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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Three Years and Counting

Today, April 4th, marks three years of Mark (foster dad) and I officially dating. THREE YEARS. It seems crazy when I think about how long we’ve been together because on one hand it feels like just yesterday we were in college together and on the other it’s hard to really remember what life was like before each other.

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Because we started dating in college, a lot has changed in our relationship. When we first met I honestly didn’t have any clue that this (dogs) was where my life would take me. I hadn’t started interning at the humane society yet so my focus was still on horses through my Animal Sciences degree. We were just two college students totally enjoying the opportunity to spend nearly every waking minute together – I as a junior, he as a sophomore. When I began my senior year, my focus started shifting to working in a non-profit thanks to my heavy involvement in Relay For Life. He was in the business school so he helped me tackle the job search and really think about what I wanted to do after college. I graduated and began working at MCHS, and he stayed behind at Maryland, just thirty minutes up the road.

Our first summer together, August 2010.

Our first summer together, August 2010.

It is often the case that a college student and a young professional have a tough time staying together because they live in two different worlds. Add some foster dogs in there and you’re sure to have a tough situation on your hands. But for some reason, Mark and I were able to stick it out. Despite the fact that he lived in a house with his fraternity brothers and I lived with my parents working 9 – 5, we made time for each other. He graciously accepted each foster dog I brought home, and he and his roommates welcomed them all into their house when they needed to. We both made sacrifices. But Mark knew that helping dogs was something I loved, so despite the fact that it’s pretty much the opposite of anything on a college student’s agenda, he made it work.

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To be honest, Mark’s a huge part of the reason I am the dog advocate and foster parent that I am today. He pushed me to pursue my goals and get involved in things I thought might not work out (I’m a wimp that way – if I’m nervous I’ll be unsuccessful, I’ll often skip out on the opportunity). While it was my idea to start this blog, he was the one that said, “Okay it’s time to start this NOW and stop saying you’ll do it tomorrow.” It was true, I needed the push. And look where it’s come? I remember the exact place we were when I told him I’d finally created Peace, Love & Fostering: on the highway. He was excited, enthusiastic and supportive – just like always.

Our trip to San Diego after I graduated college in 2011.

Our trip to San Diego after I graduated college in 2011.

We’ve grown up together. Fast forward three years from the weeks we started dating and now we’re both working full time, we’re fostering dogs and we’re doing all sorts of other “grown up” things together. I love the partnership we’ve created with Johnnie, and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for us. Love ya, foster dad!

mark4Note from Johnnie: Foster dad is awesome! He loves me, even though I can sort of be a brat puppy sometimes. On that note, want to adopt me? Email peacelovefoster@gmail.com! Xoxo, J Cash.

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A Post from FosterDad – December Edition

Juliana recently had her 1 year anniversary of fostering. Zabora, Baxter, Otis, and the occasional short term visitor have made this past year much different than the first few years we were together. Juliana loved all of the dogs that passed through her door. Some she handpicked, others picked her.

None of them picked me.

Don’t take this the wrong way, because I love dogs and have had a great time helping Juliana take care of these pups, but I never felt connected to these dogs at a deeper level. Juliana would have the first few days with the dog and because of our schedules we wouldn’t have much time to see each other. By the time I was able to interact with the dog, it was as if there were two sides and the dog had already chosen Juliana’s. I honestly never felt included.

And that was mostly my fault.

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This changed when Juliana brought Charlie home for a week. I was able to be around the first days he was in the house, but I was also able to hang out with Charlie alone. We spent a morning together working on his hesitation with basements. We built trust and team work (AKA I gave him a lot of yummy food), and this made it easier for Juliana since I was actively engaged with the dog (not that I completely wasn’t with the others).

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My point is, taking care of a dog is a group effort. From picking out a dog to training a dog everyone needs to be involved. With Christmas coming up here is an important reminder: it can be okay to give a pet as a gift only if you let the receiver pick out which pet to adopt rather than letting it a be a surprise. As much as we love to relish in the excitement of a surprise, an animal should never be a surprise. And after welcoming a new member to the family be sure to involve everyone. It’ll be better for the pet, and better for everyone else.

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Guest Post: “What Fostering Has Taught Me About Dating”

As if you didn’t see this guest post coming from my friend Sarah as she cares for her first foster! She’s sarcastic, funny and a great writer, so I left the topic up to her. Check out what she’s got to say.

Hi all! Sarah, foster mother of Jack, stepping in for a guest blog. As Juliana has mentioned before, not only is this my first time fostering, it’s my first time taking care of a dog period. I grew up in a household obsessed with our cats; they were given complete lay of the land as we watched their little personalities with amusement. I’ve always loved any and all animals (I have a borderline unhealthy obsession with pigs, goats, monkeys, sloths and most of all, sea otters), but specifically have always envisioned myself with both cats and dogs when I moved out of home.

The decision to foster didn’t take much time or hemming and hawing. I knew I wasn’t quite settled enough in my life to adopt a dog and make that 15-year commitment, but I was settled enough to provide a loving temporary home for a little furball who needed it. I live in a clean, big apartment in the very dog-friendly area of Arlington, VA. My apartment building has multiple dog parks around it and even in our lobby there is a bowl of mints for humans and a bowl of dog treats next to it. I work as a journalist, which affords me a reasonably
flexible schedule, including working at home occasionally. With my schedule, living conditions and desire to take care of a little one, fostering was a no-brainer.

My experience with Jack has been interesting so far. I joked with Juliana the other day that fostering has taught me a lot I can apply to my dating life, but it’s surprisingly true. Being single-ish in a big city like Washington DC, you experience a lot and meet many
people. Here are some of the biggest dating/relationship tips fostering has taught me:

Actions don’t always reflect feelings

I fell in love with the little Jack Rabbit the minute I saw him. He’s such a handsome and sweet little guy, it’s impossible not to. It took a few hours for him to warm up to me, but once he did, I was his. He follows on my heels when I walk into another room and will happily jump up and curl his little body next to mine when I sit and watch hours of Law & Order:SVU…errr.. I mean when I’m researching political trends throughout history for my upcoming book.

However, if I had my druthers, I’d want him to be a snuggle monster 24/7 and that just isn’t the case. He likes to have his time to gnaw on his antler or repeatedly break the imaginary neck of his elephant. No matter how much I cajole, sometimes he just isn’t in the mood for the whole cozy thing. In similar situation with human males, I’ve been known to over-analyze, worrying that even though they seemed to like me the day before, this one instance clearly shows their feelings have changed. However, with Jack, I know he still adores me, he just wants his alone time.

Love really does mean letting go if it’s in their best interest

I think the most difficult part of fostering is inherent: you will eventually have to let them go. I came into this knowing that part of the fostermom description, but specifically it’s taught me that, like in relationships, you should cherish every moment with that other half. You never know when it will eventually come to its natural end, and when that time comes, instead of wallowing in the feeling of loss, it’s better to focus on the fact that it’s for their own good.

PATIENCE

You all said it well in your tips you wrote on PL&F’s facebook page. There is an incredible amount of patience needed to take care of and love another living thing. Jack may be wonderful most of the time, but he doesn’t always do what I want him too, nor can I expect him to. I’m not a morning person (not as in I dislike getting up at 7, more along the lines of anytime before noon gets me extremely hostile), however for Jack’s well-being, I need to take him out much earlier than my normal wake up time.

Also being a dog, he doesn’t have as much control over situations, or his body. Can I get upset with him if he pees on my carpet because he’s nervous? Forgiveness is key when paired with patience. I can instruct him to not do so in the future and provide incentive and praise when he uses the bathroom outside, but I can’t get angry. This carries over to dating too. If a guy is wonderful most of the time and screws up once due to things out of his control, there’s no point in getting upset. Even the most wonderful guy, human or furry, sometimes pukes on your carpet, and love is what makes you clean it up at 4 am.