By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
Most dog trainers say dogs aren’t hard to teach. Their humans, however, are a different story. Almost any dog can be persuaded with the right reward and repetition. But we humans – with our stubbornness, inconsistency, and bad habits – make most things harder than they should be.
The other day I was watching dog training tips online, and it suddenly hit me. These behaviors we try to teach dogs? Sometimes I can’t even do them myself. Is it possible we humans could learn a few things from well-trained pups? Here are examples:
“Leave it.” In dog training, the command “leave it” means “Don’t touch that” or “Leave it alone.” It’s how we taught our Goldendoodle to drop my house shoe or to back away from the cat’s food bowl. We also use this command to tell the dogs to stop barking at the innocent UPS delivery person. Life is easier once a dog can “leave it” on command.
But we humans are terrible about leaving things alone. We take on extra commitments we don’t have time to do. We worry about things we can’t control. We fuss or rant about annoyances that aren’t worthy of the noise. Wouldn’t it be great if we could tell ourselves to “leave it” and just let it be?
“Sit.” This is one of the first behaviors a puppy is taught to do. Long before a dog walks on a leash or offers a furry paw for a handshake, he learns to sit. It teaches him to bring his high-energy little body under control so he can focus on what comes next. Sitting isn’t easy for a puppy who desperately doesn’t want to miss out on anything and who wags his whole body when he’s excited. But a reliable “sit” is a must.
While we humans might be good at the physical act of sitting, many of us have a harder time than puppies when it comes to giving something (or someone) our complete focus. We sit to watch TV but also scroll on our phones. We sit at a stoplight but also answer texts. We sit at our desks and do busy work instead of the project that needs us most. A calm focused “sit” is hard, but the human mind needs it so much more than the mental tail-chasing we so often do.
“Go to bed.” Our Corgi named Cooper was crate-trained as a puppy. We taught him that the soft mat inside his crate is a safe, calm place he can count on for rest. He learned this lesson so well that he has become a pointy-eared boss enforcing a household curfew. By 10:30 each night, he plants himself at my feet and stares up at me with big brown eyes that convey one insistent message: “It’s time for bed. Let’s go.”
Since Corgis are herding dogs, he won’t go to bed without me. He wants to herd me upstairs like a wayward sheep. He waits outside his crate for me to say “Cooper, go to bed,” and then he trots inside, flops down and begins the cutest doggie snoring you’ve ever heard. That sound has become the white noise I fall asleep to every night.
It turns out that Cooper and the other sleep-loving dogs have been right all along. When I was a young mother of three, I used to think what I wanted most was time at night to decompress – to watch TV, scroll on my phone or putter around the house putting things away. But I’ve since learned that sleep is what I most needed then and still need today. The human brain is simply not designed to work well without it. Sleep is as essential for the mind as food is for the body.
Ask almost any doctor about the one thing you can do to improve your physical and mental health, and he or she will say “Get enough sleep.” Without it, things break down. Simple as that.
Maybe what we humans need is more practice on the things we ask of our four-legged friends. “Leave it” when we know we should, “sit” and allow ourselves to focus, and then “go to bed” in time to get the sleep we need before a new, tail-wagging day.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her book is available on Amazon.