Although many human beings might feel miffed by the thought, there is a profound set of similarities amongst all mammals, and especially between dogs and humans.
Have you ever noticed how the way you feel about yourself sometimes depends on whether or not you get an external confirmation of your value? The same is true for dogs. Dogs and humans both have a “primary identity” that determines perception of the world, behavior, and one’s sense of self worth. Let me explain how my teacher nurtured a positive primary identity in the dogs he trained.
My teacher’s first rule was to “Treat your students with firm yet gentle kindness and endless patience.” No matter what the dog did (especially with puppies) he would calmly and gently, without any trace of annoyance, let them know when their behavior was not what he wanted.
His second rule was “Consistently foster and support a primary identity of love, acceptance, and protection.” My teacher used to say, “Never tell the dog that s/he is “bad” or “stupid”. If you tell your dog he is bad, he will start to feel bad. Once your dog is feeling bad, he will start to act bad. And all the dog will really be doing, is confirming what you have been telling him!” “Don’t confuse the primary identity of the dog, with the dog’s behavior. No matter what happens, your dog is a “good dog.” And sometimes your “good dog” will have lousy behavior. “Good boy, good dog, don’t gnaw on the table leg.” “Good boy, good dog, don’t you dare lift your leg on those curtains!” “No matter what happens, it is very important for your dog to know that his primary identity never changes, regardless of his behavior.” “If you think in terms of “good dog” now “bad dog” later, your affection for your dog will change like the weather and he will become confused, and not know who he really is.”
The third important rule in dog training is to “Teach by example.”
If you want your dog to be strong and calm, then you must be strong and calm in your dealings with him. If you want the dog to love you and live for the opportunity to protect you, then you need to teach love by example. You don’t ask the dog to love you, you don’t expect the dog to love you just because you feed him and give him shelter. The dog winds up loving you as a natural reaction to your love for him. The dog comes to understand his own heart, through the experience of your heart.
The fourth rule he called “The length of the leash.”
In the beginning, it is very important to not let the leash be either too short and restrictive, or too long and overly allowing. You need to be able to gauge and sense the dogs understanding of what you would like him to do, in relation to what he would like to be doing, at any given moment. Too restrictive and the dog feels coerced. Too loose and the dog has no idea what you want. And it is important to occasionally let the dog do what HE wants to do, even when this is somewhat counter to what you would like him to do. This is crucial to building relationship. In the end, you want to take off the leash completely, and let the dog be, with his own sense of right and wrong.
The meaning of any act or verbal communication, can only be fully understood by taking into account the specific context that such behaviors are performed in. Does this make clear sense? If we take the phrase “I love you.” the meaning of these words will vary greatly depending on whether I speak them to my wife, my daughter, my parents, or the woman that lives next door. If I stand up and start undressing in my bedroom, this will be considered completely normal behavior. If on the other hand I stand up and undress in front of the crowd during the Rugby World Cup, I am likely to be arrested and escorted away. The act of “undressing” has no clear meaning, unless we identify the location/environment/context, where the undressing is done.
Our “primary identity” on the other hand, is considered to be the identity we have regardless of the context we are in. It is the identity that we carry with us everywhere. Our primary identity doesn’t change with the weather, and it doesn’t change depending on praise, criticism, or being ignored. When you can bring a self affirming primary identity with you as you enter into various new and challenging situations in life, you will discover that you live with a greater sense of enjoyment and fulfillment.
My dog training teacher had a very fascinating way of helping the guard dogs he trained, to feel respected, protected and loved, regardless of the situation/context they were in. Here is how he accomplished this. First of course, he started out by treating his dogs with love and respect, and by showing them an infinite amount of patience as they were learning. This of course is crucial. Then, the next thing he did was a true stroke of genius. He would cut a small piece of carpet for each dog he trained. He would place the carpet in the dog’s sleeping area, for him to lie on each night. He would also take this carpet during the day and set it down in various locations, and sit the dog on the carpet, as he praised the dog for being good. Whenever he moved to a new location, he would have the dog stand up, and he would pick up the carpet and carry it to the new location, set it down, sit the dog down, and again, praise the dog for being a “good boy.” Soon the piece of carpet took on the distinct odor of the dog, and my teacher said that this led the dog to feel “at home” when sitting on the carpet. Next, my teacher would teach the dog to pick up the piece of carpet himself, and carry it to wherever they were going. The dog would then set the piece of carpet down when they stopped, and sit on top of it, with my teacher all of the time praising him for being a good dog. Now my teacher said, “The dog begins to feel that he truly belongs in every place that he travels to, and no matter where he goes, he receives my love and appreciation. Soon the dog takes on this love and appreciation as the core of his primary identity.”
And I ask you now, if this strategy works so brilliantly with dogs, would the same basic strategy not work just as well with human beings? Ask youself, “What is the small piece of carpet you carry around with you wherever you go?” “Would your life not be very different if you changed your piece of carpet to one of love and appreciation?”