Recently, I started listening to The Happiness Lab. In the first episode of this podcast, Dr. Laurie Santos, a professor at Yale University, explains that while it will take work, we can make changes that will help us to live happier lives. I believe her statement because I’ve helped our dog become more friendly.
When we first met our adopted poodle Dory, she was shy of strangers. Really shy. So shy that when she approached us for a treat, she would stretch her neck as far as she could to keep from truly coming within our reach. Treat in mouth, she would run back to the breeder’s side before devouring it.
Despite her wary behavior, we adopted her. After a few days, she was comfortable with us, but she didn’t stop being shy with others. When anyone came to the house, she would bark, then hang back with us. Out on walks, she would keep her distance from the friendly strangers who wanted to pet our cute little dog.
Small dogs have good reason to be shy. They need to keep a wary eye on their surroundings and especially the people around them, or they might get stepped on. But Dory was living with more anxiety that we were comfortable with, so I started a program to help her overcome her shyness.
My training regime was simple. Whenever someone came into our house, I had them give her a treat. I did this with dinner guests, knitting buddies, and even repair men. Not everyone wanted to give the dog a treat, but enough people did that she soon changed her ways. She still ran up to the door barking, but instead of running away again, she would wait, sniffing outstretched fingers in the hopes of a treat.
In the eight years she’s lived with us, Dory really has changed. I don’t think there’s any way to get her to stop barking when someone’s at the door, but she hangs around to check out visitors now. On walks, she will run up to strangers, something she never used to do, and she’s much more tolerant of being petted by the people we meet.
Dory’s change is a reminder that everyone can change. We may not be able to eradicate a trait we don’t like, but we can shift it. We can be shy or out-going, or somewhere in-between. I don’t think Dory will ever be a truly out-going dog. She’s too sensitive and nervous for that. But with help, she has learned to be more friendly and not to give in to her shyness as much as she used to.
Do you believe we can change? How have you or others changed their behavior?