How to train just about anybody!
Do you ever have great ideas which seem wonderful at the time but take a lot longer to implement than you ever anticipated? That is the story with Phoenix, my 4 month old, hypo-allergenic Cavoodle puppy. You see Phoenix here looking angelic and so well behaved! What the photo doesn’t show are the deleted, blurred attempts to get him to sit, stay and not jump. Indeed, I have become expert at reading his body language, anticipating when he wants to piddle, quickly chasing him outside onto the grass saving my carpet!
At first I thought Phoenix would immediately become the perfect therapy dog, comforting distressed clients, snuggling up to them on the couch and intuitively anticipate my every request. (A bit like the fantasy of the perfect partner). Even his name, Phoenix, was carefully chosen to remind us of the resilience and hopefulness of the mythical bird who arises from the ashes of his predecessor. No matter how bad you feel or how awful your relationship, there can be new beginnings! Just remember Phoenix rising!
No pressure here. I did not expect to be chasing young Phoenix around the house or rising at 6 a.m. to keep him company or play games. I did complain a few times and Joe, my adorable partner, just smiled and said, “Robyn, he is a puppy dog. He is young. That is what they do.” Humph! At least he avoided saying “I told you so!” (No prizes for guessing who did not want a dog).
Maybe Phoenix will turn into more of an empathic couch potato as he ages, or maybe his other job is to increase my activity levels. Meanwhile, I resolutely enrolled in Puppy School and started to learn how to manage his excess energy.
The trainer quickly pointed out, that it is easy to train the puppies, but it takes a lot longer to train the owners. We all need to learn how to respond differently to puppy behaviours.
The biggest message is positive reinforcement. Reward desirable behaviour! If he is on his mat not bothering you, ply him with treats and lots of positive affirmations. He bites your Ugg boots on chilly mornings? Throw treats in the opposite direction distracting him. You want to master loose lead walking? Bend down every 5 seconds and give him another treat as he walks along nicely. Make squeaky noises so he finds you really exciting and comes when called!
Yes, the neighbours think I have finally lost the plot. They laugh and ask who is training whom? But it is all for a good cause!
Now all this training is based on tested methods of behaviour modification. Punishment is not nearly as effective as catching them being good. Positive reinforcement techniques are used by lion tamers and good classroom teachers. Mammals generally respond well to praise. I well remember the transformation in my earlier teaching career when I broke free of the criticism trap and focused on noticing students behaving well. The classroom climate become much happier and student learning improved.
In order to change their behaviour, I had to accept the need to first change my own reactions. The same principle applies when you train a puppy and just about anything else! As spiritual advisors from Buddha, Gandhi and Jesus remind us, we have to be the change we want to see in the world.
I feel somewhat embarrassed to admit there have been times I have drawn the analogy of puppy training to partner training. That is not terribly respectful, but the same principles can apply as to how to influence your partner. To make this work you must first change your own behaviour and learn new skills.
Be positive and make a song and dance when they do the right thing e.g., remember your birthday or clean up after themselves. Build a culture of appreciation for what they do well. Relationship experts, Drs. John and Julie Gottman are clear: The only way to change your partner is to stop trying to change them. Let them know you love them just as they are through lots of positive interactions, compliments, gifts (treats) and hugs. By focusing on what you love about them, your partner is more likely to want to please you and do the actions (tricks) you desire.
Partners who feel valued and appreciated are more likely to listen to your rare and succinct statements about what you do not like. John Gottman’s quote is, “I love you just as you are, you do not have to change anything. And for God’s sake, please, could you just try a bit with this issue?”
How can you change just about anybody? Start with yourself!
At the end of the day, all you can control are your own actions, not your partner and not your puppy so this approach is a great place to start. Enjoy playing the game of catching your partner being good this week and notice how it improves the atmosphere in the house.
If you want to know more, call to book an appointment or send me an email and start building the relationship you want in the new year.