“I’ve Trained My Dog to Go Out at 6:30 am. His Habit Helped Me Change Mine.”

I’m writing my next book, Before and After, about how we make and break habits–an issue  very relevant to happiness. Each week, I’ll post a before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit. We can all learn from each other. If you’d like to share your story, contact me here. To be notified when the book is available for pre-order, sign up here.

This week’s story comes from someone who wants to stay anonymous.

I’ve trained my dog to go out at 6:30 a.m. His habit helped me change mine. I can’t really ignore 12 kg of cuteness whining in my ear, licking my hand and sitting on me back!

One of the most important habit-formation strategies is the Strategy of Accountability, and a dog is a very effective accountability partner. Dogs don’t care about excuses, they don’t tell you, “You deserve a day off,” they want to go out. And if they don’t get what they want, you pay the price.

For years, I felt accountable to our family schnauzer, Paddywhack. (“Knick-knack, paddywhack, give a dog a bone…”) In high school, when I was trying to stick to the habit of regular running, I always took Paddywhack with me. She leaped with joy every time I put on my running shoes, and her eagerness made it harder for me to skip a day, and strengthened my exercise habit.

In fact, one study—admittedly, by a pet health-care company—showed that dog owners get more exercise, and enjoy it more, than people who go to the gym; older people walk more regularly with a dog than when they walk with another person.

Have you found that having a dog helped you keep a good habit?

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  • Penelope Schmitt

    I am not going to get a dog at this stage of my life, but I have had a dog, and she was a great one for getting me out the door. I would take her once around the block, with much pausing for sniffs, and then put her in the house and continue my walk. Now I have to do it without her motivating me with a wet, cold nose at 0530, but I do vouch for a dog’s ability to get you out and seeing the neighbors.
    Most of the people I see on my walks are out with their dogs, and I learn the dog’s name first and later, the owners!
    My son has a dog who is his constant companion. She is very healthy for her age because he takes her with him on runs and some bike rides.
    I have friends who take their dogs to Rock Creek Park every day. They and the dogs get exercise and they have made deep friendships with the other dog families they’ve met.
    That’s not to mention how loving a good dog companion can be. Not being much of an obliger, I’m not ready / willing to care for an animal again. It IS like having a perpetual toddler. But that social aspect of dog ownership is certainly a great thing.

  • Catherine Al-Meten

    I’m trying to train my two 6-month old kittens to live according to my sleep patterns; turns out they are training me to live with theirs…that’s why I’m up at 5:00 getting more done than usual.

  • Leslie Honcoop

    I often say that my boxer is the best exercise machine I have ever purchased. I can easily lose my resolve to get out and exercise, but it is much more difficult to look into those pleading eyes and worried boxer wrinkles and say ‘no’. Daisie is such a sweetie; I just can’t disappoint her. My exercise bike just doesn’t motivate me that same way!
    And so we walk almost everyday…and the days that we don’t walk, I get reminded throughout the day that something important didn’t happen, and in the most winsome way!

  • Chantelle Wallace

    Dogs are responsible for the fact I’ve finished three full marathons! They are great exercise accountability partners, and their love for cardio is contagious.

  • Carolyn

    There is a book out called “The Dog Diet” by Patti Lawson that covers this exact phenomenon. Although I think the author uses too much management and not enough training, its an inspiring book for those needing some diet/exercise inspiration and own a dog!

  • A resounding yes. I love the husky mix that my boyfriend’s mom has and which we see often. It has especially been great during these cold months, because I know the husky is itching to go outside. She whines and howls when I grab the leash! And then when we’re outside, she goes very quickly! My walks are always fast paced because of her excitement! I’m getting a corgi when I graduate!!

  • Brooks Palmer

    My sister’s dog helps me play more. He points his nose to his pig doll. It’s his way of asking me to toss it. He runs after the doll, picks it up, drops it at my feet, and touches it again with his nose. I’m a sucker for this kind of fun.

  • PolarSamovar

    Oh no, you don’t! Two weeks ago I said goodbye to my dear mutt of 17 years. Over the last few years she didn’t encourage me to exercise, as her arthritis was too bad for her to go very far or very fast. I am already fighting the itch for another doggy companion. I’ve been visiting dogshaming.com to remind myself that younger dogs get up to trouble, unlike my sweet old girl in her senior years. The last thing I need is an “if you get a dog, you’ll exercise more” carrot dangling in front of me! My landlord is allergic to dogs! I want to travel! No! 🙂

    Seriously, dogs are the best. If you don’t train them, they’ll train you. Just like if you don’t consciously form habits, you’ll unconsciously form them. Either way, habits gonna happen, and somebody’s gonna get trained. Lots of wisdom to be gained from a good dog trainer.

  • Emma Greenwood

    I rescued my dog, Poppy, a little over a year ago. She has changed my life in many ways, not least the fact I now exercise every day. How could I possibly not take her for our morning walk when she is so excited and appreciative. It’s the highlight of her day and I could never deny her that. I have made a new circle of friends through my dog walking too, which was something I never expected.

  • Carrie Coon

    My soulmate bouvier is no longer with me, but he was an amazing accountability partner. We lived near a park with running trails and a lake and wildlife. Everyday after work I would come home, put my running stuff on, and we would go for a run. After a while, there was no choice in the matter: as I headed upstairs to change he would leap ahead, get one of my running shoes from the closet, and trot around the room triumphantly. I’d “chase” him, pretending to be mad, and he’d growl, pretending he didn’t want me to catch him. It was such a fun little game, and the best segue into post work time and going for a run. My shoe got a bit slobbery but he was worth it! What a great dog; I really miss him….