People ask me all the time about my career as a dog trainer; “You are so lucky that you get to play with puppies all day!” “You get to be outside and around animals? How amazing!” “You must meet so many adorable dogs!” Yes, I am lucky, VERY lucky. Being outside in the California sun is the best office in the world and my phone is FULL of pictures of adorable dogs. But this career has taught me so much more then how to train a pup to behave. It goes deeper then that. It has taught me how to be a better person and how to better the world around me.
Most of the issues I see between dogs and owners are a simple case of miscommunication. The dog is trying to say one thing; the owner is hearing another, and visa versa. Most dogs aren’t trying to be “bad”, neither is our boss, friend, or partner. Everyone is dealing with their own reality and reacting in the way they think is best. Very little that is done to us is personal. The dog didn’t destroy the your favorite chair because he was mad or getting even but because he was scared, anxious and nervous. The person who cut you off in traffic isn’t trying to be rude, his wife was just diagnosed with cancer and he is rushing to be by her side or someone cut him off earlier in the day and he is still carrying that anger. It’s NOT personal. Thus, the first step in changing any behavior is learning how to have compassion and understanding for the dog or person and why s/he is acting the way s/he is; how to come from a place of forgiveness and understanding verse anger and condemnation. “Wow, my dog must have been really upset to destroy my chair”, “The guy who just cut me off must be having a horrible day. I hope he is ok.” Once we come from a place of compassion, then we can fix the issue. By learning how to be compassionate to our dog we learn how to be compassionate towards the world.
The other powerful lesson I learned is to recognize the good in all of us. We are too quick in all areas of our life to point out when the animals and people around us are wrong. When our dog doesn’t do what is told, when he jumps on a stranger, when dishes are left in the sink, the doctor is late, our coffee is cold. But how often do we really tell those around us when they are doing right? In almost every lesson I have to remind people to PRAISE their dog, I hardly ever have to remind them to say No. Think about it, when is the last time you really thanked someone for doing what he/she were suppose to? Truly thanked your waitress for being attentive? Thanked your doctor for being on time? Or praised your dog when he didn’t bark at the dog walking by the front window? None of us do it as much as we should. But if you start to praise and acknowledge those around you when they are doing right, instead of getting mad when they are wrong, you will be SHOCKED at how your perspective of the world shifts and how all of the habits of those around us that we find troublesome just start to fade away.
Finally, learning the true value of forgiveness has changed my life. And by forgiveness, I mean true, from the bottom of your heart, forgiveness not just the empty words of “I forgive you”. To be successful at training dogs, I had to learn to forgive. If I hung onto resentment or frustration, even for a few seconds, because the dog wasn’t listening or didn’t perform a behavior, then I wasn’t coming from the balanced place I needed to be when I asked the dog to try again. The dog, in turn, felt my frustration, which only made the situation worse. The same thing was happening in my personal relationships. I would disagree with my partner, than when we made up, I would tell him I forgave him but I would still harbored hurt feelings. The next time we had a disagreement, that hurt, no matter how minor, would come out again and again and again and would prevent either of us from moving forward from something that happened months ago. Yet, when I truly learned to forgive (dogs and people) and move on, I was amazed at the depth of the relationships that grew around me and of the happiness and peace that I found from the people in my life. I make mistakes. You make mistakes. Our dogs make mistakes. It doesn’t make us bad. It doesn’t make them bad. It is simply a mistake. Forgive and move on. Your dog will thank you and so will the other people in your life.