If you’re like most of us, you have a dog because you love the companionship, the opportunities for fun, and the challenges of mastering a dog-centric activity and of getting to be a better person.
Things don’t always go as planned. We can have challenges and struggles along the way that seem to drain our happiness rather than add to it.
The good news is that it is within our power to change that! When you think of having ‘partnership’ with your dogs, life changes in an amazing way. By eagerly collaborating with your dog to ‘solve the problem‘ of learning a new skill or a better way of being, life is happier and a lot more fun.
Adopt these 5 simple strategies for having that happier life that dogs love to help us create.
1. Pay attention to your intention.
In a nutshell, what you focus on (or give your attention to) is what you will create more of in your life.
So, if you want to have a happier life and a great partnership with your dog, then simply decide to pay attention to how you are thinking about, speaking about and acting in your life, your dog and your partnership.
Once you are aware of your thoughts, words and actions, you can then choose to have an intention of thinking, speaking and acting in a way that will bring more happiness into your every day life and better partnership for you and your dog.
Make a commitment to yourself and your dog to think, speak and act in a positively life affirming way every single day.
2. Learn from your dog.
One of our responsibilities is to teach our dogs how to live happily and comfortably in our human-centric world. We need to teach them to be our partners, to eagerly look to us for guidance.
In order to be an inspired teacher, one must first learn the art of being a good student. This applies to just about everything. Even if you are an “expert” at a particular thing, you must still learn how to best teach this dog this particular lesson. You learn this by…you guessed it: learning from your dog!
There is a continual feedback loop, a circuit of communication and information flowing between you and your dog. Pay attention to how your dog is responding: listen, watch, modify, adjust, watch and listen some more, then make more adjustments to the lesson. A good teacher understands that the “one-size-fits-all” approach to teaching is not effective, and may even dampen enthusiasm for learning.
When you listen and learn from your dog how to best teach, a new and better partnership is born!
3. Keep a beginners mind.
There is soooooooooooo much to learn about life and about dogs: skills, tasks, caretaking, trialing, handling, training, sportsmanship, (you get the picture!), that it would take a full set of encyclopedias, or an entire world of experts building a wiki to cover this topic with any depth or clarity.
So, the best we can do is to be a devoted student, learning every chance we get, in all possible settings and from all available sources, in order to transform this gathering of information into personal wisdom. Then, over months, years, decades and even lifetimes, we actually accumulate enough wisdom to be able to effectively interact with our dogs with ever-deepening understanding and clarity.
At some time along the way, our dogs begin to actively look to us for advice…and a potentially great partnership begins to flourish!
4. Be a positive leader.
Have you ever noticed that the people we are most likely to consider great leaders are the ones who care deeply and compassionately about those they are leading?
Leaders who are calm, courageous, strong, unaffected by peer pressure; leaders who can see the big, long term picture while they focus on the details of what is needed right now in the present. Leaders who inspire us to grow and be the best we can be…and through compassion for our present difficulties, support and nurture our evolution.
By choosing to be this kind of leader, and staying your course in spite of failures and bumps in the road, the partnership you yearn for with your dog will bloom into it’s fullest potential. And it’s a beautiful thing!
5. Embrace gratitude.
Start by noticing all the times you and your dog experience happy partnership, no matter how small or brief.
Smile, and feel happy and grateful, and share your happiness with your dog, right then and there.
In that moment of feeling happy and grateful, you are giving birth to more of those moments. And because you are noticing those partnered times, and you feel good when you find them, you and your dog keep looking for and creating more. (that’s called positive reinforcement).
Every time you take your dog out to train or play, start with remembering your love and partnership. Feel heartfelt appreciation for your dog, and share a happy and grateful moment or two.
Then begin learning and teaching with your dog, always doing your best to be a good partner and a positive leader.
Yes, you will fail at that….Probably a lot.
When that happens: pause, take a deep breath and be grateful that your wonderful partner will happily give you yet another chance to get it right.
Your Turn to Take Action:
Take a look at your level of happiness and partnership as you and your dog discover life together.
Then, in the comments, tell me two things:
1. What are you willing to shift to bring more happiness and partnership into your life?
2. What new skill or more balanced behavior do you want to teach your dog, and how can we (me and our community) help?
Be brave and express yourself! I am so eager to hear from you and to support you.
Thank you for reading, and for sharing.
With inspiration for helping you have a fantastic year,
1. Give more daily training time to my dogs.
2. My old dog is loosing her hearing. I need help training her basic living skills and agility skills.
Thanks for sharing, Linda!
Sometimes we don’t spend that time with our dogs because we look for ‘big chunks of time’ that don’t happen…when a couple of minutes several times a day is just as effective and satisfying.
With your older dog, use more body language and hand signals in your daily life, and she will begin to look for those cues all the time, even in agility.
With all my dogs, but Molly in particular:
1. I’m taking a breath (having more patience) before responding to behaviors that trigger me.
2. I’d like some tips on ways to encourage and stimulate relaxed play behavior.
Hi Julie – thanks for commenting!
L-O-V-E your number 1. That is key, and a great reminder for all of us.
For #2, do you mean play between you and your dog, or play between dogs? What kind of play are you envisioning?
!. Watch my intention and my mind when I work my dogs … be present and clear rather than let my mind do what it does! This will be tough but rewarding.
2. Gratitude for all the little moments … more “mini” celebrations 🙂
Hey Julie! Thanks for sharing!
Your intentions are awesome! #1 is definitely one of the hardest things…but so crucial. When you find yourself ‘wandering’, just smile or laugh (at yourself) and begin again. It’s important to stay positive with ourselves as we practice mindfulness.
I have a toy poodle, communicates so well with her eye contact and expression. She sits, stays, and listens so well. However, it’s been a challenge to get her to bring the ball back when we play “fetch”. She wants me to chase her for it! She loves to play ball, if only she’d bring it back to me! thanks, Regina
Hi Regina! Thanks for your comment and your story. Dogs love to play chase and be chased…it’s in their nature. What I would do is turn the ‘chase game’ around, and have her chase you for the ball. Make it fun and you’ll both enjoy it!
#1 – Take a breath and think before reacting to the triggers my 9 month old pup (we’ve only had her two months – she was passed from foster home to foster home before that, so she has issues we’re working through) gives me. She’s learning so fast, I just need to keep my cool. I’ve gotten much better in the last month! It’s hard, as our original dog (who is nearly 4 years) is one of those almost perfect dogs – well behaved, gentle, quiet, intelligent, eager to please… and the introduction of this noisy, demanding, STUBBORN AS A MULE puppy has thrown us all for a loop!
#2 – I have been pretty good about the mini celebrations, but I need to make more of it. I also need to listen to my dogs more – they learn in very different ways, no doubt about it. While it will be challenging to work with them both and try and keep their individual styles in mind, I think in the long run it will be the most rewarding.
I should also stop hoping my husband gets involved… 🙂
Hey Andrea! Love your comments! One suggestion I have for you is to shift your perspective on your puppy being ‘stubborn as a mule’. Try to see things from her perspective, and you are likely to be surprised and delighted with how much easier it is to communicate with her. Let me know!
1. I attend two classes a week (utility obedience and agility) but need to seek out those small times every day to do mini practice sessions.
2. My dog is very very soft (also a very smart Border Collie) and I have to be very careful not to show any disapproval or he wilts or even tries to leave. How can I build his confidence?
1. I need to become a more positive leader . In the work place before retirement I was such a person but with my dog I am more like n over anxious parent
2 . I want my dog to be able to deal with stressful situations as no matter how careful we are they do occur and hw and I don’t have the skilss to deal with them consequently we both go OTT
1. I need to let go more what others are thinking and saying about how I should teach my dog. Or in other words to let go pleasing others; this gives tention in myself in already difficult situations and has negative effect on the behavior of my dog.
2. I would like to learn my dog staying calm around other dogs and (strange) people.