Thursday, October 25, 2007

Lessons for Me from Puppy Raising

It's been a while since I've posted much of anything you could call "reflective." The last two months have been so filled with puppy chronicles that I really haven't had time to capture my thought process through it all.

Don't get me wrong; the puppy chronicles are important and satisfying in and of themselves (let alone invaluable for me later for reference when we breed Kenya next year -- yes, we will have another litter in 2008 to chronicle!).

But Regular Reader knows this isn't just a photo blog or fact blog. This is a place of observation, too. And it's about time I get back to an observation or two.

So here goes.

Puppy-Raising: What it's Taught Me So Far (Five Quick Lessons)

Lesson One: Though I've learned much, I have far more yet to learn. Man, you'd think we'd catch a break here. With this breeding adventure, I've been reading and studying and talking to older/wisers and watching training videos and practicing what I'm learning. But where I land after all that effort is that I have so much more to learn.

Frankly, I didn't realize how little I knew until I started to know something. How's that for an enigma?! Isn't that the way of it with most things, though? Isn't that the way of it with life?

Lesson Two: There has to be grace to NOT be perfect. We're all in process, myself included. And we're all learning and growing together. Sometimes we WILL make mistakes. Sometimes we'll say or do the wrong thing. Sometimes we'll think we're doing the best thing when, in hindsight, we discover something else may have been the better choice.

Like on my feeding instructions for the new owners: I put that the pups were receiving 1.5 - 2 cups of food 3x daily. What I should have said was that they were receiving 1.5 - 2 cups daily spread out over three meals (that means 0.5 to 0.75 cups per meal -quite a difference). BUT I did tell everyone to feed according to the pup, not the ranges on the back of the food bag (as in, if the pup is gaining too much weight, cut back, or if the pup is looking underweight, increase the amount). It certainly won't hurt the dogs, and their vets will let them know better, but I feel stupid having put the feeding instructions out there incorrectly.

But...there's grace. I have to remember that.

I would do well to remember that with others, too (and not be too quick to judge when others make mistakes). After all, we're only human.

Lesson Three: Learning is easier when it's fun.
The pups are great for this. Clicker training is great for this. As long as we tap their enthusiasm, love for food (hehe), and natural desire to please, the pups will learn quickly and readily. We're seeing that already. We make learning to come, (using "here") a game, and the pups come to us readily. Same with crate training (they always, always, always, get a treat when we crate them, so going in the crate is fun!). They go into the crates easily now (though they don't always like to stay there, but that's a different issue).

When I teach or speak (and I do teach and speak regularly), I find the same holds true for humans. People engage and participate when I make it fun. Why is it that our adult learning system (business world, trainings, conferences, etc.) seems to think that since we're grown-ups, we must enjoy grown-up lectures? Nothing could be farther from the truth. Fun = engagement = learning. We people-trainers would do well to learn from puppy-handlers.

Which brings me to...

Lesson Four: Positive reinforcement goes so much further in motivating change than correction or punishment.

I know that's true with puppy training (especially clicker training). But it goes for people, too: kids, parents, older adults, younger adults, employees, co-workers, team members -- you name it. I knew this with my kids as they were growing up (they are all in the twenties now).

But I didn't really think about it in working with other adults until recently. I mean, how often do we affirm those we interact with regularly (yet, how often are we quick to correct, confront, or complain about them?)?

Encouragement, in whatever form (thanks, affirmation, compliments, etc.) begets positive actions, whether it's canines or humans involved.

Lesson Five: Good outcomes require sacrifice.
That may seem obvious, but it's a good reminder for me. Raising puppies from birth (even caring for Elsie during her pregnancy) DID require sacrifice: we sacrificed time, sleep, money, sleep, vacations, sleep, job performance, sleep, availability for other things (like kayaking or gardening), oh, and did I mention sleep? To say "yes" to puppy-rearing necessarily implied saying "no" to something else. But that was only if we wanted to raise puppies well, ensuring better outcomes.

We could, of course, have blown the puppies off, slept more, and done all the other things we like doing. But the outcome of sound, healthy, well-socialized pups would never have been realized.

And so it goes with other things. If I want to produce good writing, I have to say "no" to countless other distractions that would keep me from developing a solid manuscript. If I want a good marriage or good relationships with my kids, I need to say "yes" to being available to them -- say "yes" to late night conversations when I'm tired, "yes" to watching sport venues when I'm not really a sports fan, "yes" to long phone conversations despite work deadlines, "yes" to stopping what I'm doing to focus on their needs (whatever they are at the time), "yes" to evenings home with hubby or movie nights with home-for-a-visit kids -- and "no" to all those other things that could get in the way.

I'm thankful our pups turned out so well, but there were sacrifices along the way (you should see my more-trashed-than-usual house).

But again, that seems to be the way of it. As a friend once told me, and I recall to mind often, sometimes you have to say "no" to very good things (sacrifice) in order to say "yes" to the best.

So those are a few of the lessons I'm learning from this puppy-rearing adventure. I'm sure there will be more to come.

But that's enough pontificating for now. It's time for the pups to potty!

'Til next time,


JuliaR said...

Great thoughts, thanks for sharing.

Joan said...

I don't know how great they are, but they're genuine. And I'm learning. :o)

And so it goes....