Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Good Habits, Bad Habits and Just Because He Can

I read once that you need to do something at least 21 times to make it a habit. I have no idea if this is true, but the converse sure seems to be true. If I go more than three weeks without writing in my blog, it seems to take me a long time to get back into the daily (or at least weekly) habit.

By contrast, our canine friends thrive on habit. If we got up every morning and did everything exactly the same way day after day (particularly if it involved a long walk or trip to the dog park), our dogs would be perfectly content.

For dogs, I think it only takes two or three times of doing something to make a good habit. And even less to create a bad one -- one false move (such as Auntie Charlotte slipping Fido a piece of turkey at Thanksgiving) can have Fido begging for food at the table for the rest of his life.

With dogs there is also a third category of habit: "just because I can." I think our dogs crave routine so much, they create little rituals for themselves, just to add another habit to the daily list. Kirby has done this just recently.

Outside of our home there is a small, brick, L-shaped bench. Sometimes, when it's nice outside, I'll go sit on it and soak up the sunshine. Baxter has no trouble jumping up on the bench to sit next to me, but little Kirby could never seem to get up there by himself, despite a lot of coaxing. Suddenly one day, Kirby made it. Of course, I lavished the kudos on him, which only added to the inspiration.

The next time we went out, he tried again. He failed a few times, but finally made it. He was hooked. Now, every single time we pass the bench Kirby has to jump up there, just because he can. He always looks up at me with this "isn't this GREAT?!" expression on his face. Of course, I reinforce it with praise.

This "just because I can" habit has not only inspired Kirby, I think it has helped build up his jumping muscles, because just the other day, much to my surprise, he jumped into the back of the Subaru without any assistance (previously, after several failed attempts, he would just stand there with his little paws up on the car and wait for us to lift him in).

Of course, none of this impresses Baxter one bit. He's now not the only dog who can do these things and I think he's concerned that these are just two more ways Kirby is moving-in on his domain. So I'm taking the opportunity to reward Baxter's other unique, good habits. Such as bringing me my slippers.

I wonder how long it will take for Kirby to figure that one out?

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