Own Your Dog

September 7, 2012

“This is where you own your dog” ~Kim, trainer at PetSmart talking about asking your dog to sit and stay before being greeted by another person. “The outside world”

The idea that we all need to “own our dog” whether it’s our art, our opinions, our family, our self-worth… to feel comfortable saying to someone else “I’m sorry. You’re crossing a boundary. Here is what I’d like you to do instead…”

This is where I could go into details about how much my dog is teaching me in the 8 weeks we’ve had him… getting up out of bed to walk in the morning, the calmness you need to control your dog and the company the little booger provides.

I’m learning to own my own dog.

The above was written May 29th 2010 – over two years ago. To this day I think about how much owning a dog has taught me to be a better person in the world. And I don’t mean one of those sappy lists of learning to appreciate a scratch on the back or the joy of napping in the sunlight. All good things, but I actually mean what I’ve learned by being his person.

It is so important to think about the entirety of what I’d like him to do. In my head, I go over what actions and words he already knows. I string those together in learnable steps. I am clear with my commands. I use only positive reinforcement. We stop before he gets tired. I am highly aware of how my own attitude affects his reactions. I wait until he’s ready. I am gentle. I come from a place of love.

Now doesn’t that sound like expert advice on communicating with other humans?

But more so, because of training my dog, I now understand how much responsibility I have to take for my presence in a situation. Note that I didn’t say “control”. Carter Cash is very much in control of himself, I am not making him do anything. I am asking him directly and providing a treat when he gets it right. A lot of the time he doesn’t get what I’m asking and then he’s frustrated. So then we take a break and come back to it later.

He’s taught me how important positive feedback is when trying to get the results I want. One morning we were out for a run and he was dragging. He didn’t seem fatigued or in pain but he just wouldn’t keep up. It was making me so aggravated I was talking to myself out loud: “I’d be happy to run alone, but you need the exercise” and “I knew 3 miles would be too far” (I didn’t say I was sane)

Then a thought popped into my head. “What if I encouraged him to keep up with me?”

So I switched my tone to one you’d use for a kid. “Woo! You’re doing great. Yay! Let’s run!”

Immediately he started to gallop next to me, his slumping steps revving up to a trot. He seemed to finally be interested in running with me, instead of dragging behind. I felt much better too.

And I realized that he was probably feeding off my body language and tone of voice the entire time. When I was forceful, cranky and unhappy-sounding, he probably didn’t want to run with me, so he was dragging behind to do just that. I mean, who would want to keep up with someone who’s giving out back vibes??

Turns out, he’s a smarty pants.

Once my demeanor changed, he was all for running right along with me, a happy little pack-of-two.

You could say it’s luck, but this is my go-to method for getting his little butt moving right along side me on most of our morning runs. And it works. Every time.

I could go more into the metaphor of the whole thing – how I’ve learned to own my place in my world – to hold myself in higher esteem – to not be bat-shit crazy in my own head – but I think you catch my drift. We adopted Carter 2 weeks before I started therapy with my first therapist, the beginning of this journey where I’ve learned to be nicer to myself, more confident and happier.

And I don’t think that’s a coincidence at all.

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