Preface by Allen Trottier
I recently had the pleasure of meeting up with Doug and his lovely wife, Johanne, in Ajijic, Mexico. We happened to be doing housesits in the same area.
Doug, Johanne and I have had an online relationship within some of the housesitting circles where they have generously referred housesits to me that they were unable to do themselves.
This is a great article about some of the life lessons Doug has learned while recently taking Dog Obedience Training classes. The story was originally posted on their website – Joyful Travellers.
As anyone who has been to Obedience Training knows – it is not about the dog!
Training the dog is just the topic – the dog owner is the actual student.
Recently I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with a dog trainer and learn how to better manage a dog. In the process, I also learned more about myself and how to be a better human. I came away with 4 life lessons that can be as effective in everyday interactions with people as they are with pets.
It was challenging, all that required concentration. It was however very rewarding and I am most grateful the experience gained.
My partner and side-kick in the endeavour was a rowdy white Shepherd pup named Tazz. My guru on the path to enlightened animal handling was Galo.
Tazz wants to be a good dog she just has a lot of fun puppy energy. However, a lack of focus and a streak of anxiety are 2 hurdles to learning for Tazz.
Galo is a very experienced animal trainer; much like a Zen master/dog whisper kind of guy. I wanted to call him Yoda.
Classes were at 8 AM three days a week, and man did I have lots to learn about the interaction between human and dog.
On Day One I strutted into class and when Tazz wouldn’t obey I immediately raised my voice. “Tazz Sit! Tazz SIT!! Galo, the master, taps me on the shoulder and softly said: “do you think the dog cannot hear you”?
OK so let the learning begin:
Lesson 1: Sensitivity
Dogs, like humans, primarily receive their input from non- verbal communication. Remember the theory we learned about communication being 80% physical and 20% verbal? For a dog, this rule applies but tenfold. Despite what some dog owners think, dogs don’t speak our language (and they don’t speak Spanish or French either). They are however very astute at reading our movements and physical subtleties.
A gentle voice and a soft hand on the leash go a long way in getting the results that are desired. Raising my voice actually caused more anxiety for the dog and my own frustration level to soar.
After observing Galo for some time, it dawned on me that the dog is taking it clues from his body language and responding in a purely physical way. Hmmm, sounds like a life lesson to me. Can I do a better job of paying attention to how people communicate? I think so. Not just being a better listener but also being tuned to what people are communicating with their body language. Sensitive Guy, here we come!!
Lesson 2: Forgiveness (a divine attribute)
Oh, this is a biggie!! Have you ever noticed that your dog will be just a thrilled to greet you whether you have been on an extended trip to Europe or just out to the corner store? It is widely believed that dogs have little sense of elapsed time.
So being angry and scolding your dog for chewing your slippers while you were out is just a waste of breath. They have no idea why you are angry.
For learning to occur, you can only correct or reward your pet for their most recent action. No point in holding a grudge, the dog doesn’t get it. Most likely the humans that you are still angry with don’t get it either. They have long forgotten about your chewed up slippers. Best let it go.
If we pay attention, our pets can teach us this divine attribute. What if we were able to forgive all of our enemies for their previous misdeeds, could World Peace be achieved?
Lesson 3: Patience
Week 2 Galo asked me “how easy do you think it is for a dog to learn to heel”? Like an idiot, I said, “it should be very easy”. “Really? Follow me”.
With me heeling at his side and trying to follow his lead, Galo quickly demonstrated the need for patience. I soon realized just how difficult it was to stop when he stopped, turn when he turned, back up when he did. (If you want to feel really foolish try this role-play at home. You be the dog).
Maybe I could practice being a tad more patient with the people near to me? Certainly, I need to be more patient with Tazz.
Poco a poco.
Lesson 4: Observation
What will send this dog into a barking frenzy next? Well, that C.A.T. racing into the alley certainly will.
Once Tazz has seen the cat, squirrel, dove, etc., the likelihood of a calm walk is all but lost. It is so much easier to walk a dog that is heeling and obeying than it is to correct one that is trying to dislocate your shoulder. In our world, if we can learn to observe and anticipate that C.A.T. headed down the alley, maybe some of life’s unwanted surprises can be avoided.
With the lifestyle that Johanne and I have chosen, we are changing our address, city and sometimes country every 5 weeks or so. Observation in a new surrounding is critical. Where are the potholes (literally) and what should we be aware of to make our journey comfortable and with few surprises.
Actually, I have learned this skill by watching Johanne who is very much in tune with her/our environment. Her skill of observing and anticipating the C.A.T. on the next corner has often kept us safe.
I am certain that there are many more lessons that Tazz and Yoda could teach me, but these 4 life lessons come with a lot of homework.
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