We adopted our beloved dog Rosie March of 2020. She was a year old and had come to the rescue shelter as a stray with a laceration on her paw. When she arrived, she already knew the “Sit” and “Shake” commands. This seems to imply that she had lived with people before. But whether she got lost or dumped and how long she was on her own is a mystery. She did come with a bunch of annoying behaviors, likely learned during her time in the wild. When we first got her she barked at almost everything that moved: humans, dogs, bikes, skateboards, squirrels, birds. And she whined every time I left the condo. If I forgot to close my bedroom door before I left, she would drag all my shoes out of the closet and place them carefully on my bed. She didn’t ever get on my bed when I was home, so I’m not really clear what the message was with the shoes.
Despite all that, her sweet and affectionate personality won us over and I endeavored to teach her to be a bit more civilized. I got a couple books on training using positive reinforcement and we started practicing. Some of the materials suggest that positive reinforcement is 50 times as successful as punitive training. I figured if these methods are successful in teaching whales to jump through hoops, surely I could teach my dog to walk through the park without lunging at bicyclists. Rosie became less reactive. A bit. But there was no way I could take her to the café down the block and have her placidly sit under the table watching the world go by.
Next, I hired a dog trainer, a behaviorist, who is teaching me how to interact with Rosie in a way that makes sense to her as a pack animal and again, the focus is on reinforcing positive behavior. Behavior that is not desired is ignored. As much as possible, I create an environment that will lead to successful interactions: distance between us and other dogs at the park, frozen peanut butter bones when I leave her alone, and treats (lots of treats) to reward desired behaviors.
All this effort to help Rosie learn to be a better roommate caused me to consider whether my inner monologue was positive reinforcement (Yeah, Fawn! All that effort to reduce your sodium intake has really helped to get your blood pressure down) or negative (What is wrong with you, Fawn? You used to work 16 hours without a break and now you want a nap before dinner?) I’m actually kind of surprised that how much negative talk there is.
Surely, my own precious self is worthy of the same kindness that I extend toward my Rosie.
So, I am determinedly changing those negative thoughts. When I notice a critical thought arising, I intentionally turn it around. The above negative thought might become: “Fawn, you have worked really hard your whole life. Your body is tired. Give it what it needs. Let’s have a nap before dinner.”
I would love to hear where you are learning kindness toward self.
And enjoy the bonus photos of things that Rosie has chewed to bits.