In the last few years I’ve been obsessing over the concept of happiness. From East to West I’ve studied all kinds of different practices that bring people happiness. I’ve read books about Zen buddhism, Taoism, Existentialism and lots of other -isms. And I’ve asked everyone I know what they think happiness means, but the whole time I’ve had the happiest creatures teaching me about happiness right under my very nose. Dogs! Dogs are born happy. They’re just happy to be a dog and do what dogs do best- play, eat, cuddle, sleep, run, smell, repeat. They are masters of keeping it simple, living in the moment and having fun. It’s as easy as that!
You’re probably thinking, “Brittany, I hate to break it to you, but you’re not a dog.” Alas, sadly I’m not a dog. I am a dog girl who loves to study dog and human behavior. Over the last 7+ years of training dogs, I’ve come to realize that I’m not just a dog trainer, I’m mostly a human trainer. Being a human trainer is a tricky business. Humans don’t really like to be trained or controlled, as result there’s an art to shaping human behavior so that they think it’s their idea. Communicating effectively, giving simple directions and using positive reinforcement is the absolute best way to change human behavior because no one wants to be told that they’re bad at something and they definitely don’t want to be belittled or put down. Humans also have big egos compared to dogs, so it’s really important to encourage rather than chastise a person otherwise they’ll want to give up. When I work with dogs, I’d rather be patient and let a dog slowly figure something out on their own, instead of shocking them with an electric collar or screaming at them when they’re trying to choose the right thing. Yes, there have been a few humans that I’ve wanted to zap with a shock collar because they were so abusive to their dogs, but I managed to kill them with kindness instead and teach them a different way of working with their dogs by treating them with the same patience, love and respect that I would with their dogs.
When people call me to come to their house for a dog training session, they’re in a state of stress and extreme frustration. Humans often become shut off from their dogs at this point or they’re so frustrated that they’ve become very Neanderthal aggressive with their dogs because nothing else seems to be working. I always start with discussing the behavior problems and then turning the issues on their head. Meaning, if John is upset with his dog for barking at other dogs when they’re on a walk, instead of saying, “I hate it when Lucky barks at other dogs” we change it to “I want Lucky to sit and stay calmly and give me attention when other dogs walk by.” Then we discuss how much play time, dog time and exercise that Lucky normally gets. Usually, Lucky is hardly ever walked because of the embarrassment that Lucky causes his human so the problem is compounded and only becomes worse because of all of his pent up energy and frustration. On top of it, Lucky is never let off-leash to run and play naturally because his owner John is probably afraid of what Lucky will do if they see another dog. In order to change Lucky’s behavior we also have to change John’s behavior and attitude towards his dog’s problems. It’s important to face dog problems with compassion because they’re stuck in our human world of small apartments, little yards and restrictive leashes. They’re also not born with comprehension of the human language.
So John and I start from the ground up. From the the root of all of the problems, by teaching John how to effectively communicate with his dog and by showing Lucky how we expect him to behave in our human world. Just like you can’t teach a five year old calculus, we can’t expect dogs to learn complex behaviors without teaching them basic arithmetic. And we certainly can’t force people to get over arachnophobia by throwing them into a room full of spiders, just like we can’t instantly teach dogs to suddenly love all dogs if they’re fearful of them. Dog training takes a lot of love, patience, clear communication, consistency and balance. Human training takes a lot of love, patience, clear communication, consistency and balance. Creating happiness takes a lot of love, patience, clear communication, consistency and balance. That’s when I had my “Aha!” moment. I don’t need to search for the meaning of happiness in books or in other people. Dogs have been teaching it to me all along.
That’s why I’ve decided to start teaching myself to be the happiest that I can be by using dog training techniques. Happiness is a very personal definition, but for me, happiness is cuddling with my furballs, having deep conversations with my man, balancing work and fun, playing with my loved ones, loving the great outdoors, eating healthy foods, cooking for my family and friends, sharing love through written word and art, training dogs, loving humanity, learning to whole-heartedly love myself so that I can love others even more, working hard to better the lives of dogs and their humans, and living life literally like there’s no tomorrow. In order to do all of this and to be the happiest person that I can be, I’ve decided to challenge myself and train myself to work on my behavior problems. Fortunately I don’t bark at the mailman, but I do bite my nails and I have a laundry list of other highly unfavorable bad habits.
Inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s amazing book and blog, The Happiness Project, I’ve decided to tackle my bad habits by training myself to become a better human. Every month I’m going to create certain goals and then use my handy-dandy dog training techniques to change my bad behavior. Instead of being a bad dog girl, I’m on a mission to become a good dog girl. Keep your ears perked and paws ready because I’m going to be sharing with you all of my “issues” and hopefully my trials and tribulations. March 1st is the New Year for this dog girl!
Peace, Paws & Love,
Brittany : )