I just got the world’s most adorable puppy, and since he is destined to be big (and I mean “giant,” because he is a St. Bernard-Rotweiller mix with, at 8-weeks-old paws as large as my hands), I figure I better start training him now. As I read article after article on dog training, the funny part is the realization that I am the one being trained. The dog is just “following my lead.” Literally. As I change my behavior, he changes his.
I can’t help but think that people follow our lead, too—for everything from how to treat us, to how to live with us, to how to love us. Wouldn’t the same dog training logic—changing what we do to illicit a certain response—do wonders when we are raising children or establishing a relationship?
First of all, dogs need to know what is expected of them and we, as “owners,” need to be consistent. Isn’t that true of people too? This is not as simple as it sounds. In order to let others know what we want, we have to know ourselves. Last night, I laid down on the floor to play with the puppy and he climbed on top of me—which is exactly what I wanted him to do; it was adorable. That is until I fast-forwarded in my mind to his destined-to-be-150-plus-pound body and realized immediately that I had just let him be “top dog.” Someday, that would surely come back to haunt me if I didn’t stop immediately. The dog was not “wrong” for climbing on top of me, I was wrong for letting him. I was, essentially, “training” him (poorly) with my behavior.
When we are confused, inconsistent or misguided ourselves, we confuse or misguide others (canine and human) who are looking to us for direction. It was a bit of a rude awakening when I realized that I had “trained” my husband in exactly the same misguided manner. I inadvertently communicated to him that he didn’t have to do dishes by jumping up to get them from him every time he went to take them to the sink. After he heard me say, “Oh let me get those,” 100 times as I took them off his hands, he was officially trained by me that I am the household dishwasher. He probably even thought that I wanted it that way due to my insistence. (This is really “funny” when you hear yourself blame your spouse for something that in reality you were responsible for creating—sigh.)
In my reading I also discovered that dogs feel insecure when they don’t know what is expected of them. They want to know the rules. Apparently, any lack of consistency and guidance from me could cause my adorable little puppy to have anxiety and stress. The same is true with the people in our lives. Our own clarity, consistency and confidence actually relieve stress in those wishing to be in a relationship with us. The clearer we are, the easier it is for them to love us—and be loved by us.
To me, it represented my own growth in asserting how I expected to be treated when I was clear with the pup that biting me was not okay. I know for sure that a couple of years ago I would have just let him bite me to pieces thinking he was just “playing.” I have had to learn to assert the same boundaries in some of my personal relationships with people, too.
The funny thing here is it isn’t so much what I say as what I do that communicates my expectations to the pup. Isn’t it true that we find myriad ways to communicate to people what we will tolerate that speak even louder than our words? People—and dogs—only treat us the way we allow them to. The clearer our boundaries are about what is okay with us, the more respectful and responsive they are.
Intellectual Foreplay Question of the Week:
How are you training the people in your life to treat you?
Love Tip of the Week:
How you behave determines how others behave toward you. Big love requires big responsibility—to learn to behave so that others will, too.
Eve Hogan, author of How to Love Your Marriage, Intellectual Foreplay, Virtual Foreplay, and Way of the Winding Path, is also the proprietor of The Sacred Garden, a nursery and healing sanctuary in Makawao. It is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For coaching or speaking events, call (808) 573-7700. Website: www.EveHogan.com Blog: www.AskEveAdvice.com. Send questions to AskEveAdvice@aol.com.