As a professional dog trainer I am quite often asked if there was just one bit of advice I could offer to pet parents, what would it be? My response is usually along the lines of encouraging people to focus on management to set their dogs up for success. Careful supervision and long and short term resting areas are vital to helping a dog reliably learn the rules. And of course, being able to understand and comply with the rules of your home is the best way for a dog to live a long, safe and wonderful life with it’s family.
But, as it is the beginning of a New Year I have found myself in the last few days responding to this question a bit differently. This time is a wonderful opportunity to make a very simple resolution to remind ourselves of the things in our lives that bring us joy and to make an effort to appreciate those things in the coming year.
One of the most valuable things you can do for yourself and your dog is take a moment to consider how many big and small moments of joy your dog brings to your life on a regular basis. Consider that your dog gives you all he or she has to offer every day. They give you the joy of sharing your life with a creature that lives for the moment and lives each of those moments to the fullest. They give you the peace and comfort of resting by your side with their head on your lap, grateful for the occasional scratch behind the ear. They give you their wiggly, bright-eyed enthusiasm at the prospect of a walk when they see you head towards the door. Our dogs bring us calm and warmth as well as enthusiasm and play…and they ask for so very little in return.
So, the next time you are frustrated with your dog or upset for some mistake or lack of manners, consider all the ways your dog has made your life better, all the times your dog has accepted you cutting a walk short to get back in time for a TV show, and the fact that your dog doesn’t care one bit about your net worth statement.
Many trainers I know suggest people “train, don’t complain.” The idea being that it can be tough to set your mind to making something better rather than just complaining about it. With that said, I think it can be equally as tough to avoid focusing on the things we wish we could change, rather than taking time to appreciate those things that we wouldn’t want to change for the world.
Of course, we should resolve to do all we can to better the lives of the animals in our care. Whether that be by taking a trip to his or her favorite park at least once a week, or improving basic manners, teaching a new trick, agility, or striving for our dog to become a certified therapy dog. All of these may result in a better relationship with people and therefore a better life for your dog.
But, I resolve first and foremost to take at least one moment every day to look at my dogs and remember how lucky I am that I am their person.