I want to talk today about an old saying that we have in dog training, which I probably heard for the first time about twenty years ago: “You get what you pet.”
What’s that mean? Well, deep within this phrase there’s a very important lesson to be learned. It’s not talking literally about petting, although that can certainly be a part of things. Rather, it’s wisdom that regards showing affection and attention to your dog.
When dog trainers say that you “get” what you “pet,” we’re basically implying that the mindset you pay attention to and give praise to is the mindset your dog will frequently show. For example, let’s say that your dog is often nervous and anxious around thunder. If you start petting and soothing as soon as the thunderstorm begins, there’s a halfway decent chance that you’ll encourage that sort of anxious behavior. In a way, your dog will feel more comfortable with its anxiety after your positive reinforcement. Some people already understand this concept, but many people don’t recognize the mindset their dogs are in. These owners don’t see that the dog who barks at the doorbell and then runs to them for reassurance will actually feel more powerful because of the attention they give it.
This is why it’s so important to know your dog’s tendencies and body language, so you can know when and when not to give affection. As you communicate and hang out with your dog, I would encourage you to think along these lines. Ask yourself: “What am I petting? What mindset am I giving praise to? What mindset do I want to avoid encouraging?” This introspection will become very important as you work to train your dog!