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Oh no you didn't!

When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends!

James 1:2 (Phillips)

I spent the year of 2013 studying dog training and behavior in the hopes of becoming a trainer myself. My education involved book learning as well as hands on observation/interaction with many dogs, including a period of volunteering at PAWS animal shelter in Lynnwood WA. It was a year well spent and it augmented what I’d already learned from Cesar and from my own experience with Dominique Decoco.

I won’t bore you with the definition and application of theories like operant or classical conditioning. But I would like to discuss the difference between discipline and punishment from a dog’s perspective. To give it some context, let’s talk about the dreaded four letter word... poop. There are few things more unpleasant than coming home and being hit with that distinct aroma, announcing to your olfactory glands that your dog has left a little present on the carpet for you to enjoy... or not. When this happened way back in the ‘70s it was common place for my parents to call our dogs over to their mess, yell, "bad dog", and then rub their noses in it. While this method “seemed” to work and our dogs eventually did learn to do their business outside, I’ve since learned that this form of punishment is a totally foreign concept in the animal kingdom.

Punishment equates a negative penalty inflicted after one is tried and convicted of moral wrongdoing. The problem with this approach to dogs is that firstly, dogs don’t understand morality, and secondly, dogs live/react in the moment. By the time an angry human doles out punishment for wrongful defecation, the dog has already moved on. Therefore he makes no connection between the poop being rubbed in his nose and the reprehensible act of pooping on the carpet. He’s keen enough to sense that you are upset, but he associates your anger with what is happening in that instant, which may be a behavior that is good, like resting quietly on his bed. Now he is just confused.

Discipline on the other hand involves a mindset of training. Think about the coach preparing a gymnast for the summer Olympics or the piano teacher getting students ready for the big recital. When it comes to dogs, discipline makes more sense to them in keeping with the way they learn. A good trainer is right there to make instant corrections in the moment, “lets try that again, but this time concentrate on pointing your toes.” Immediately the athlete complies, trying again in order to improve their abilities and please their coach.

You see, to a dog, pooping in the house is no different than pooping outside. Just as plowing over other dogs while in pursuit of the same ball is perfectly acceptable at any dog park. While dogs may have a sense of proper etiquette, like sniffing and being sniffed, their “moral” protocol is vastly different than ours. So, in order to influence a change of behavior (like not pooping inside) it's imperative to be present and disrupt our dog in the very act of pooping with a, “No!” or “Ah ah ah!” and then whisk them outside to finish. When they succeed on the grass and we praise them, they make the correct association between what they just did and our response. In essence, this is coaching them in the proper techniques that make for acceptable cohabitation with humans—and they get it.

As I learned and implemented this course of action on a daily basis to all of my dog's objectionable behaviors she began to change. And this led to a light bulb moment for me in my relationship with the Lord. Suddenly The Master’s discipline made so much more sense. I could finally see how it wasn’t about anger or punishment. Hebrews 12:7 exorts us to endure hardship as discipline/correction/training. Just like Decoco worked with me, I understood more fully how God needed my willing cooperation as He orchestrated the circumstances of my life according to His glorious wisdom.

So when the s*** hits the fan (to use a crude modern idiom) and all the not-so-wonderful promises materialize—after all didn't Jesus say, "In this world you will have trouble"? Rather than fighting, running, resisting or hiding (which is what I was used to doing) there was another option: surrender! I could welcome every trial as God's correction and training in righteousness. "Please come in and do your work to help me, change me and bless me." Through repeated practice (perseverance), this mindset of submission resulted in a change of character in the depths of my being. James chapter one uses words like maturity and wholeness to describe the results. This was great news because I longed to experience the outcome of this particular kind of hospitality. Verse four: "... so that you may not lack anything." Contentment feels wonderful.

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