Learning to recognize and control human dispositions is at the core of Buddhist practice. The practitioner works to adjust their behavior from negative or neutral, to good. The teachings of the Buddha can also make us better custodians and friends to our dogs.
Ask any dog trainer and they’ll tell you that it is the owner that truly gets trained. The dog owner must come to recognize and control their own dispositions when relating to their canine companion. The dog is a dog and does dog things. The owner has to learn to manage the dog’s behavior by managing their own.
Training a dog can be an enlightening experience when the Six Refinements of the Lotus Sutra are applied. The Lotus Sutra “is revered by millions of Buddhist as containing the core and culmination of the Buddha’s teaching”. [The Threefold Lotus Sutra, translations by Kato, Tamura and Miyasaka, Weatherhill Press, 1975] The sutra teaches six steps to refining one’s Buddhist practice and can equally be applied to training a dog.
#1 The First Refinement (dana paramita) is the teaching of generosity and giving selflessly.
When we bring a dog into our home, especially a rescue dog we have performed a selfless activity. It doesn’t take long before the dog returns that generosity and selflessness in the way only a canine can. The Buddhist dog owner realizes that neither they, or the dog have a permanent, unchanging self. This enables an openness of mind and potential for connectedness.
#2 The Second Refinement (sila paramita) teaches ethics and proper conduct.
It is the human partner’s responsibility to first exhibit the traits of proper conduct. It all began with opening the door and offering the dog a home and pack to live with. It continues with proper care and proper training. The dog will respond with proper conduct that will come instinctual as a part of connectedness with it’s pack leader and pack.
The dog’s proper conduct comes from breed specific tendencies; the owner’s ethics come from enculturated dispositions. Dogs have a strong desire to act at “being dogs”. Humans have a strong attachment to their habits.
#3 The Third Refinement (ksanti paramita) is patience and endurance.
This part of training a dog is predominantly human territory. It is up to the owner to show patience and to endure the set-backs that are certain to come with training a dog. Dogs have guaranteed behaviors depending on their breeds. Terriers dig and kill (even the pet rabbit), collies herd (even kids and cats), dobermans guard (even the car keys you might desperately need), and every other breed has its own traits that their owners must manage the animal’s opportunities to engage in. The human needs to have patience and the understanding that the dog’s guaranteed behavior cannot be completely eliminated; and, the endurance to deal with those inopportune moments when it does.
#4 The Fourth Refinement (virya paramita) is effort and vigor.
The best time to train your dog is ALL THE TIME. Whenever the dog wants something or they encounter something new there is a training opportunity. In the Eightfold Path there is “right effort”, doing what is appropriate in each moment. That is what it takes to train a dog. Dog’s learn by the consequences of their actions and it takes “right effort” to be aware when those teaching moments arise. The trainer needs to be vigorous in rewarding the positive habits and managing the negative.
#5 The Fifth Refinement (dhyana paramita) requires concentration and contemplation.
It takes a high level of concentration to maintain awareness of the subtle signals a dog will give. It takes times of contemplation (study) to learn what those signals are and what they mean. Tails, ears, eyes, body, breathing and gait are just some ways our canine companions communicate with us.
Do dogs show “guilt”? What does your dog already know? Dogs will repeat actions that get them what they want. These and more are what a dog owner needs to learn and be consistently aware of.
#6 The Sixth Refinement (prajna paramita) is wisdom.
In Buddhism, wisdom is composed of three concepts: 1. Knowing that there is no permanent, unchanging self. 2. All things are impermanent. 3. All things arise causally (dependent origination).
How can these philosophical Buddhist ideals help us train our dog?
1. As human beings we have the ability (and the Buddha would say, responsibility) to change our habits and dispositions. Whether it is fear of dogs, tendency to yell at dogs, abusive actions, or just ignorance of how dogs naturally act; there can be positive personal development and learning no matter our age. If an old dog can learn new tricks, shouldn’t we be able to?
2. By realizing this we know that our dog’s behavior can first be managed, and through effort can be positively impacted. It is important that because even positive habits are impermanent there may be set-backs we develop patience and concentration.
3. Dependent origination (causality) is the realization of cause and effect. Positive actions are more likely to lead to positive results and a chain of positive actions. Negative, the same. It is what a dog owner learns, the positive effort they put into training, and the love they show their canine companion that creates the connectedness that results in a GOOD DOG.
The Buddha taught that each moment is an opportunity for Buddhist practice. The Greater St. Louis Training Club, Inc. and the Humane Society of Missouri teach that every moment is an opportunity to train your dog. Seems the teachings parallel and often converge. Learning to recognize and control human dispositions is at the core of Buddhist practice. The practitioner works to adjust their behavior from negative or neutral, to good. The teachings of the Buddha can also make us better custodians and friends to our dogs. Ask any dog trainer and they’ll tell you that it is the owner that truly gets trained. The dog owner must come to recognize and control their own dispositions when relating to their canine companion. The dog is a dog and does dog things. The owner has to learn to manage the dog’s behavior by managing their own.