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

dog in snow

I’m writing my next book, Better Than Before, 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.

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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