Thursday, October 7, 2021

Who is Training Whom?

Ellie, the day we got her
We have a year and a half old beagle.  As with almost all beagles, training her has been an experience.  Some say it is because beagles are stubborn, but I don't think that is true.  I think it is because beagles have an extremely powerful sense of smell.

I have read that the beagle's olfactory lobe in the brain is about 40 times as large as that of a human's. Their sense of smell is 1,000-10,000 times greater than our's.  So every time Ellie goes out for a walk, she finds some new thing to sniff to which I am totally oblivious.  Once her nose catches a scent, it seems the rest of her brain is shut off and all she is focusing on is what she smells.

This is where the heart of dog training comes in, moving their attention to the owner and away from everything else.  I want Ellie to think that I am the most interesting thing on which she can possible focus her attention.  This is not an easy task.

For one thing, dogs are not verbal creatures. (Sort of obvious, isn't it?)  And yet, we try so hard to train them with words.  The fact is, dogs learn sign language much quicker and easier than words.  So with Ellie, we use both. She knows many signs and it comes in handy when I want to give her a command, but don't want to interrupt someone or draw attention to the two of us.

Dog training also is both positive and negative.  By that I don't mean we punish Ellie, but that we must train her not only for what we want her to do, but we must be sure to not accidentally reinforce those behaviors we don't want to see in her.

Also, dogs usually have very short attention spans (unless of course chicken is involved.)  So to mark a good behavior, one must attach a marker within three seconds of that behavior. For us, this is saying, "Yesss, Ellie!" (And the extra s's on the yes are very important). 

So many things with dog training seem to be counter intuitive to humans.  Which brings me to my question, Who is training whom?  Is Ellie being trained, or am I?

Well, we both are being trained and it is important for me to realize that because the most important thing in dog training is to be consistent. The same thing, the same way each time.  Having said that, over the course of training a behavior it is necessary to increase the three "Ds". . .distance, duration and distractions.  What Ellie can do sitting in the den may not be reproduced as well in the Living Room with a guest present.  The distraction may grab her attention and keep her from performing the task I have given her.  All three of the "Ds" must be increased in training, and for us, it happens very slowly.

The components of Ellie's training are very similar to the components of our "training" in our walk with the Lord.  Distance, duration and distractions all play a part in how we grow in the Lord, only in a different way.

Instead of increasing the distance between us, when we speak of the Lord, we want that distance to decrease.  We are always the offending party here.  The Lord is "a very present help in trouble." (Psalm 46:1.)  We are the one to turn our attention from Him to the other dog, the piece of chicken or the fast moving wheels (to use Ellie's most distracting examples.)  

Likewise with distractions.  We want to minimize the distractions that pull our attention, our choices away from the Lord.  Do I get frustrated, angry and feel despair reading a particular website?  Then perhaps I should delete it from my list of favorites.  Does a particular person frequently encourage me to make wrong choices regarding my walk with the Lord?  Perhaps I need to rethink my relationship with that person.  Do I spend more time scrolling down my feeds on social media than conversing with and reading about the Lord of the universe?  Perhaps I need to examine my choices with time.

All of us have "room for improvement" in these areas.  All of us have potential for growth.  And like our sweet Ellie, none of us has yet reached perfection in our behavior.  Thankfully, we have a kind and loving Lord who wants to lead us in the way we should walk and draws us nearer to Himself each day.

"Cause me to hear Thy lovingkindness in the morning; 

for in Thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; 

for I lift up my soul unto Thee."

Psalm 143:8

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