Everything I learned, I learned from my dog

Sorry once again for the delay in getting a new blog out.  There’s been a few forces of evil conspiring against me getting any writing (read: NaNoWriMo) done for several days.

But I stumbled across my good friend (and former guest blogger) Pat’s excellent latest Nine Day Wonder blog.  Go read Why My Dog’s Better Than Yours, then come on back.  Go ahead, I can wait.

So as Pat described her life as a new dog owner, I kept flashing back to a presentation I did a couple of years back for a group of Shad Valley students up in Thunder Bay.  The presentation at the time was called Everything I Learned About Leadership, I Got From Maxx and it detailed a few lessons I got reinforced while being a dog owner.

First of all, what is Maxx?  Well, duh, he’s my dog!  But here’s the 411 on my buddy:

  • Part Pug, part Boston Terrier, known as a “Pugston”
  • Supposed to be no more than 20 pounds fully grown
  • Almost 8 years old
  • Currently 46 pounds and counting
  • Likes long walks, slopping water from his dish, chasing the cats, birds, rabbits, squirrels, rain, snow, bugs and anything else that moves
  • Not the sharpest tack in the box, but loveable

The lessons I covered were:

  • Training: Maxx needed house training, potty breaks, and all the fundamentals to get by.
    What I learned:
    • It’s not about the treats, it’s about the challenge.
    • If he isn’t learning, it’s not his fault, it’s mine.

Maxx chomping his own leg

  • Recognition: Every time Maxx did something good, I recognized him with a lot of treats…that means he got a lot of treats.  But he also still did a lot of stuff wrong.
    What I learned:
    • I cut back on the treats and learned to influence good behaviour instead of constantly rewarding.
    • That meant I found alternate ways of rewarding him.

  • Performance Improvement: The opposite of the last one.  Whenever Maxx did something wrong, he got a big, fat, “NO!
    What I learned:
    • I had to find out the root cause of why he was doing what he was doing.
    • Then I had to change that path of least resistance to something that worked for both of us.

  • Style Flexing: Maxx can be happy, miserable, playful, tired…How to know what kind of mood he’s in?
    What I learned:
    • I learned that to understand him, I had to get to know him better.  I had to spend time with him and learn his visual clues.
    • Then I had to learn to change my own style to match those visual cues.  Not get him to change for me…I had to change for him.

  • Working within a Team: Besides Maxx, we have two cats, Patch and Noots.  All three are very different and they have different moods, tempers and ideas of what is fun at a particular time.
    What I learned:
    • Sometimes I have to manage the three of them.
    • Sometimes it’s better to get out of the way and let them work it out themselves.  It’s always a better solution if they work it out amongst themselves.

  • Surround yourself with others who are smarter than you: My dog is much smarter than I am.  He knows my schedule better than I do, and he can tell time.  He also knows exactly how to manipulate me to get what he wants.
    What I learned:
    • I realized early on that he was much smarter than me when it came to certain areas of knowledge.
    • Getting out of his way and letting him look smart made me look smarter.  That’s a good deal no matter how you slice it.

  • Relationship building:  We were set in our ways prior to Maxx.  Two cats and a regularly scheduled life.  How do we get to know this new addition?
    What I learned:
    • Never force a relationship.  I needed to let it grow organically.
    • I also had to understand that, as much as we needed to learn about him, he needed to learn about us as well.

  • Networking:  Maxx always wants to meet new dogs and their people.  He’s interested in everyone.  What if someone reacted badly?
    What I learned:
    • Of course some will react badly.  Fine, if they do, walk away.
    • For the rest, there’s always an area of interest and I should be interested in others.  There’s always something to learn from others.

  • Have fun: Maxx isn’t scared of looking stupid.  He doesn’t really care what others are doing, he’s always making sure he’s having fun.
    What I learned:
    • Don’t worry about looking stupid.  If you’re having fun, really, who cares?
    • Sometimes you just have to set aside whatever it is you’re doing and join in…whatever it is, it can wait.
    • If you’re not having fun…why are you doing it?

  • Challenge yourself: After Maxx settled down, what was next?  Could I challenge myself and him?  I’d never taught a dog tricks before.  Could I do it?  Could he learn?
    What I learned:
    • What’s the worst that could happen?  Pretend you can’t fail and give it a shot.

  • Am I a leader?  How do I go about getting Maxx to do what I want?  I don’t want to use negative reinforcement (read: hitting him when he’s bad) and I don’t want him to get fat from too many treats (besides, they make him fart).
    What I learned:
    • If I make what I want him to do attractive enough, he’ll do it.
    • If I praise and recognize him properly, he’ll continue to do it.
    • If I treat him well, he’ll do it because he wants to.

  • How to lead:  Trying to walk Maxx initially was tough, he’d never walk where I wanted him to, he’d pull on the leash and get tangled in it…it wasn’t fun for either of us.
    What I learned:
    • Maxx knew what he was doing.  I was the problem.
    • I learned to get out of the way and give him his space.

  • Your time is limited:  Pets don’t live forever.  How do I make the most of that time…and will I know when to let go?
    What I learned:
    • Enjoy the time you have.
    • Pretend each day could be your last…and act accordingly.
    • Take care of yourself and others to prolong that limited time you do have.
    • When it’s time to say goodbye, don’t hesitate.  If you’ve done the other three, you’ll know the right time.  Dr. Seuss said, “Don’t cry because it’s over.  Smile because it happened.”  Seuss was a smart dude.

It’s pretty cool when your animal can teach its human the right way to do things.

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2 thoughts on “Everything I learned, I learned from my dog

  1. Now that is a cute dog! Love Pugston. I did not know that you and Pat were taking on your canines. I’m glad you did. I have had my share of animals, but now I’m just down to a few fish and my 13-year old Shih Tzu, Rupert. He’s quite the super dog, but this is not about him…this is Pugston and Dixie’s day. I can’t believe he has doubled his normal weight. He doesn’t look like he’s packing the pounds. I think he’s adorable. Great post, Tobin!

  2. Pingback: Annoying to the Maxx | My Dysfunctional Life

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