This is Lucy Mae.
She is my new, adorable 9 week old lab puppy. My wife and I picked her up just a couple of days ago and brought her home. She is totally fun but has enough energy that she is a bit of a handful. And, as I am sure many dog owners understand, she is a little overwhelmed by her new home, so she gets a little bouncy and hasn’t quite figured out where the potty park is every single time. (Although to her credit and to the credit of our breeder’s training, Lucy has done a pretty good job so far).
This is the first time I have owned a dog so I am reading as much as I can about raising and training a dog. I hope Lucy turns out to be a fun, high energy, but disciplined dog. I have dreams of taking my morning runs with her in a couple of years, but also nightmares of chasing her down the trail “Marley and Me” style.
One of the things that struck me in the very first couple of days of owning a puppy is how much they highlight human psychology and human relationships. I don’t have that much experience with dogs but I have studied how humans interact for many years. Lucy is already showing me how my feelings and thoughts seep into how I treat her and how she behaves.
Ceasar Milan talks about calm-assertive energy when training a dog. His basic principle is that the dog will take cues from you. If you do not show that you are the leader of the pack then the dog will not obey you. So you must remain calm, centered, and in control, in order for the dog to remain calm, centered, and obedient. I realized the power of this statement last night and this morning. When I got home last night I was very tired and a little anxious. Not surprisingly, Lucy was a bit of a demon running around, nipping at us, and chewing on the couches. This morning I was rested and calm, Lucy would sit quietly, obey my commands, and played when, and how, I wanted her. (She was still far from the perfect dog and stopping her from chewing on the furniture is going to be an ongoing project).
I realized that this was a great example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Lucy fed on my anxiety last night just like she fed on my calmness this morning. We do exactly the same thing to our relationship partners, only humans are much harder to change.
We all have what is called an attachment style. It is the part of our psychology that contains our experiences and expectations of relationships. We learn these lessons from our closest relationship partners, notably caregivers and romantic partners. Our attachment style impacts our relationships because we behave in ways that bring about the fulfillment of our relationship assumptions. And these assumptions are very deeply set in our psyche.
Our attachment style is modeled from birth, and is commonly thought to follow us “from cradle to the grave.” For example, if you have an avoidant attachment style you do not believe that a romantic partner wants to be close and supportive. Most likely this happened because when you were a child you approached your primary caregiver, and she or he did not reward you with affection. In fact they may have punished or ignored your approach. So you learned that being affectionate would only drive a caregiver away. Thus in order to get affection, you think you can’t show affection; you just hope it comes your way. Not surprisingly this expectation changes your behavior and your perceptions in powerful ways. To read more about attachment style and self fulfilling expectations you can go here.