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