What Dog Training Taught Me About Faith

We can have no greater asset in life than true hope – my hope is found in Jesus Christ. And this is what dog training taught me about the Father’s love.

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If you’re not familiar with them, trainers have several important techniques when it comes to socializing and teaching confidence in young dogs. One of those techniques is to gradually “shape” behaviors – building on simple commands, creating more complex tasks. If you told a puppy to go ring a doorbell or tell you when an alarm goes off, he would never understand. But if you break down those jobs into behaviors that he already knows – such as “nudge” or “touch” or “paw” – it suddenly becomes an attainable goal.

If you tried to teach a puppy a complex behavior in a high-distraction environment, you would surely overwhelm the poor creature. So you start slowly, in a familiar, safe place. This is a concept crucial to creating a confident dog that is able to later work in a high-stress environment.

The same is often true in our walk with Christ.

When I work with a puppy, I want that puppy to trust me. I know the vacuum won’t hurt him – but he doesn’t. So I show him, gradually, with treats and kind words, that he is safe. I know the car ride will lead to a fun experience – but I can’t explain that to him. So we take it slow. One good experience, then another. Building on positive association.

And this is what God showed me:

He knows that thing that I fear will not harm me. But He is willing to take it slow. Build my confidence. Let me discover that He is holding my hand, that He has gone ahead of me and made the path straight. Because He wants my trust. And He is always ready to show me that He is trustworthy.

Sound familiar?

When I train a puppy, I want that puppy to trust me. No matter what comes. No matter how scary something may seem to him. That is one reason we teach “watch me”; this simple command instructs the dog to turn his attention fully upon us. Using this, we can then navigate a distracting situation with confidence.

When we turn our eyes to Christ, that roadblock in our path, that scary situation in our life, will not have the final word. God holds our hand and guides us through. Because He loves us, and desires our trust. A speaker at our church recently put it this way, very simply, poignantly: “Do you trust God or not?” Just as a trainer makes a profound request on behalf of the dog, Jesus makes a profound request on our behalf – “Trust ME.”

When we place our full trust in our Heavenly Father, He will fight our battles, and we can walk on water.

It is amazing – and humbling – to see how God has recently employed the strategies I mentioned in the battles of my own life. Even in the face of paralyzing fears, He shows me that He cares. He’s not going to put me in a situation without equipping me to get through it – the same way we as trainers set our dogs up for success.

The parallels to my experiences in dog training have left me speechless and in deep gratitude. Service dogs, military dogs, search and rescue dogs – they couldn’t do the jobs that they do without an immeasurable amount of trust in their handler. That trust wasn’t built overnight. But now it is unbreakable. Fears were deconstructed; insecurity was worked through; confidence was rewarded; and at the end of it all, that dog made a decision to place his trust in his handler.

And when that trust is placed, nothing is impossible.

God doesn’t ask us for courage just because we’re going to face challenges; He asks us for courage so we can embrace the fullness of our walk with Him.

Dogs have unique traits that are both comparable to and a buffer for human traits. Today God has shown me a way in which the human/canine bond reflects the relationship He desires for us with Christ. I will forever be grateful for the lessons dog training is teaching me about faith. ❤

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

ROMANS 8:28

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