Friday, December 23, 2011

The Greatest of These is Love--Merry Christmas

The Greatest of These is Love—Merry Christmas
Author, Jan Casey

Christmas is such a busy time. People are on the run, attending parties to share love with friends and family, shopping to buy all the right gifts, decorating their homes, and
attempting to finish the end-of-the-year reports for the boss. The weather is
marginal, snow is in the forecast and colder days are guaranteed. Even in a
small town like Cookeville (Tennessee), stress overtakes many as they
attempt to do it all. I hope, as you sit and read the paper, you’ll take a
moment to reflect on the joys that are also a part of this season, particularly
the joys brought to you by the family pet(s).

I recently saw the
history of the Christmas carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The song was
written during a time of religious persecution, when Roman Catholics were not
permitted to openly practice their faith in England. Each of the gifts was a
code for a religious symbol: the partridge in the pear tree is Jesus, the two
turtle doves are the Old and New Testament, and so on. When I reached the nine
ladies dancing, I read they represent the nine fruits of the Spirit: Love
(charity), Joy, Peace, Patience, Gentleness, Goodness, Faith, Humility, and
Self control. It strikes me that these virtues are the same things required of
us as we train and live with our furry companions.

Self Control: For the
human part of the team, self control is vital when training. Yes, we get angry
when our animals do something wrong or do not perform as we wish. Loss of self
control, becoming angry with the dog when he fails to meet our expectations,
leads to yelling (or worse) and weakens the bond you have with your pet. Better
to put him in a kennel with a good chew toy until you calm down. Dogs, too,
need to learn self control. They need to be taught to wait for a release cue to
get their dinner, to lie down and stay on a mat when asked, to “leave it”
whatever the “it” may be, to come when called. In other words, to follow the
cues you give, knowing that something wonderful will follow if they do.

Humility: This one just
comes with training a dog. There is nothing more humbling than to teach a dog
something new only to have her act as if she has never heard the cue before
when she is asked to perform. The standard cry heard in class? “But she does it
at home!” Don’t worry, with more practice in more locations, she will learn
what you want and her performance will make you proud.

Faith: Having faith in
one’s dog is not always easy. It may take years to build the trust, the
camaraderie necessary for you to trust your dog. I think service dogs are the
prime example owners placing their faith in their dogs. They trust the dog will
help them accomplish simple tasks: to cross a busy street, to alert them to a
phone ring or a baby’s cry, to help them lie down safely just before a seizure
strikes, to help them cope with a world that causes them anxiety.

Goodness: This is
definitely a two way street. Dogs will be good if people are good to them. They
are living beings who think, have emotions, and need the companionship of man.
It’s a partnership.

Gentleness: This is what
positive, reward-based training is all about. You can train your dog to a high
level by using gentleness. The Original Dog Whisperer, Paul Owens, is an
excellent example. There are so many others – Chris Bach, Pat Miller, Patricia
McConnell. Don’t buy into “You have to show them who is boss.” You’ll only set
up a relationship that is adversarial. Is that really why you got a dog?

Patience: Dogs are not
people. Though the laws of learning are the same for people and animals, we
still learn at different rates and through different reinforcements. Your dog
may learn some things incredibly fast and other things very slowly. Have
patience, seek suggestions for help on those things your dog is not doing well.

Peace: It’s not all work
all the time. Take time to sit with your pet and enjoy just being in her
company. Accept her for the being she is and make peace with the fact that
there may be some things you would like from her that she will never be able to
do. Accept this and be thankful for the miracle of her companionship.

Joy: People who love
their pets find joy in sharing their lives with these gifts from Above. Walking
together, playing together, cuddling on the couch, just being with your pet can
bring harmony and joy to your life. It is widely accepted that pet owners are
happier and healthier than non-pet owners. Need some joy? Get a pet.

Love: A verse in the
Bible states “The greatest of these is love.” You need not be rich or have much
to give to your pet, but if you love him, he will be the luckiest pet on earth.
It does not matter if he gets the best food, the newest toys, or top of the
line training. Love is the greatest gift you can give your pet.

Wishing you and your
pets the very best Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Jan Casey is a
reward-based trainer in Florida
at Courteous Canine, Inc.
and owner of Smiles and Wags Pet Services Mrs.
Casey is a member of the Association of Animal
Behavior Professionals.

Casey is a columnist for the Cookeville,
Herald-Citizen Pet
and Kid's Korner .
This column was originally written for the Herald-Citizen

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