What Training a Dog has Taught Me

We’ve officially had our newly adopted dog Molly for about a month. Things are finally settling down and we’re getting into a sort of routine with her. We’re getting to know each other’s quirks and understanding how to have the best relationship. I’ve been teaching her a lot in the past month and she’s been teaching me a lot too.

When we adopted her, her background information was pretty limited. All we knew about her was that she was picked up roaming free by Animal Control and had no collar. Once we got her home we were able to discern a few more tidbits of information about her based on her behaviour: It seems like she’s had puppies, and she knew absolutely nothing about communicating with humans, except how to beg for food.

When I say she knew nothing about communicating with people, I mean nothing. Zero, zulch. The first few days, if she did something wrong, and I said “No”, I would get utterly no reaction from her. She didn’t know her name, she knew nothing about walking on a leash, she didn’t even know how to sit. We were starting at square one.

At the beach for the first time.

I wanted to make sure that she, myself, my fiancée, and our kitty Mia could live together peacefully in our 400 sq foot house, so I was committed to teaching her behaviours and commands that would make everyone’s life easier. Starting with a blank slate of a dog was a lot of work. Every single movement, sound, and touch meant something to her, and what I taught her in her first days and weeks at home would determine how she reacts in the future. I’ve had to be very careful, patient, and clear with my training to make sure that not only does she get it, but that she doesn’t misunderstand and start to develop bad habits.

And it’s paying off! In the last month she’s learned the following:

Tricks

Sit, stay, come, down, shake a paw, go to sleep (which is play dead but I thought calling it that was rather morbid)

Behaviors

Waiting in a sit-stay to be fed
Going to her bed on command and staying there
Coming to a whistle while on a long leash
Responding correctly to “No”
Giving a toy to me gently
Not guarding her food bowl from the cat
Getting into and out of a car quietly and obediently
Standing to be brushed
Laying down to have her nails clipped/feet trimmed

It hasn’t been all sunshine and daisies though, there are still a few things that we don’t exactly see eye to eye on yet.

Learning to ride quietly in the car was a tough one, but we made it through.

 Things We’re Still Working On

Staying calm while meeting new dogs
Coming when called when off leash
Not eating the cat’s food
Staying out of the litter box!
Walking quietly on a loose leash
General obedience around distractions
Fetching

While we still have a ways to go, I can’t get over how dog training mirrors personal finance in so many ways:

Start Out with Good Habits

I took a week off of work to help Molly adjust to her new home, by taking the time to lay  the groundwork, I helped her avoid developing bad habits that would later need to be broken. Starting out right in personal finance is a lot easier than breaking old, bad habits.

It’s Ok to Make Mistakes, But It’s Easier to Not

I’ve made a few mistakes with her training, and while it’s not the end of the world, it does take extra work to undo it, so it’s better to just not make mistakes. In personal finance, having a weak moment isn’t the end of the world, but paying for it sucks (especially if there’s interest involved)

You Have to Be “On” All the Time

I’ve spent time every single day working with Molly. Usually it’s in dedicated time periods, but often a “teaching” moment presents itself on the way to work, when we’re out for an evening walk, or right before bed. I have to stay consistent with her at all times, not just when I feel like it.

Dogs Aren’t Born Trained – It Takes Work

Just like people aren’t born knowing how to manage their finances, dogs aren’t born with an innate understanding of how they need to behave. It needs to be taught. It takes a lot of time, sometimes it can be difficult, but its necessary in order to live a happy, fulfilled and balanced life. People who aren’t in control of their finances aren’t balanced, just like dogs who don’t follow the rules at home.

Most of all, I’m finding that my mindset is the most important aspect to teaching Molly how to behave. If I’m frustrated, distracted, or generally not in a “zen” place, it takes her about 10 times as long to ‘get it’. When I apply this calm mindset to the rest of my life, I see good things. I can blog faster and with a clearer mind, I’m more attentive to my fiancée, and I’m doing less impulse spending.

What have your pets taught you about life? I want to know!

The two of us at the beach. Excuse my bad posture.

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  • http://twitter.com/SenseofCents Michelle

    Great post! My dog is horrible with fetch. She just HATES the game, that plain and simple. She will go get the ball, and throw it even further away so that we stop playing.

    • JordannK

      Molly has zero interest in fetch, she has absolutely zero interest in chasing the ball. I think I’m going to have to teach it to her as a trick, not as something we do for fun.

  • frugalportland

    I really love the look on her face at the beach. “What?” Do you know what kind of dog(s) she might have in her? The spotted legs are just too cute.

    • JordannK

      My guess is that she’s an english springer spaniel/beagle cross. There are DNA tests available that help you determine what mix your dog is, I’d love to get one some day and find out.

  • http://bogofdebt.wordpress.com/ Bogofdebt

    Loved these pictures and the post!  I’ve learned from my cat that sometimes, one needs to just stop doing work and relax. Or so he tells me anyways (and relax means pet him until he’s done with me). I’ve also learned that the toys that cost the least are the best fun ever! He loves strings (which I just pull a shoelace I’m not using to get him) and the $8 toy that we bought him? Isn’t being used at all.

    • JordannK

      Totally agree! We have an expensive dog bed my Mom gifted us, and Molly prefers to sleep on an old comforter. Same goes with my cat Mia, that cat tunnel we bought? Boring. That old computer box? Awesome!

  • http://www.fromshoppingtosaving.com/ From Shopping to Saving

    Omg I totally agree with this. My BF is a huge stickler for training and he’s on his “on mode” ALL the time. It frustrates me because we are not on the same page sometimes (I’m definitely the lazier one) but I am used to it now…6 years later haha. Our dog is very obedient and if he growls he gets placed in time out immediately..he actually knows when its coming because he knows he did something bad. I feel bad for him sometimes but I’ve read and researched a lot about dog training and they are most happy when they are trained. They don’t have to worry about protecting their owners — they don’t feel anxiety and they are happy to follow your commands.

    • JordannK

      That’s what I’ve read too, and that’s what I’ve noticed with Molly, especially around other dogs. When she’s listening to me she’s much more relaxed, happy and social. When she’s ignoring me she gets excited and anxious which can result in a fight. It’s worth the effort in the long run!

  • http://www.modestmoney.com/ Modest Money

    It sounds like Molly is coming a lot way already.  I guess whoever originally had her just didn’t put the effort into properly training her and then she either ran away or was abandoned.  She looks like she’s really happy with her new home & owner though.

    I’m sure my cats have taught me a lot about responsibility and patience.  They pretty much do their own thing though.  So I’d think you could learn a lot more from a dog.

    • JordannK

      My cat has definitely taught me a lot about patience, especially when she’s batting things off my night stand at 3am…

  • http://www.bluecollarworkman.com/ TB at BlueCollarWorkman

    Your bad posture is excused. Haha. No but seriously, starting from a blank slate might be better than starting with a dog that already had bad habits. You’re dog already seems more trained than most dogs, great work! The dog whisperer guy would probably be proud.

    • JordannK

      Thanks! I agree starting with a blank slate is better. I’ve dog sat dogs with such terrible bad habits, I can’t even imagine having to try and retrain them!

  • http://twitter.com/seedebtrun See Debt Run

    Pets can teach you a lot.  One thing is that they don’t need material possessions.  They don’t care what you look like or what brand name clothes you wear.  They’ll love you even when you have a bad hair day! :o)  Hi Molly!  She’s sooo cute.
    -M

    • JordannK

      That’s a great lesson, and one that I sometimes catch myself forgetting. My mom gave us an expensive dog blanket a few weeks ago which I love, but Molly would still rather sleep on the old comforter on the floor. I sometimes start thinking about the “nice” pet stuff I could buy her but then I stop myself and remind myself that she doesn’t care!

  • http://centsofacountrygirl.wordpress.com/ Country Girl

    Sounds like you’re doing a great job – Molly’s a lucky pup to have such caring parents ;) My cat has taught me about enjoying the simple things in life and taking time to slow down and enjoy them. Also, that ear plugs are the most amazing, super-fun cat toy out there. 

    • JordannK

      ear plugs… that’s a good tip. My cat has been particularly bored lately.

  • http://belowhermeans.com/ B. (Below Her Means)

    Molly is so photogenic! I feel like I might have said this before. You two are great doggy parents, it will only get better and better.

    • JordannK

      Hey thanks! We’re definitely working hard at it.

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