Now that it’s the holiday season we are reminded of a wonderful line from The Sound of Music in which Julie Andrews, Maria, says about Christopher Plummer, Captain von Trapp: “I can’t ask him to be less than he is.” First, if you haven’t seen the movie, or not in a while, it’s fabulous and full of beautiful sentiment that will fill you with the holiday spirit, even though it’s not a Christmas movie per se. Second, it’s worth thinking about this quotation with respect to our dogs.
If we reflect a moment on what noble and loyal creatures they are, and how they were bred for hunting, herding, ratting (yes that’s what terriers do) or whatever, we should credit them for their willingness to adapt to the town lifestyle we lead here in Palo Alto in order to serve as our companions and please us. Yes our dogs may have foibles, like jumping up on people, getting in the garbage, and other issues we may need to address. But we need to approach these challenges in the spirit of appreciating how much our dogs are already giving us by adapting rather well actually to the extreme environments that we put them in — such as living in an apartment, or having us gone most of the day at work or at school, etc. Our point is that when you are dealing with a behavior issue with your dog, don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees.
Approach dog training with a spirit of respect and compassion for your dog, in terms of appreciating how much they are already giving you that is positive. And realize that usually the behavior issue that frustrates you is a symptom of larger issues, in which we are asking our dog to be less than who he really is, by not fully utilizing his capabilities and not giving him the opportunity to actualize his genetic makeup in the world. So next time your dog does something naughty, have some perspective. Your dog is not the problem — it’s a sign that you need to work on enabling his proper place in the world, and these issues will tend to resolve themselves with a little work once there’s a larger vision and leadership tone coming from you. That’s why we ask, what is your wish list for you and your dog? Form a positive vision and work towards it together, patiently.