Surprisingly, you could tell the coach’s favorite by who they rode the most in practice. Who they singled out for extra sprints, or extra rounds. A coach’s favorite was the one who had to run until he puked while the other kids stood around the side of the room glad they weren’t called out.
You could really tell a coach cared when an athlete had a poor performance and the coach was genuinely disappointed. There was no “good try” or “A for effort!” Just genuine disappointment.
I see this every day in the real world, too. If you’re someone who works and cares about your professional growth, you’re lucky if you have a boss, mentor, or superior who pulls you into his office and takes the time to tell you everything you’re doing wrong and how you can get better so you can contribute more and hopefully move successfully to the next phase of your life.
On the flip side, you probably feel a little empty if you have a boss who is either just annoying or worse – they don’t really say much about what you do - good or bad - and you just feel like you could disappear and no one would notice your work is being not being done.
When I look at a lot of clients and their dogs, I think about this crushing weight of low expectations.
At the same time, humans are buying books like The Purpose Driven life, working all day and seeking extra-curricular activities outside of that in a quest to make ourselves feel like our time on our Earth was valuable.
As dog trainers, we are often trying to help you do the same thing with your dog – it can be surprisingly difficult in our unfriendly dog world. Like humans, not every dog has the same purpose, but also like humans, they all benefit from having some sense of purpose, duty, and a sense of belonging as a functional member as a family or group.
This is why Cesar Millan was on to something when he came up with his catchy “exercise, discipline, and affection” mantra which is a winning formula when you break it down to its parts. Satiate the body, the mind, and the heart as he might say.
If you’ve ever worked with a trainer of any kind, there is no doubt they have tried to add meaning to your dog’s life. If not, here's 4 easy ways how to get started:
- Make your dog work for their food – If a dog was released into the wild, this would be their primary function – searching for food. When we bring them into our homes, often people will just fill up the bowl and have a never-ending food supply. This WILL make your dog fat, lazy, and unfulfilled. At a bare minimum, provide a meal time and have them sit or lay down for you to give them food. At your best, make them work for every bit of food through training throughout the day.
- Walk with structure – It’s not enough to walk your dog. Walking is very little physical exercise for most dogs. A walk is most fulfilling when it gives the dogs a structure to follow - this turns it from aimless meandering to a functioning team working in harmony. The first time you find the groove of a good walk is an amazing feeling for both the human and the dog. Also keep in mind that practicing mental discipline and self-control is far more tiring for a dog than just walking.
- Have house rules – Don’t let your dog sleep in the bed, don’t let them up on the furniture (or have them only come up by invite), wait at thresholds, etc. A house without rules is not only more chaotic, it makes the dog feel like a neglected member of your family. You’d have rules for your kids or even shared rules with your spouse, why make the dog feel like an outsider?
- Find jobs for your dog – Whether this be taking them to an agility or obedience class or making them carry the water on your summer hikes – give your dog a role in the pack. Asking nothing of them is ridiculous. I even had one client who taught their dog to pick the laundry out of the dryer because she couldn’t bend over easily. That’s genius stuff right there!
Keep in mind, while dogs are not children – what it takes to make them happy is not all that different. If you have kids, compare your dog’s life to your kid’s life – your kid goes to school where he is challenged mentally. Maybe he or she plays a sport after school where he or she is socializing and being challenged mentally and physically. Maybe you have a nice family dinner where you make your child say a prayer before you eat. After doing your homework your child might get to watch TV or do a little bit of leisure time with the family before he goes to bed at a set bed time: A well-rounded and challenging day.
Now here’s a description of the common dog’s life: Sit at home all day until someone gets there. Get pet a little bit. Go outside in yard for a few minutes. Go to bed.
Make some of these easy changes and help your dog live a more fulfilling and happy life!