Almost exactly three years ago, we got a new dog named Jayber.
It was April 2020 and I had a lot of time on my hands — as did we all. The extra time was crucial because unruly pets drive me crazy.
For the last three years now, we’ve spent countless hours with our little friend. And not just because we can or should. We do it because we know the discipline earned from hours of work bears great fruit. Each hour we spend correcting, training, and testing (I like to call these activities “stretching” as they are pushing the boundaries of what obedience has looked like up to this point) is creating a stronger bond between us and our dog. There is something about helping a young wild thing learn that life is better with rhythm and routine. He needs discipline like you and I need a few servings of vegetables each day. It sets us right. And of course, herein lies the greater truth: As this dog grows, I do too.
To keep Jayber on a schedule, I have to wake up early and walk him around the block. With only the occasional exception, we are up and doing it each day. For a large part of the year, this ritual is done before the sun has taken its place in the sky. Even when it’s cold, even when it’s hot, even when it rains, and even when I am tired — the only way to train a pet to be consistent is to be consistent yourself.
While I spend mornings and evenings training my dog, the middle part of my day is focused on training people. What's interesting about training anyone to do anything is that you cannot teach well without embodying your instruction. I best teach discipline by being disciplined. I best teach peace and calm by projecting a soothing presence. I best teach rules by embodying them myself.
But ideas like peace, calm, and discipline feel rare today.
Committed to the ideas of freedom and boundary-less living, our culture often claims to be looking to mimic nature. After all, someone may claim, "The animals and plants, streams and oceans all do what they want when they want!" Or do they? Animals and plants fall naturally into hierarchies leaving no single species able to fully overtake the others (with only the rare exception as a result of humans introducing invasive species into long-stable ecosystems). Bodies of water, and the weather systems of clouds and rain which maintain them, follow a pattern so easy to see you can set your watch to it. Even the sun, moon, and stars have pressed their own annual rhythm onto our world. If there is a lesson to be taken from nature it is not, “I should be free to do what I want when I want,” but rather “All things are at their best when they are tempered and put in their place.”
I love dog training, not because I desire mastery over my little friend Jayber, but because of what spending so much time with him reminds me: our lives are at their best when our natures are bent into a better path. Discipline doesn’t constrain me, it frees me.
In training Jayber, I am actually training myself.