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  • Tara Ferguson, PhD

My therapy dog journey: Celebrate the small stuff!

by Shannon Roberts, CSAC-R (guest blogger)


Guest blogger, Shannon Roberts CSAC-R, is a recent graduate from Liberty University’s Professional Counseling Master’s program. Shannon is currently in the process of getting her LPCA, pursuing toward full licensure as a professional counselor. She has recently gotten a puppy, in the process of pursuing her dream of having a therapy dog for hospital visits, crisis response, and as a therapeutic intervention in a clinical setting. You can learn more about her at her blog here: weareroberts.wordpress.com


As you read in the last post, I've got a puppy. I'm working on her becoming a therapy dog (eventually). Right now, we're continuing to reinforce house breaking. So every time she pees outside it's a BIG celebration. When I cheer and "yay!" and clap, I can feel my heart racing and my exaggerated smile bringing out an audible laugh.


It makes me laugh because it's silly, to make a big deal about a puppy peeing. But what if we went through life celebrating all the small stuff with this kind of zeal?


To celebrate all the small Victories. For example, when you make it to the gym (even if it's for the first time all week, and only time for the week), when you choose to speak up about something that’s important to you (like you told yourself you would) or when you wake up to the first alarm (some serious confetti canons should be set off for you), and so on.

What if when we chose to celebrate the small stuff we ignored the "but". The "I made it to the gym today, but I only had time for a 30 minute jog". No, YOU MADE IT TO THE GYM! Go you! I bet you can even do it again tomorrow!


There have been tons of studies on the effects of positive thoughts. Celebrating the small stuff will lead to a positive outlook on your success. It will cause you to place higher value on the "small" stuff that matters to you most, no matter how simple it is. The "small", "simple", stuff, when celebrated can lead to big positive outcomes.


“Listen to me carefully: negative thoughts can’t lead to a positive life. You probably never wake up and think, I want to have a bad day or I want to be a bummer to be around or I want to suck the joy out of people I encounter. But we all have allowed ourselves to think the kinds of thoughts that lead to a negative day.” - Levi Lusko, author of "I Declare War"


When I celebrate my puppy going outside to use the bathroom, (and totally ignore, with a quick "no" her going to the bathroom inside) she wants to do whatever it takes to get that praise party again. Honestly, so much so at this point that she is fake squatting to get more cheers. In this way we are just like puppies. We want to be recognized, to be acknowledged, to be successful. Celebrate your own small achievements, especially the ones no one else may be noticing.


Dr. Caroline Leaf suggests that, "Our brains may have stamps from the past, but they are rewired by our expectation of the future. Imagining a positive future reduces the pain of the past...Hope leads to expectation, which creates peace, excitement, and health in our minds, thus increasing brain and body health". (excerpt from, "Switch on the Brain, by Caroline Leaf)


Then take this a step further, and celebrate the small stuff by those around you. When your kids throw a piece of trash away, you'll get them to do it again if you throw them a genuine praise party. The positive reinforcement way outweighs the negative. For dog training for instance, Miller emphasizes, "the whole premise behind positive reinforcement-based training is that behaviors that are reinforced repeat or increase, and behaviors that are not reinforced extinguish" (Miller, 2018). You'll get further with this praise party than begging them to take trash out and acknowledging every time they don't.



References:

Leaf, C. (2015). Switch on your brain: The key to peak happiness, thinking, and health. Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, a division of Baker Publishing Group.


Miller, P. (2018). Clicker training 101: You don't actually need a clicker to use this popular type of positive-reinforcement or force-free training. Whole Dog Journal, 21(3), 8.

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