Happy Mother’s Day, at least if you’re in one of the 84 countries celebrating today. Almost every country has an occasion to honor mothers. They may not all be the same date, but they all celebrate the same thing: The miracles of birth and motherhood that brought all of us here.
There’s another miracle involved — or at least it seems miraculous if you’ve ever been a parent. Without it, very few of us would make it to adulthood because, honestly, kids are difficult. But other than it being illegal, there’s a good built-in reason that people don’t abandon their kids in frustration when they’re two years old.
So what’s the secret?
It’s something called “patience.” Good human parents, moms and dads both, learn the importance of patience because it helps them understand that their children don’t start out perfect, and have to learn how to be people along the way. It can take a while, too. A few years, a couple of decades… but the important part is that the parents don’t give up and walk away every time their kid makes a mistake or does something that really causes problems.
If you’ve ever had a toddler, then you’ve had something you valued destroyed at least once, I can guarantee. What’s our reaction to that? It’s to take a few deep breaths, realize that material things can be replaced, and then gently but firmly reprimand the child, tell them why this was a bad thing, and make a mental note to be sure things of value aren’t too accessible.
That’s how we react because they are our children and we love them. And yet, I see a quite different reaction from a lot of people who have dogs and say that they love them — and then completely lose their patience when that dog acts like a dog and barks too much, or pees on the floor, destroys something, or… isn’t perfect right out of the gate.
This is when they throw their hands up, way too early, and say, “I’ve tried everything. I don’t want to have to give up my dog. What do I do?”
Well, the short answer is that they haven’t tried everything, because if they had, their dog would be well-behaved now. And the one thing they probably haven’t tried is listening to the dog to figure out why the unwanted behavior is happening.
Listening requires patience. Patience requires empathy — understanding how people or animals that are not you are feeling or thinking. From empathy comes understanding, and once you understand why your dog is doing what they do, then you can figure out how to direct them away from that behavior.
But it isn’t something that will happen instantly. Just as it takes years and years to raise a human child to adulthood, it can take days or weeks or months — sometimes even years — to bring a dog out of her bad behavior to the point that you can trust her to not do something wrong.
Unfortunately, I think that I might be indirectly responsible for some of this lack of patience because I’m on TV, where a “one hour” show is actually about 43 minutes, neatly broken up into roughly equal segments. In each of those 43 minute shows, you see the same thing happen: I meet misbehaving dogs — sometimes only one family, usually two — I study and diagnose the behavior, and then I teach the owners how to fix it before coming back to see how they did.
Typically, a TV case will take a few weeks from first meeting to review, with me working with the dogs and humans anywhere from a couple of days a week to a couple of hours every day. And, in some extreme cases, it may be a few months between the time the opening of the episode is shot and I come back for the final wrap-up.
All you get to see are the 43 minutes. The unfortunate side-effect of this editing for TV is that it can make it look like I walk in the door and fix everything in less time than most people’s lunch breaks. And so people who aren’t seeing quick progress with their dog may understandably lose patience and become frustrated.
In adopting dogs, we agree to become their Pack Leaders, and the greatest virtue of leadership (or human parenthood) is patience. To remain patient, we must remind ourselves that every journey is made up of tiny steps and there’s no benefit in taking shortcuts. You can’t make your dogs perfect overnight — but you can do it eventually if you take the time to do it by small degrees every single day.
Stay calm, and be patient