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By Liz R Kover
Animal Assisted Activities Director Marleys Mutts Dog Rescue 

Be the change

It's a Dog's Life


As a dog trainer, I find my job is both freshly challenging with each new case, and simultaneously, somewhat predictable. While each individual dog and dog guardian are unique and different, similar issues tend to arise in households across the board, such as, "Our dog goes crazy whenever anyone comes to the door, and won't stop barking and jumping!"

I believe what causes this kind of issue – and the remedy for fixing it – are two sides of the same coin: Individuals' behavior is, in part, the result of how others around them behave; i.e. much of our behavior is reactionary. This is especially true of our dogs, who look to us for guidance and direction at every turn. While each person and dog are uniquely individual, some of our thoughts, feelings and actions change depending on the dynamics between us and those we're interacting with at any given time. As members of relationships, families and communities, our behavior patterns reflect those of the whole 'village' that's raising us.

Let's look, for example, at the family whose dog barks wildly at anyone who comes to the door, be it a delivery driver, a friend, or a family member the dog sees every single day when she returns home from work. It's 4 p.m. The key turns in the door lock every weekday, predictably between 4:05 and 4:10 p.m. Just before that, the car makes its way up the street. The dog's anticipation escalates. He hears the car doors close, the jangling of keys, and the sound of his owner's footsteps approaching the house – each a cue that means "Ready, Set, BARK!" The door opens and chaos ensues. Person 1 comes to grab the dog's collar while Person 2 opens the door and begins chirping hellos at the dog in a high-pitched voice. There's a lot of jumping, arms and paws are flailing, and each party adds emotional fuel to the others' fire.

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Now, imagine that the people in this scenario alter their behavior with the intention of calming things down. After all, any changes we wish to see in our dog's behavior must begin with us. So, perhaps with some guidance from a knowledgeable trainer, the collective behavior pattern at the door changes. With daily practice and consistent expectations for the family's behavior to hit the designated mark, those sounds that once signaled overexcitement in the dog and anxiety in Persons 1 and 2, now cue the dog to go to his mat and wait patiently for attention, while cueing Persons 1 and 2 to practice centeredness and leadership. All in the equation achieve the rewards they're after by practicing focus and self-control.

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This principle not only applies in dog training, in fact at its core, but it reveals a profound law of higher understanding: "Be the change you wish to see in the world". Be your very best, and others in your midst will rise to meet you there.

Dog Speed, Service Dog Trainer/ Good Dog Autism Companions. Visit us online at


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