Puppy Wisdom

A new member of the Ashley family recently took our household by storm. Wellington (Wellie for short) has melted our hearts, disrupted our routines and reminded us (again and again) that it takes training (lots of it!) to transform unruly pups into happy and well-behaved family members.

In addition to filling our home with love and entertainment, Wellie has provided some powerful lessons in how training works best. And given that we humans are consistently (consciously or unconsciously) training ourselves in our patterns and behaviors, these lessons can be very usefully applied to our own world of health and well-being.

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
When Wellie first arrived, his early weeks as one of a litter of nine had taught him that his best chance of getting his fair share at mealtimes was to launch himself headlong at the food bowl, then attempt to inhale the entire bowlful in one desperate gulp. Now six weeks later—with no prompting needed other than the sound of the food dish—he sits like a gentleman awaiting the signal to eat. 

It took a while and plenty of repetition. But eventually his intense desire to eat, combined with repeated reminders that the only way to get his food was to sit patiently and wait, transformed him into a patient diner. 

His brain, like ours, is plastic and changes depending on how it’s used. The more he used the “I must be patient and wait” pathway, the easier and more automatic it became for him to do just that.

Which prompts the question for us: how can we use the extraordinary power of neuroplasticity to change our brain by changing how we use it? What brain pathways do we want to strengthen to create the habits and patterns that will serve us best?

If, for example, we tend to respond to the world as though we’re living in a perpetual state of emergency, how much more ease, joy and vitality would we have if we learned how to strengthen the pathways that deliver states of calm and relaxation instead?

Tone of Voice is More Impactful Than Words
Wellie, of course, didn’t arrive speaking human. But he always knows when we’re happy with him and when we’re not because the tone of our voice says it all. 

A “good boy Wellie!” delivered with a snarl would assuredly communicate the opposite of what the words actually mean, just as a lovingly uttered “bad dog Wellie!” would have him wagging his tail with joyful expectation.

So what inner voice are we using with ourselves? Is there a harsh, judgmental tone to our words even if the message is meant to be positive? If so, the tone of our voice (just like our body language) will always be more powerful than our words.

Treats and Play Make Learning Easy
Wellie (like any fine upstanding puppy) loves his treats and he loves to play. Long serious training sessions are of zero interest to the lad. But add a handful of tasty treats and a playful tone of voice during quick bursts of training and he’s all yours. Learning and play become one and the same thing for him.

How often do we humans make learning a laborious chore? Turn self improvement into an overly earnest endeavor—denying ourselves both treats and positive reinforcement along the way in the name of reaching some new level of (totally unattainable) perfection?

This might be Wellie’s most powerful lesson of all. Because, just like puppies, we need treats of kindness and appreciation to learn easily and well. We need playfulness and humor to bring levity and balance to our all-too-serious world. And the more we take on life’s adventures and challenges this way, the easier it is for us to live into the life we truly want.

Take it from the expert!