Can you teach an old dog (or conditioned human) new tricks?

Hello my fellow human Beings:

I recently introduced a 10-year-old Maltese dog into my home on a full-time basis and am in the process of retraining him from being an indoor, solitary dog to an outdoor, sociable dog.  The dog is older and I’m middle-aged, so the process entails some relearning for both of us.  We both have to change long-engrained patterns of behaviour.

Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

Experts and dog-lovers say YES, but you need patience, consistency and positive rewards for the new behaviour.

These same three tips are also good advice for meditators trying to retrain their brains away from long-engrained patterns of conditioned behaviour (e.g. ego mind chatter, thoughts jumping to the past or future, rather than staying in the moment).  Trying to be mindful, more present and more focused on the now requires patience, consistency and positive rewards for the new behaviour.

  •  Patience: Remember to be patient and gentle with yourself.  It will take a while to relearn the new mind patterns of behaviour, so don’t be frustrated or harsh with yourself if your mind doesn’t settle down easily when you meditate the first, tenth, hundredth or thousandth time.  Keep practicing and the new behaviours will become easier and easier.
  • Consistency: Keep practicing the new behaviours over and over in a consistent manner.  Setting up a regular time every day to meditate and sticking to it, even when you may not feel like it.  It will help to make the new behaviours more natural and engrained over time.
  • Positive rewards for the new behaviour: As you continue to practice the new behaviours over and over again, reward yourself for getting it right and doing it regularly.  After a meditation sit, reflect on how you feel in your body and mind. Are you more relaxed? Are you calmer? Are you more alert and attentive?  Be aware of these positive changes throughout your day as it will be a reminder that your efforts are paying off.  … and if you sit and meditate regularly each day this week, then give yourself a good, healthy treat.  Reward yourself for a job well done. It will reinforce the new good behaviours in you.

Be still, be patient, be consistent and be encouraging and yes, you and your dog can learn new tricks.

Eckhart Tolle in Stillness Amidst the World reminds us of the benefits of having a pet when he writes:

“Thought subsides when you pet your dog or you have a purring cat on your chest.  Even just watching an animal can take you out of your mind.  It is more deeply connected with the source of life than most humans, and that rootedness in Being transmits itself to you.  Millions of people who otherwise would be completely lost in the conceptual reality of their mind are kept sane by living with an animal.”

So I embrace this journey further into Beingness with my 10-year old, new-to-me dog and am appreciate of the sanity he brings to my life.

Together we will learn to be still, to connect with our true and calmer selves, living happily and harmoniously with our fellow Beings.

So this week, I invite all of you to find the time to PAUSE, be still, connect to your true and calmer selves, so that patiently, consistently and encouragingly we will all live more abundantly.

(If you want to read further about changing behaviours, check out this earlier post, entitled The Times They Are A-Changin’.)

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8 thoughts on “Can you teach an old dog (or conditioned human) new tricks?

  1. LOVE the message on this post about having and maintaining a steady practice. Especially patience…!

    May your new pet bring you both joy and more stillness!

  2. Yes, you can. Most of the pets I have adopted from animal shelters have been older pets. I do that for two reasons specifically. First, older pets are hard to adopt out, so I want to help give them a great place to live out their lives. Second, adoption fees for older pets are often less expensive than those for a newborn or young pet.

  3. Pingback: It’s Spring … Time for Renewal | The Still Spot

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