Walk number one
After dinner, before bed. A summer evening. Emmett and I are walking JJ around the block. We are chatting. About Minecraft and magic tricks. We are buddies.
> Em, can you help me think something out?
>People always say that they wish their dog was trained like JJ.
I pause. We exchange a look. I don’t know what he was thinking. But I imagine it was what I was thinking: about the time three years ago when he and I went to the weekly *reactive rover* class. JJ was an animal back then. Pulling on his leash, irritated whenever he saw a dog, cat, or squirrel.
I go on:
>So when they tell me this, I say, ‘You know, you *could* have a dog trained like JJ.’
I look at him.
>But, buddy, they don’t do it. They don’t ask me how to do it. They don’t ask me how I did it. So their dog doesn’t get trained like JJ.
We walk a little further in silence. We are across from the park. JJ’s leash trails behind him, and we’re behind him by a few paces as we turn right at 36th and Brazee.
He’s not really listening, but I say it anyway.
>It’s all about the treat bag, buddy. JJ knows I have the treats. So he would rather spend time with me than do anything else. And, also, I’m a great teacher. Lots of patience.
Silence. And then I ask the question I know he doesn’t have an answer to.
Walk number two
I share the above story with Larry, my 82-year-old bff, the next time he and I are on a call. Which, funnily enough, is during another of JJ’s walks. He laughs a lot while I tell him about my interaction with Emmett. His compassionate laughter always makes me feel seen.
When I have paused long enough after telling him the story, he explains succinctly:
>Human beings do not make rational sense. Paul wrote, ‘The good I know, I do not do; and the evil that I would not do, I do.’
>Really? Paul? Paul wrote that?
>Romans chapter 7. Verse 19.
>People know what to do. It’s the doing it that’s the problem.
There is a pause. Then he says, in an amused voice,
>You know, they might like their life as it is without training their dog.
>Even if they say they want a trained dog.
He repeats my words slowly, word for word, to somehow approve them as truth. He accents the word ‘say.’
>Even if they say they want a trained dog .
I repeat his words to my dog. Not for JJ so much, but for me, so I can hear them and hope to remember the moral that people do what they do, even if they say they want otherwise.
>Even if they say they want a trained dog, I tell JJ.
>You ever think about teaching dog-training, Rabbi?
>Yeah, old man. Rabbi’s Brian’s school of virtues + obedience.
Causing them to learn
The truth is that I could offer a class on dog training. I’m a pretty brilliant educator. I would use the theory and practices I learned while getting a masters in education. I would use the wisdom I’ve learned in my decades of being a rabbi.
Here is my teaching philosophy in one sentence:
>I am gentle and encouraging for all incremental movements toward the goal and gentle and encouraging for all the set-backs along the way.
Here’s how to train your dog:
1. Figure out what stimulus frustrates the dog that leads the dog into the ingrained loop of errant behavior
2. Encourage and reward the dog when presented with the same stimulus to do something different
Now, when he sees another animal on the street, JJ knows that if he will sit and look at me, he’ll get a treat. Ta-da!
But, I don’t want to offer a class on dog training.
I want to offer a class for adults about patience, about forgiveness, about love. Because that’s what I do. I make religion approachable.
And, kind of fun.
This article has had a few little morals in it – like remembering that people do what they do, not what they say. But it’s become a bit of an advertisement for my mini-course on patience which is available and for sale.
I hope that doesn’t frustrate you.
And, if it does, I can sell you the cure to that frustration. 😉
A “free + easy” patience practice
Here’s a free, easy way to learn how to be more patient: Ask people!
- After you’ve just answered the question, “Did you find everything you were looking for?” at the store, you can ask, “Hey, I’m curious, how do you remain patient? Do you have any tips?”
- After handing money to a barista or homeless person ask, “Hey, I’m honestly trying to learn about patience. How do you keep yours?
- Email a friend right now, and ask, “Hey, I’m curious and doing a little investigation: Do you have any tips about staying patient?”
Collect those answers – keep what you like and leave the rest.