Oh, So Much Trouble: Lessons from a Dog Trainer
No, this post won’t teach you how to train your dog. I have little to offer on that topic. After all, our rescued Australian Shepherd mix is named “Oso.” We’re told that means “bear” in Spanish, but “Oh, so much trouble” seems much more appropriate.
Within his first few months in our home, Oso had run away at least four times, eaten paint balls from my son’s bedroom (tip: dogs who vomit bright green foam in the vet’s waiting room get taken back right away), and scarfed part of a bag of fertilizer from the garage shelf (Fortunately, it was organic. Unfortunately, he vomited that, too).
Life with Oso has taught me several lessons, not the least of which includes keeping both paint balls and fertilizer out of his reach. Since we have a tiny backyard, Oso’s an inside dog. Friendly by nature, he is also protective, which can result in lots of barking at passers-by. We tried to stop this behavior with lots of corrective words and little success.
Until a couple of weeks ago. That’s when I read an article by a dog trainer which said the barking is a natural stress response. Oso’s cortisol level rises when he sees the other person or animal, so he barks. But if we yell at him or otherwise increase that level, he barks more, not less.
The article suggested we try petting, praising, or giving Oso a treat for good behavior (not barking) rather than reinforcing the bad behavior. And guess what? Within just a day or so of trying this technique, he stopped most of his inappropriate barking. Now, when he notices another dog or person, instead of barking, he comes to spend time with my husband or me, knowing he’ll receive something good.
What if I did that? What if instead of getting worried or upset, I went straight to my Master, knowing I’d receive something good? My life would no doubt be more peaceful—and I’d save myself oh, so much trouble, too.
Marti Pieper’s passion to read, write, and pray makes her life an adventure. In 2005, her involvement in a prayer project led her to assist Brent and Deanna Higgins as they told their son’s compelling story. The resulting memoir, I Would Die for You: One Student’s Story of Passion, Service, and Faith (Revell, 2008) became a young adult best-seller termed a “missions classic.”
Today, Marti continues to use her gifts as author, collaborative writer, editor, and conference speaker. Out of the Dust, the most recent of her eight nonfiction books, received the Advanced Writers and Speaker’s Association’s Golden Scroll Nonfiction Merit Award.