It’s one thing to think, “I want to be more positive” and another to actually implement it. We are exposed to and taught the habits and patterns of our family and society. If you want to be more constructive, you might need to learn new skills. When my son was born, I knew that I had a lot to learn and began looking for information.

I’d already stopped common practices like saying “No!” and “Don’t do that.” Pushing against something only serves to put the focus on what you don’t want rather than guiding/informing about what you DO want. Unless you are practiced, it takes creativity, energy and you have to be a step ahead to pull this off well. I was on the hunt for tips and tricks to help me improve.

I came across a fascinating philosophy, “Positive Discipline”. The fundamental principle is that misbehavior is actually indicative of unmet needs and addressing those needs is the real solution. This idea of the “need underneath” is also an integral component of “Nonviolent Communication”, another worthwhile philosophy/practice. And within both of these systems, the “other” (be it person, child, dog, etc) is given choices.

Interestingly, behavior scientists demonstrate that choice is a potent motivator. This makes a lot of sense if you think about it and, if you start to play around with it, you’ll find it to be true. Since learning this, I’ve been incorporating choices into both my child rearing and dog care when and where possible. Often, I’ll limit the number of choices, to guide towards success. But, I also look for places where giving freedoms is possible. It’s feels good and life is so much more wonderful when everyone contributes (as opposed to a 1-woman show).

Another element recommended by this (and other) philosophies is to ask instead of tell. Get curious rather than assume and not only do you completely change the tone, you might learn what’s really going on. When children are asked “curiosity” questions about their behavior, they open up. This is such a beautiful technique! Once you ask, listen with openness and wisdom. From this vantage point you have the chance to get to what’s underneath it all.

Normally, humans can be very assuming. I’ve been struck by my toddler saying that he’s sad or that “it hurts” lately. He’s only recently developed the ability to know and then speak about these feelings. The thing that stops me in my tracks is that I was thinking very differently about his situation before he clued me in. A couple times when I was carrying him (which I’ve done for years), he’s surprised me by saying it’s hurting his bottom. Could be the pull-ups he’s now wearing, but, what humbles me is that if he couldn’t speak and was instead “acting out”, I would have, in the past, not been as understanding. I think about this relative to dogs. Before my recent evolution as a trainer, I would have taken more of a hard nosed approach in certain situations. But, in light of the evidence, it behooves us to be more thoughtful.

I find this all so thought-provoking. Positive discipline refers to education, instruction and guidance. It’s not about just getting the dog/child to stop doing that annoying thing. What if something big is going on for them? This sometimes happens with dogs that give perfectly natural dog language to “back off”. If the dog is suppressed through punishment, they may learn to skip the warning and instead just bite. If we get good at listening, we can hear the whispers and support those in our life. These truths cause me to reevaluate what I teach and how I live. Ultimately, we owe it to those entrusted to our care to make life as wonderful as it can be with our (the dogs’ and our own) well-being taking priority over any other agenda. We continue to grow and evolve and embrace the joy.

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