Patience is a virtue and virtue is a grace…..

…and Grace is a little girl who wouldn’t wash her face. If you were my age you may be familiar with this saying from your school days!

Each time I hear the word ‘patience’ it triggers this saying in my head. Then it makes me think of my childhood.

pianoFrom an early age I’ve used patience and stickability.

I was self-driven to excel at playing the piano. I had an end goal in sight. Two end goals actually. I went to a school that specialised in music and the competition was strong. I also wanted to be able to play wonderful piano music.

I had a great teacher who inspired me.

In my dog behaviour work I need to be a great teacher too.

I must instil patience and stickability.

Elizabeth B Moje of the University of Utah said “I teach students, not subjects’. So true.

Instilling patience in a worried dog caregiver is a huge challenge when there can be no honest guarantee at the end of it. The most scientifically knowledgeable behaviour expert in the world would be ineffective as a behaviourist without being able to inspire patience.

Your being patient hangs on one thing and that is belief.  Belief in me. You have to believe that, if you stick to my plan for long enough, the outcome will be successful.

In our line of work we can never make promises, so this can be tricky. ‘Follow my advice for long enough and I can promise you will be able to leave Bertie for up to six hours a day’. That would be unethical.

Guarantee of future success with your dog is impossible.

We humans can believe in things of which there can be no proof of – like the existence of a heaven. But achieving everlasting redemption may depend upon avoiding doing things.

Using threat would be as unethical as promises. ‘If you don’t follow my advice your dog will likely end up being rehomed or put to sleep’.

Instilling belief in me and my advice is my biggest challenge. If, as a child, I didn’t believe I could eventually conquer Bach’s Italian Concerto I wouldn’t have put in the time and practice.

Belief instilled in dog owners hinges upon understanding. Understanding based on the principals and methods behind the advice. Understanding of the amount of systematic work and repetition necessary.

Belief is best backed up by ‘what others say’. Testimonials and Google reviews infer some kind of guaranteed success. Other people can say on my behalf what I myself can’t.


I often tell my piano-practice story to a client whose dog, for instance, has separation problems or reacts negatively to dogs he meets on walks.

If I wanted to play the piano well it meant practice. Hours of practice. Scales, One hand at a time, slowly then faster and then hands together. Then the same with a new piano piece.

One step at a time.

It took hours, days and weeks. I kept the end goal in mind all the time.

With so much repetition I was setting up brain memory until I could play the piece by heart. When on a stage in a concert or taking an exam, my hands just played it. I never thought about the individual notes anymore.

So it has to be with many dog behaviour and training protocols. This includes unlearning old habits whilst building new ones.

Repetition creates the strongest learning—and most learning—both implicit (like tying your shoes) and explicit (multiplication tables) relies on repetition. It is also why it is so hard to make behavior change, because the new behavior must be repeated for so long—and the old behavior must be held in check.” (Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD – not referring specifically to dogs).

Schmelzer ends “So with rare exception, repetition is the only real option for learning, unlearning, and re-learning—and yet as adults we so often believe that we can and must learn everything fast. Everything is supposed to be 3 easy steps, or maybe 5, but not 100. We are designed to learn through practice”. We can apply this to both ourselves and our dogs.

Repetitions build proficiency.

Repetitions require patience.

Patience requires motivation.

Motivation requires belief.

I had total belief that, if I worked for long enough at the last movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique piano sonata, I would conquer it. So I did.

In these days of instant everything, we are working against the flow.

Chip away at it, a bit at a time, and suddenly you realise things are falling together. (That’s not a guarantee but a high probability).


About Theo Stewart

I am a dog Behaviourist C.C.B (Certified Canine Behaviourist) INTODogs). I have helped over 3000 dog owners over eighteen years. In addition to online consultations all over the world, I cover Beds, Herts, Cambs and Bucks for home visits. A 'Victoria Stilwell' Positively Dog Trainer (VSPDT) and a full member of the IMDT. Graduate ISCP, International School for Canine Practitioners. My main site:
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