogs, positive training continues to impact my every day perspective. The philosophy of “focus on what you like, ignore what you don’t like” has changed my life. It is, after all, basic learning theory – but the transformation you begin to see in your relationships with friends, family, coworkers, etc. is remarkable. All of a sudden you start to notice a shift in their behavior or how you communicate or even the product of your work together.

I appreciate the improvement in my relationships, but it is the growth within myself that I am most thankful for. I think we as humans have a tendency to be so, so hard on ourselves. I didn’t do this right, I forgot to do this, I missed the opportunity for this, my weight changed to this, why didn’t I do this like this, I don’t like this about myself, why couldn’t I have been better at this. Since I’ve learned more about the benefits of focusing on the positive, I have tried my hardest to do away with that kind of talk. I know it sounds hard – impossible, almost – but hear me out.

In the Karen Pryor Academy we do an exercise during the “show and tell” portion of our weekend workshops where everyone writes down three points the student did well, and then we share. They can only be positive – no “you did this well, but….” There are no “buts.” Again, I was skeptical at first – but boy does it begin to change your perspective. Reinforced behaviors get repeated, and by focusing on the behaviors we like from ourselves and others, we are helping them to happen again. Slowly but surely the negative, nasty crap we say to ourselves every day begins to fade away.

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I’m not saying we should eliminate constructive feedback. Obviously, we all need feedback. But delivering it in a way where it won’t negate all the achievements you’ve made is essential. Think about it, that “but” or “however” in the middle of a compliment and feedback can easily eliminate any feeling of accomplishment.

When I find that I’m being too hard on myself, I stop and take the time to give myself some credit. I’m currently doing it every night. What did I do well during the day? What am I happy about? What am I proud of myself for? Not only does it reinforce those behaviors and qualities and therefore make them more likely to happen tomorrow, but it also creates quite the list to look back on when I’m feeling sub-par.

I’ve found that a positive outlook is something I’ve owed myself for a long time, and I’m thankful and lucky that my training career led me this direction. I encourage you to try it sometime today: make a note of an action you took or a trait about yourself that you like.  At the very least you’ll have a moment of pride, or it could turn into a new outlook on the people and situations around you in life.

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11 thoughts on “Life Lessons Thanks to Dog Training

  1. Karen Peer

    First I just want to say look at that face! I in the last few months started using the positive reinforcement on our “foster dog” I use the term loosely as I think she is my dog. She is a pit mixed with something else but very stubborn. She is reactive to other dogs while she is on a leash, not in a aggressive way just very excited. I have been using the treat reward based method and we seem to have turned a corner. Now when she sees another dog she gets excited tail goes up, face gets a little wrinkled but she is looking at me, look at the dog, look back at me. Exactly what I want her to do. The ” I am in control here man handling her only escalates the excitement. Thank you for your posts and your work. I know I can do this thanks to you!

  2. Wonderful. Thank you. I’m reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, the articulate CFO of Facebook. I’m learning to claim what I do well (like start IVs), what I need to do better (diplomacy), and to be thankful every day.

  3. Gorgeous dog, beautiful beed I can not stand the media that made Pitbulls look so aweful. The media needs to stop and educate the people not disrupt the brian. People need to take a good look at this video and open their eyes and see that the American Pitbull can be a wonderful animal.

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