Posts Tagged "behavior"

What can be learned from the Winter Warlock

Posted by on Apr 24, 2013 in Brain Changing | 0 comments

What can be learned from the Winter Warlock

One of my most cherished childhood memories was the annual airing of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. This lively retelling of the history of Santa included a message that has stayed with me all my life. When the young Kris Kringle transforms the Winter Warlock into a thoughtful wizard with a gift of kindness, Winter expresses a desire to change his behavior permanently, but, like many of us, he fears this is too difficult. Until very recently, neuroscientists believed that the adult brain was fixed and unchangeable. But today’s scientific buzzword is neuroplasticity. ‘Neuro’ means brain, and ‘plastic’ means changeable—neuroplasticity is just a fancy word for brainchanging. Neuroscientists might have thought Brain-Changing was difficult or impossible, but many ordinary people disagreed; they were just waiting for the science to catch up. Kris Kringle’s advice to the winter warlock about the possibility and path of behavior change has stuck with me all of my life: big changes start with little changes. I could write a lot about the process of habit change, but I doubt I would do a better job than the song I remember so well… Changing habits is more than changing your mind. The brain and nervous system is similar to a network of electrical circuits and cables. Neuroplasticity, or Brain=Changing literally “rewires” your brain. When we start a new behavior, the wire is thin and patchy. The connection is as slow as an old AOL dial up. But the more we practice a certain behavior the stronger and faster the connection becomes. When we are born, the brain is a bit like a new computer. The hard drive is almost empty, except for a few essential software programs. After a while, the hard drive gets full and cluttered. In order to “enter new data,” something has to go. The adult brain is similar—new behaviors only get incorporated if they are important enough to earn some valuable brain real estate. The Brain-Changing Formula of mindfulness, movement and mood are what alert your brain to the desirability of the new behavior. When we are mindful and pay attention, so does our brain. A treadmill is not mindful. The brain values movement more than anything. It isn’t enough to think about something, or gather information from Google. We have to actually, physically move our body… even if it is something as simple as writing, or talking, or walking. Finally, mood is crucial. Our brain puts priority on extremes. We learn much more effectively and efficiently when we are happy and calm. The brain interprets our constant mental state of stress and scrambling as a bar to new learning; it needs to take care of immediate and potentially threatening problems before devoting the valuable resources of building blocks and fuel towards learning something new or developing a new habit. Healthy habits don’t happen overnight. But you can do a lot to facilitate the process. Start by STARTING. Mark Twain once said “Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.” What better way to lighten the mood than to walk with your dog? You will BOTH benefit. And remember the song: “Just put one foot in front of the other…”  It’s a step in the right...

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It doesn’t take magic to train your dog

Posted by on Apr 24, 2013 in Training | 0 comments

It doesn’t take magic to train your dog

Several years ago, on a very cold winter night in Chicago, as I was driving down the alley behind my house, a little dog limped out in front of my car and stared at me as if to say “please stop, I need some help”. I did. I got out of my car and as soon as I called him, he came limping into my arms. He had no tags, his paws were red and raw and his hair was matted. He clearly had been outside in the freezing weather for a long time. I brought him inside our lobby to warm up and called my partner to come downstairs. My partner (NOT a dog person at the time) came downstairs. He was in the middle of making dinner and was clearly irritated that I brought in a stray off the street. He didn’t want me to bring the dog upstairs since he had just cleaned the house, and said he would come down instead. As soon as he came off the elevator and they made eye contact, everything changed. It was literally love at first sight. We called the police to see if anyone had reported a missing dog. The dispatcher said that they would send Animal Control to come and pick him up. In the ten minutes it took for Animal Control to arrive, we both bonded with this little guy. When the officer arrived, he explained that he would have to take the dog to the local shelter where they would keep him in a crate for up to a week, and if no one claimed him, he would most likely be euthanized. After all he’d been through, we couldn’t let this little guy go to a shelter, so we asked the officer if we could take him in until they or we found his owner. He seemed very relieved that we offered and said “yes.” The next day, we put up notices and contacted the surrounding Animal Hospitals, etc. Well, to make a long story short, no one ever claimed him and so we decided to adopt him. We named him Harvey, after the street that I found him on. Okay, so now we had this dog. He was a really sweet guy but a bit of a mess. Once we got all of his mats out (a feat that took several weeks,) cleared up his frost bite and ear infection, we could see what he really looked like. We determined (with the help of our vet) that he was some kind of a terrier/poodle mix. Also, now that he was feeling better, we found that he was completely untrained and on the wild side with no social skills what-so-ever! Our next goal was to train him, or at the very least, teach him how to walk on a leash without pulling us every which way and chasing and barking at every dog, cat, squirrel or bunny that neared our path. The Catch-22 was that the only thing we knew to do to burn off his endless energy was to walk him for hours at a time. It became frustrating and exhausting. We sought out professional advice and joined a volunteer group that donated their time training shelter dogs so that they could be adopted easier. Even some of the volunteers would roll their eyes when we brought Harvey to class, as he had a very short attention span and seemed much more interested in sniffing and playing with the other dogs than in training. After a lot of hard work, patience, and of course,...

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Dog walking: A life-long fitness partnership

Posted by on Apr 20, 2013 in Motivation | 0 comments

Dog walking: A life-long fitness partnership

Expanding waistlines are a real challenge for our society. Not only can our weight make us feel bad  about ourselves, but it gives rise to a host of other health issues, like heart disease, diabetes and stroke. If the trend of rising obesity continues, it has been estimated that, by the start of the next decade, 75% of adult Americans will be overweight. The good news is that there is a remarkably easy way to lose weight; most of us know it, we just don’t  get around to doing it. There’s no secret to it, it doesn’t cost money and it’s simple: eat healthy food and take some moderate exercise. The trouble is that many of us can’t motivate ourselves to follow this simple advice. Modern life is fast paced and many of us don’t have the energy to prepare good food and get outside for some fresh air. Exhausted at the end of another busy day, we grab some over-processed fast food, and wile away our free time in front of a screen. Some of us have an unwitting partner in crime: our dog. America’s dogs are suffering an obesity epidemic too. The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that over 50% of the nation’s dogs are obese. Why? Well, we feed them over-processed cheap kibble, and then, because we are tired, we short-change them on their walks. Many of us have large yards and it’s an easy assumption to make that the dog is managing to get enough exercise out there on its own. Or, feeling guilty, we compensate by over-feeding them. Worse, some dogs find themselves handed over to shelters when their boredom spills out into unwanted behavior. It can happen all too easily but thankfully there is a solution. Weight Waggers are here to get you and your dog off the couch and out the front door together. Dog walking shouldn’t be yet another chore in your jam‐packed life. We are going to show you that it can be an enjoyable, energizing activity that sparks vitality and sets both you and your dog up for life-long health. It will become a habit, but one that you can actually enjoy! You’re never going to find a more motivated and enthusiastic training buddy than your dog. Studies show that people who start walking for health are far more likely to stick to their new activity if they have a dog for a companion,  than those who walk alone, or even those who choose a human buddy. All the two of you have to do is step out together for a walk every day, and soon you will both be reaping the health rewards. It really is that...

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