If You Can Train a Dog or Cat, You Can Train Yourself!


If you can train a dog you can train yourself. If you can train a cat you are even better equipped to train yourself into making and keeping commitments to self-care because really? Training a cat? Yeah it can be done but just like training yourself it takes commitment and consistency to get cumulative results. Did you see what I did there? Ha!

The thing I hear most when conversations about self-care come up is, “I know I should do more _______ to take care of myself but X, Y or Z gets in the way.” Ok I get it, things do get in the way but…see this dog here?


That’s Buck, our neighbor’s dog. He’s a 3ish year old Feist and Manchester Terrier mix and has never spent a day inside and neither have any of his little doggy family. They have freedom, food, shelter and love from lots of people but they are outdoor dogs. Secretly, I would love to teach Buck all the joys of being a spoiled little brat indoor dog but I have 4 cats not to mention he isn’t MY dog! He does “live” at our house most of the time but still. That said, if I were to take an outdoor dog and bring him inside he would have to be trained in the most basic of house manners: we don’t hike a leg on the dining room table, Buck! We don’t chase the cats, Buck! And sleeping on the bed is a good thing, Buck.

Training Buck to not pee in the house would be my primary goal for as long as it took and believe me: nothing would keep me from working with him every single day on it.

How many of you have taken in foster dogs from mills or abuse situations who had no idea what was expected of them in their new life? You had to train them from scratch just like a puppy but even worse, because their previous lives were pretty stinkin’ awful to put it mildly, you had to go slow, praise every bit of progress, be extra patient and kind, speak softly, move slowly and love, love, love them no matter how many mistakes they made.

If you can train a dog or cat, you can train yourself.  click to tweet

Can you for a moment imagine training yourself the same way? “Awww look at Michelle, she only had 3 cups of coffee instead of 5, isn’t that great? And look she gagged down a green smoothie before she had those 3 cups and she’s done it every day for 2 whole weeks! YAY!! Good girl, Michelle, goooooood guuuuuurrrrrl! Click, treat, click, treat! Praise for every bit of progress and planning for do overs when mistakes are made.

Don’t:  “Good Lord, I’ve watched 7 episodes of Orange Is The New Black in a row! Why can’t I get my (insert HBO words here) together and stay focused? When am I ever going to get it that going to bed at 3am is not a workable plan around here? Yadda yadda yadda blah blah woof.”

Do: “Uh oh whoops! I watched 7 episodes of Orange Is the New Black and now it’s 3am again. Oh man, this changing to going to bed at midnight is harder than I thought! Ok so, before I toddle off to nappy land I’m going to schedule in my calendar 30 minutes tomorrow to put a concrete plan in place to keep track of time. I wonder if I can get my sister to call me at 9pm and remind me I made a commitment or maybe I can have my husb…no, no, not him I don’t want him telling me what to do even if I agreed to it haha! I might be able to set up some cell phone alarms every 30 minutes or yadda yadda yadda….”

What are the odds that I’m going to keep that 30 minute strategy appointment with myself if I’m kind about it? If I remind myself that changes take time and if I want to feel my Core Desired Feeling of Connected which leads me to everything else I want, then going to bed earlier is going to move me closer to that feeling whereas staying up until 3am is going to take me farther from it.

In my Desire Map workshops we start every session with training our bodies to relax on command by using a strong essential oil smell paired with a relaxation exercise. I help attendees get relaxed first and then we sniff. Later on, as you likely know already through your own animal training adventures, smelling that scent will create an almost immediate deepening of the breath, dropping of the shoulders and movement toward a relaxed state.

The key word in all of this is commitment. You have to have it to be consistent. Consistent when you’d rather watch more Periscope broadcasts than do yoga. Consistent even when the Siren call of the Netflix beckons. We know consistency, even a little bit every day, leads to those cumulative results. Finding that commitment is easier when you decide how you want to feel first and build your actions out from there rather than getting all whippy and punitive and trying to make yourself do something.

Every try to “make” a cat do something it doesn’t want to do? Oh how I used to laugh and laugh at my husband’s repeated efforts to keep Grit off the counter by telling her “no” and putting her back on the floor. Grit was his first cat and he’s learned a lot since then about behavior modification and clicker training concepts but seriously aren’t we still trying to train ourselves in those outdated ways? Is it working?

Action step:

Make this as firm a priority as teaching a new dog not to use your carpet as a potty place: take 3 deep breaths right now and set your cell phone to alarm a few times a day to remind you to stop and take 3 more deep breaths. Start there, your body will thank you and if you want to go deeper you can and if you need help we can work together. One click, one treat at a time!

Information about attending a Desire Map workshop click here:

20 comments on “If You Can Train a Dog or Cat, You Can Train Yourself!

  1. Good article, I like your humor shining through! I’ve gone to your Desired Core workshops and loved them and learned so much!

  2. I absolutely loved this and agree! We should treat ourselves when we meet a goal… or only drink three cups of coffee instead of five!

  3. Very good point! Yes, Henry was pretty-much still a puppy when we got him and Reese had been in a puppy mill for nearly two years. Reese was MUCH more difficult to train.

  4. I totally understand what you are saying! I am on that wavelength. It seems like I can get anything in the world done so long as it doesn’t pertain to my own health and wellbeing. I can get my cats to pose with products for photos! Why can’t I lose the weight I know I need to loose to stay healthy? Why can’t I get to bed at a reasonable hour? Why am I always beating myself up? I haven’t learned to train myself with positive reinforcement.

  5. Great post and the reminder I needed to spend more time training myself with positive reinforcement. PS. I laughed out loud when I read the bit about Orange is the New Black…. that is so me too!

  6. Thanks for the reminders re self-care. I think this is particularly a female issue, and one I touched on in a post on chronic fatigue, depression, and suicide in veterinary practice and shelter/rescue work. I didn’t realize you did this kind of work — I look forward to looking around your site =)

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