I rehabilitate dogs and I train people because probably 99.9% of dog misbehaviors happen when their humans create the misbehavior accidentally or fail to let the dog be a dog.
Usually, people accidentally create a misbehavior by giving too much affection, and at the wrong time. And they fail to let a dog be a dog by treating them like human children and trying to communicate with them using human psychology.
These are the bad dog habits that I train out of people. But did you know that you can also use the same techniques to train yourself out of bad human habits?
Below are some of my techniques and principles that you can use to achieve harmony and balance with your dog — and to create harmony and balance in you.
- Live in the now
Being instinctual, animals live in the moment. Humans are intellectual, so we tend to live in the past or future.
This isn’t necessarily bad. Thinking ahead allows us to make plans. Remembering helps us learn and grow. However, if this mental time travel is colored by a negative emotion like anxiety, you’ll worry about the future or regret the past.
Practice being in the moment when you’re walking your dogs, then learn to do it when you feel a negative emotion creeping in. Remember: the past can’t have been that bad because you’re here. The future won’t be that bad if you move into it moment by moment.
- Watch your energy
Animals communicate through energy, which is why any two animals can have a conversation. Humans communicate through sounds or symbols, so cannot communicate unless they both know the same system of words, letters, or gestures.
We have the power to communicate with each other through energy if we learn how and you probably do it all the time without realizing it when your emotions bypass your brain completely and telegraph your mood to the world.
Your dog is acutely aware of this but people often are not. We also have more complex emotions than dogs, so our energy may be positive or negative, but the underlying emotion is unclear.
You may have low energy because you’re tired, but it may also be because you’re frustrated about something. When your energy speaks, listen, examine your emotions, and understand why you’re feeling that way in this moment.
- Be consistent
Dogs learn by associating actions with outcomes, repeating behaviors that give positive results. This is why consistency is so important in training. If your dog knows what to expect, they will feel secure and calm.
Consistency also works in human relationships because unpredictability is frustrating. Imagine a restaurant that serves your favorite meal. Sometimes, it’s amazing but other times it’s terrible. You’re not going to keep going back to that place in hopes that this is one of the times they make it perfectly, right? You’re going to find another restaurant.
The same thing happens with people. The ones who are consistent are easy to deal with. The ones who are unpredictable wind up labeled difficult — and wind up losing relationships, friendships, or jobs.
So be consistent in your actions and your feelings. If you concentrate on step 1 and 2, this will be easy to do, because consistency is the end result of living in the moment and watching your energy.
- Have rules, boundaries, and limitations
It’s important for us to give our dogs rules, boundaries, and limitations because these define what the dog can or cannot do and where it can or cannot go. But it is also important for us to have these things for ourselves.
Creating rules can be an excellent way for breaking unwanted habits, and you can trick yourself into enforcing the rules. If you want to quit something, start with day one and put a dollar in a jar. Put a dollar in for every day you don’t indulge that habit with a target of 30 days. After 30 days, you get to spend that money on something special for yourself. If you don’t make 30 days, you have to donate whatever is in there to some cause that you hate.
If you spend money on that habit, put the cost of it in there every day — a pack of cigarettes, fancy coffee, whatever. This is really just the human version of offering a treat for good behavior and punishment for misbehaving.
It’s also important that we set our boundaries and enforce them. Nobody can force you to do something you don’t want to or aren’t required to do and a very polite but firm “No” is a powerful tool for enforcing your boundaries.
Finally, for humans, limitations refer to excess. You don’t have to completely give up something you love, like donuts, but you can limit yourself to one on Friday morning instead of two every day. Think of that one donut at the end of the week as your reward for going the other four days without. It’ll taste a lot better like that!
- Practice exercise, discipline, and affection
Finally, I probably don’t have to remind you how important these are for your dogs, but they are just as important for us. Every doctor will tell you that regular exercise is vital for our health and good for our minds. So is affection — not just the physical kind with loved ones, but a genuine regard and fond feelings for friends and others.
Meanwhile, discipline is the character trait that makes doing everything on this list easier than it seems, but this is also where human psychology and dog psychology move in opposite directions.
For dogs, it has to be exercise, discipline, and then affection, in that order. But, for humans, finding that discipline to do everything else on this list begins with affection — for yourself!
Stay calm, and be your own reward!