How Dog Training Makes us Better Humans

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

I come to this work with few, if any, ulterior motives. I’m certainly not being manipulative, nor am I conducting any mad scientist experiments (benevolent or otherwise). I will admit, though, a bit of warm satisfaction when I see what dog training does to people.

Yes, even on the face of it, training our dogs helps us a great deal. It’s no secret. This is a human endeavor. We benefit as much as our dogs. Reinforcement based (think non-coercive) training helps dogs make better decisions. It helps them behave better. In turn, the dog stays in his home, lives longer, and seems more joyful. Humans? Well it’s a big relief when the bad dog goes good. Win-win all around. Everyone’s happier.

But, in my experience some other things are happening too. I’ve noticed a trend over these 16+ years in dog training. When a human being starts thinking about his dog differently, when he uses smiles and praise and food in training, when he sets aside his anger and force and restraint, something happens. There’s a change, not just in the dog. It’s a human change, sometimes subtle, but no less real.

This is what I’ve noticed:

IMG_0861We speak less and listen more. Of course when we think of listening to our dogs, what we really mean is we watch them. Folks who’ve learned how to communicate with and teach their dogs using force-free methods do this a bit differently, though. We really watch our dogs, with soft attentive eyes, like we’re looking at a brilliant painting, or watching a fascinating film for the fist time. All of the stories we tell on our dogs, all the commands and admonitions, they all fall silent. We change. Not so much the dog, but the human, we change. We stop looking for error and evil and we start seeking out our dog’s goodness, his correctness, and his best moments of simply being.

When we do speak, our words flow from kindness. What else can we say? When we start noticing our dogs differently, we speak better of them. They are two human behaviors naturally and inextricably connected. See goodness of being; speak the same. And, we smile. We are touched and we touch; we praise; we celebrate our dogs with food and play and quiet moments. We connect at a level that seems sometimes hard to explain to others.

And, then we cross the line. This is the part so many of us never saw coming. We learn how to be and how to act with our dogs. Our dogs learn in turn how to be and how to act with us. They reflect the lesson back and teach us and before long, so often, the lesson spills over. I’ve seen it happen first hand. It’s real – inexplicable maybe – undeniable nonetheless. We start treating each other differently. So much in the habit of seeking and supporting goodness, celebrating the actions we love from the beings we love, we start doing it more. With each other. We cross the line. We watch each other with soft attentive eyes. We speak to each other from a place of kindness. It’s God’s work or Dog’s work. Backwards and forwards, it is what it is.

IMG_0816 (1)I’ve left people’s homes too many times with butterflies in my gut and an impish (smug?) smile on my face for it to be mere coincidence. Dogs on the line, we trainers know all about them. Families on the line, we talk too little about them I think. I’m not being manipulative, no indeed. But once the door is opened, it’s hard to shut. See for the first time how reinforcement changes not only your dog’s behavior, but also how you feel about your dog, and you won’t soon forget it. See how it helps create long-lasting nurturing relationships with your fellow humans, with the people you love, and it’s nothing less than life changing. How could it not be?

I’ve seen it happen, witnessed it first hand to many times for it to be my imagination. In and out for a few sessions, job well-done, thank you very much, call me if you need more help. But don’t think I didn’t see it – the child and parent smiling and working together, the man in love with his wife more so now because she loves his dog, the family listening – taking turns – encouraging each other – just like they do with the dog.

I’m no mad scientist. In fact, I take no credit. It’s like I tell my clients. I just have some information. You get to make all the decisions. This is all you.

Michael teaches dog training in Houston, TX. He specializes in helping families with fearful and aggressive dogs.

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2 Responses to How Dog Training Makes us Better Humans

  1. Sheri Levy says:

    This is a powerful article and I am a true believer in positive reinforcement. I taught Special Ed with very difficult children and I have used these skills with a very troubled rescued dog. It took a while, but he has become an affectionate and trusting dog. I love sharing my thoughts about positive ways to change behavior and use these techniques in my stories.
    Thanks for posting and I plan to share.
    Sheri Levy
    Author of Seven Days to Goodbye

  2. Love this post! As a volunteer puppy raiser who has helped with Leader Dogs for the Blind’s prison puppy raising program, this resonates with me. I, too, have seen it happen “inside.”

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