Friday, October 3, 2014

Life Lessons from a Dog

This is Ida. She's a sassy bitch. 

Our motto: Always be Training!

Ida's been teaching me new tricks since May of this year. Quickly I learned that getting the best results from Ida starts with setting her up for success. Let me put it another way, anything she does wrong, is always (yes, always!) my fault. For example, if I don't want her to chew my shoes, I shouldn't leave them out for her to chew. Not a bad thing though, because her success is my success and my living space has never been so clean and organized.

Teaching Ida everything she needs to know is hard work. It never stops and sometimes it takes a long time for the hard work to pay off. So, while she's not exactly a good dog... yet... what I admire most about her is that each day she works really hard to be a better dog. And the most rewarding part of all her little puppy effort, is that she actually manages to teach me about life along the way. Being the good student that I am, I've started keeping a list of what I'm calling 'Insights by Ida'. Here are the first three: 

1. Consistency is key to successful progress.

Ida's like one of those annoying people who watch movies only to point out flaws and inconsistencies in filming rather than enjoy the story. She's smart and fairly manipulative, too. Once I've established a boundary or rule for her, she'll spend 90% of her time watching me, just hoping I'll slip up. If I'm inconsistent, even once, she takes notice and then boastfully throws it in my face. In a nutshell, inconsistencies in our training make the road to successful progress far more difficult. 

Case in point: I once swore that no dog of mine would ever sit on the couch, but then there was this one time I thought cuddling with her on the couch would be nice... and it was nice, so I thought, "hey, win some, lose some" and I let it go. But now that I have a couch dog, I also have to have a really clean dog. This means that Ida takes a lot of baths and I can honestly say that bathing Ida is an experience neither one of us looks forward to. 

Although losing battles to Ida is rather disappointing, each time I see her furry (clean!) muppet limbs draped comfortably across my couch, I'm reminded that my short-term behaviours shape my long-term outcomes. And even though I thought I already knew this (a little nod to the title of my blog), I still need reminding that doing what's right is always more effective than doing what's easy. 

2. Choose to notice and celebrate the good.

This is an excerpt from The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera. It's excellent, and so is the word litost. To describe its pronunciation, Kundera explains that, "its first syllable, which is long and stressed, sounds like the wail of an abandoned dog". Which makes some logical sense because abandoned dogs are "bad." What people abandoning their dogs (or people who just have really bad dogs) often fail to realise is that when a dog receives negative attention for bad behaviour, much like the student, their response is almost always more bad behaviour. 

 Dogs see everything as a game and they expect us to show them how to play. This is hard to remember because a state of constant play is unnatural for us. And when dogs start playing games without proper instruction, the response required of us isn't instinctual. For example, once I've noticed Ida is doing something naughty, instead of telling her off, I pay as little attention to the bad behaviour as possible and quickly change her focus towards a more desirable behaviour. Once, and only once, she behaves correctly, I reward the good behaviour. In summary, the very best way to correct Ida's bad behaviour is for me to give it as little attention as possible. It sounds a bit harsh, but a lot of energy goes into ignoring Ida. This is because Ida's biggest desire is to win my attention, and whether or not that attention is affection or shouting is entirely up to me. 

Ida and I have a finite amount of time together and I've already decided how I'd like for us to spend it. Instead of waiting for her to act up, each day I make it my intention to stay present and notice the good. And for my effort, Ida rewards me by giving me even more good behaviour to notice.

Noticing Ida's good reminds that the only energy required to notice the good in others, is my own. It's up to me to take the time to see and appreciate the good in those around me. Because unlike the bad, which is screams for our attention and demands our energy, the good is quiet and unassuming. And if we don't make seeing the good our priority, without even trying, we are taking it for granted.  

3. Feed yourself first. 

If you know me at all, you know that I get hangry (angry + hungry = hangry). I become this annoyed, angry, different person when I'm hungry, so I've got to make time eat. Although my hanger is unpleasant, I'm not a complete beast and I do still have my nurturing instincts. So in the morning, if I'm hungry and Ida is hungry, naturally I want to worry about her first and then look after myself. 

It's puppy 101 for me now, but before I feed Ida, I have got to feed myself first! This is because once I've fed Ida, she's filled with an intense amount of energy. She needs to play, a lot! She needs to be let outside, or she'll burst! She needs to run! She needs to meet everyone! She needs to smell... EVERYTHING! And more than anything else, she needs me to have my game face on. And I should. The world is exciting and she's curious, and I want her to enjoy that. And I want me to enjoy that. Feeding her when I'm hangry? I can totally do that. Enjoying that post-meal energy when I'm hangry? Not a chance. 

In the mornings I've learned to remember that dogs (even puppies) are resilient and fairly sleepy, and it's really okay to let Ida be the one waiting on me. My real challenge in caring for Ida is remembering that my first priority is always me. This is because building a strong bond with Ida requires that I'll continue to enjoy satisfying her needs in the longterm, and in order for me to do that, I've got to satisfy my own first. 

It sounds selfish, but it's exactly the opposite. We so often hear that true love is selfless or that sacrificing by putting the needs of others before our own is what's honorable and good. These are nice ideas, but they're simply not sustainable. Serving and loving others in the ways they deserve starts by serving and loving ourselves in the ways we deserve. 

I define love as our ability to reciprocate our own self-worth. I believe that being at the service of others is about preparing ourselves in such away that service never feels like sacrifice. Self-worth is hard. It takes practice and no one can do it for us. I have to continuously practice taking responsibility for my own emotions. I have to continuously work at being accountable to myself as priority number one. I take time for myself, I honor my own priorities before devoting attention elsewhere, and I feed myself first. But by putting self-love and self-care at the top of my list, I am able to love others more fully and in the ways we both deserve. 

So there you have it. Ida might be a sassy bitch, but she's also a really good bitch (and teacher). I look forward to her lessons every day and will of course be sharing more 'Insights by Ida' as they reveal themselves.   


SuncatcherJo said...

I have just begun Blog browsing, and am finding it very interesting. Your observations regarding your "Ida" are wonderful! Not until late in life, after 5 children, did I let a dog begin to teach me what I should have known before!
Sad but true. Hence........
Would love to add your Blog onto my list of Blogs I follow--just in case, someone would be curious and fascinated, as was I. Can you do a follow application? I myself just tried it, and maybe it worked.

Tom said...

Lovely stuff

Lonnerly said...

Thank you, Ida!! And thank you, autor ( i dont remember your name )!! You help me a lot!! If you wanna check out my blog, there is the link:
It´s in portuguese, but i think you will like it!!