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What Training My Puppy Has Taught Me About My Own Healing

I have a four month old puppy, Lyla, and for the first two months she was under the impression that my bedroom floor was her personal potty.  It took a while before she was old enough to really make connections between anything, but now I can get out of bed without fear of landing in a puddle of undesirable contents.  I’m not an expert dog trainer.  My wife and I have simply started positively reinforcing her with treats when she “does her business” outside on our walks.  

 

And it works.  It was my wife’s idea actually.  I was under the impression that I needed to somehow dissuade (or negatively reinforce) Lyla when she peed or pooped inside.  But it isn’t necessary at all.  Simply by positively reinforcing the desired behavior of going to the bathroom outside, the undesired behavior of going to the bathroom inside has stopped.  No punishments, no yelling, no hitting, no mention or focus on the negative behavior.  

 

How Does This Relate To Me?

Throughout this process of raising a puppy, I’ve noticed a lot of behaviors in myself that I would love to change.  I knew of them before of course, but they’ve come to the surface in the last couple of months.  

 

The biggest behavior that I want to change is how quick to anger I can be, and how that anger can linger and ruin what could be a pleasant walk through the forest with my puppy.  If I whistle for Lyla, and she doesn’t come because she’s found a really delicious dead mouse to eat, I behave like an 18th century gentleman whose entire dignity has just been affronted and demands retribution.  I stomp back and look at this adorable four month old cotton ball on legs, and all I feel is rage because she didn’t immediately answer my whistle.  So yeah, I’d really love to change that behavior, because it exists in all areas of my life, not just on walks with Lyla.  

Compare My Behavior "Training" to Lyla's

I’ve noticed, though, that in my attempts to change this behavior, the conversation in my head usually sounds something like “I shouldn’t get so angry.  There’s nothing to be angry about.  Why are you allowing yourself to become so angry?”  

 

What’s the common theme there?  I’m always focusing on the negative behavior!  I’m just putting more energy into my anger.  I’m trying to stop this negative behavior by putting an inordinate amount of focus on it, and without providing another behavior to replace it.  Hmm, I wonder why that doesn’t work?  

Positively Reinforce Yourself; But Make Sure To Use The Right Treat

Just like with Lyla, I’ve realized that I will only change my behavior if I focus on the desired behavior, not on the undesired one.  Where energy flows, reality goes.  But it seems ridiculous to give myself a treat every time I’m happy, or every time I respond good naturedly to Lyla when she doesn’t listen to me.  I’m a human, not a dog.  Surely a piece of chocolate every time I laugh is not going to teach me to become a happier person.  And even if it does successfully change my behavior, will I have to support it for the rest of my life with a chocolate bar always at the ready?  That doesn’t sound so sustainable, or even like a true behavior change.  I want to be happy and less reactive and triggered because there’s something intrinsically good about that; not for a piece of chocolate.  

 

So then how can I positively reinforce the behavior I want?  What’s the desired behavior again?  

 

The Desired Behavior Is The Reward

To actualize my emotional sovereignty and be a happier, less reactive person.  Isn’t that it’s own reward?  It is!  I’ve become hyper aware of when I’m feeling happy, and have really started reveling in that feeling, sinking into it and allowing myself to fully enjoy and experience it.  It’s crazy that we don’t always do that, but we don’t.  At least I didn’t used to.  I always felt too busy or too rushed or too efficient or too something, to allow myself to sink for a moment into the physiological happiness.  The tingling in my chest.  The fluttering in my stomach.  The lightness in my head, almost like a high.  But now I allow myself, and what a treat it is.  

 

And it’s started happening more and more.  I choose to focus on happiness, and that’s what’s recurring.  Now, if Lyla doesn’t listen to me, I see a choice before me.  I can choose to keep reveling in a delighted feeling, or I can become angry.  But because I’ve been treating myself with the full happiness experience, I seem to choose that more than the latter. 

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