My Dog is Smarter than Your Honor Student

Updated: Jun 5, 2019

One of the most important parts of life to me is the idea of "Right Livelihood." I first learned of this concept while studying Buddhism. Right Livelihood is defined by The Buddhist Centre as,

"... an important aspect of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. The Buddha encouraged his disciples to engage in compassionate activity, and to make their living in a way that does not cause harm and that is ethically positive.

Given that almost everyone’s life includes an economic dimension, work and career need to be integrated into life as a Buddhist. Most of us spend the majority of our waking lives at work, so it’s important to assess how our work affects our mind and heart. How can work become meaningful? How can it be a support not a hindrance to spiritual practice — a place to deepen our awareness and kindness?"

This idea immediately resonated with me. I have always been in pursuit of the meaningful things in life. I want my work to make a difference, to matter.

I started off by thinking of the things I love most, one of which is dogs. I thought of how I can help dogs and their people. I wanted to help keep dogs in their homes by providing help with behavioral issues. But not everyone listens to my instructions, so things do not always improve. This can be really difficult and demoralizing.

I recently came across a TED talk titled How to Know Your Life Purpose in 5 Minutes. In this talk, motivational speaker Adam Leipzig says we can discover our life's purpose by asking 5 simple questions. I will list them here, along with my initial answers.

  1. Who are you? I'm Glenna

  2. What do you love to do? Train dogs

  3. Who do you do it for? Dog owners

  4. What do those people want or need? They need dog ownership to be fun, instead of a burden

  5. How do they change as a result of what you give them? They better appreciate, understand and provide for their dog

After going through the list, I felt a tiny bit closer to what I was looking for.

Soon after, I came across the Canine Circus School. After some boring old house-training and barking cases, this looked like the absolute coolest (and most fun) thing I had ever seen. What I saw in their Facebook posts were the things I wanted to create for owners and dogs - quality time together, fun and happiness, pride.

I saw things that I so often do not see in the lives of dogs - mental/physical enrichment and positive/purposeful interactions with their owners. It is one of the most joyous and innocently beautiful things I have ever stumbled upon.

I began daydreaming of having my own doggie circus school one day. I imagined all the happy families teaching their dogs new things and learning patience in the process. I dreamt of dogs excitedly engaging in training, growing more confident from week to week in my imaginary classes. The owners would go home and show off their dog's tricks at every dinner party and family gathering.

Then one day last week it hit me. I was doing a simple recall and "sit" session with a gentleman and his two dogs. The dogs have not had much training in the past, and this was the first time the four of us were working together.

We went through the standard training plans I use for "recall" and "sit." Things that are second nature to me now, that are seemingly not much in the way of grandiosity and certainly not circus worthy. Yet as our session went on, my client and his dogs just looked happier and happier.

The dad was all smiles, amazed at how quickly his dogs were picking things up. Amazed to see them learn, to see them succeed, to be a part of that success. He couldn't believe it. By the end of our session he was in the floor hugging them and exclaiming how well they had done.

It didn't matter that they weren't doing fancy tricks or performing feats of nature, all that mattered was that they were working together. They were accomplishing something together. Using treats and happy talk, good timing and mechanical skills. No one was being made fearful or hurt in the name of training.

That's when I knew. My purpose is to make people proud of their dogs. It is the best feeling in the world and I cannot wait to do it again and again.

So often when our dogs are exhibiting behavior problems we feel ashamed. We do not want to have people over to witness all the jumping and barking. We fear going on walks because of the "scene" they will cause.

But it doesn't have to be this way. We don't have to be ashamed of our companions. Instead, we can learn about them, teach them and bond in the process. We can guide them in the act of performing behaviors we want to see, instead of merely reacting to the ones we are embarrassed by.

It takes work. It also takes a lot of other things: knowledge, a solid plan properly executed, management of expectations and learning how to set ourselves up for success. This often means gaining an understanding of what dogs are and are not capable of and in what time span.

It also means looking at things from the perspective of our dogs. We remind ourselves that for the majority of our history together they have had a job to do. That for much of their time with us, dogs have been roaming free, hunting wild game, herding sheep and guarding livestock.

Some still do these things, but the life's work of most modern dogs is that of companionship. Not that this isn't a noble calling, it just isn't one that is well suited to their biology, their dogness. We cannot realistically expect an unemployed dog to be perfectly well behaved. They need work to do and they will find it whether we are the ones providing it or not.

So what work can we provide companion dogs? Training, for one. Whether it is to improve behavior issues or to learn fun tricks, it is all the same to them. Our goals are the guide and the sky is the limit.

Among other things, we can use puzzle toys, take up Search & Rescue or even give Nosework a try. I have learned overtime that providing our dogs with a job needn't be time or capital consuming, all it takes is some attention and planning.

I promise it is worth it. You will see your dog learn and your heart will swell with pride. You will finally get to see just how awesome your dog is. All the while I will be feeling my own sense of pride just watching you.

One last time:

  1. Who are you? Glenna

  2. What do you love to do? Help dogs learn

  3. Who do you do it for? Dog owners

  4. What do those people want or need? An improved daily life with their dog

  5. How do they change as a result of what you give them? They have pride in their dog

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