Train Up a Dog in the Way He Should Go. . .

After much prayer and deliberation, we decided to enroll Barnabas in formal dog training classes. He is the fourth dog we've had, and while none of our pooches have been perfect, we've never felt the need to take this particular step.  With Barnabas, however, there are some issues (particularly related to his anxiety) with which we simply don't know how to help him.  Since we want him to have the best chance of having a happy, healthy, stress-free life, we felt this was a necessary step.

The course begins with the mastery of several of the basic commands including come, sit, down, place, out, heel and stay/wait.  Once those concepts are grasped, the trainers move on to more complex commands, eventually bringing the dog to the place of nearly perfect obedience.  For us, that means a well-behaved pup that we can hike with off-leash without fear of him running off.  For Barnabas, the training provides mental stimulation, physical exercise, stress relief and confidence building.  Exactly what he needs!

The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized I'm in a training program myself. . . and so are you.  It's God's training program, and believe it or not, it covers many of the same basic commands.

  • Come.

The first thing God wants is for us to come to Him.  Firstly, for salvation, but then after that, He invites us to come whenever we want.  Come to rest in His embrace.  Come to chat with Him.  Come to listen to what He has to say to us.  Come to lay our burdens down.  Jesus is eager for us to come.

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
— Matthew 11:28
  • Sit.

When I think of sitting in regards to God, I think of quiet time with Him.  I think of sitting still in His presence and drinking in His Word.  I envision myself stretched out on my couch with my Bible in my lap and a cup of hot tea on the table beside me.  I think of reading and meditating on the passage the Lord gives me to begin my day.  Yes, before the hustle and bustle of the day begin, the Lord invites us to sit with Him for a while as He refreshes our spirit and fuels us with inspiration for the day.

Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
— Psalm 46:10
  • Down.

This command reminds me to pray.  Whether I'm down on my knees, down on my face, or in some other posture, prayer is an imperative part of my training.  It is a vital step in my spiritual growth, not to mention, it is a direct line of communication to my Heavenly Father.  Prayer is powerful.  Prayer is essential.  Many of life's greatest problems can be solved by simply talking to the Lord in prayer.

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
— James 5:16
  • Place.

In dog training, this refers to pointing to a particular spot and expecting the dog to move to that location, whether it be a bed, a crate, the couch, a rug, or whatever.  The owner tells the dog where to go, and the dog obeys.  I think you can see where I'm going with this.  God has a "place" command too.  Often in life, He directs our attention to a specific path or task and gives us the command.  With the proper training, our response should be immediate obedience, no matter where the path may lead.

Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.
— Psalm 37:5
  • Out.

This is a command we often don't think of, but it is important and could actually save a dog's life. The "out" order means for the dog to release whatever he has in his mouth.  The object could be something as simple as a toy, but it could also be something harmful to the dog.  When given the "out" command, a well-trained pet will immediately spit out anything he has in his mouth.  What about us?  What do we have in our mouths?  I'm not talking about food here, though that certainly applies as well. Rather, I'm referring to the things that come out of our mouths like complaints, criticism and anything else that is unpleasing to the Lord.  Such things are hazardous to our health, as well as the health of those around us, so God urges us to get rid of them.

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
— Ephesians 4:29
  • Heel.

This is the command given for a dog to sit at his master's feet.  The order can be used in conjunction with the "walk" command, which indicates the pet needs to walk right beside (if not slightly behind) the master.  Doesn't God ask us to do both of these?  I'm reminded of Mary sitting quietly at Jesus' feet while Martha busied herself in the kitchen.  When Martha demanded that Jesus berate Mary for her laziness and unwillingness to help, Jesus instead praised Mary for choosing the "one thing" that was most important instead of being cumbered with many things like Martha was.  Sometimes, God just wants us to sit at His feet.  When we're not sitting at His feet, He longs for us to walk in step with Him, never rushing ahead or lagging behind.

And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
— Luke 10:41-42
  • Stay/Wait.

We all know what this one means though that doesn't make it any easier to do, does it?  To stay or wait means we need to keep doing the last thing we were told to do until we're given a new order.  Sometimes that next order comes quickly, but more often than not, it takes a while.  In the meantime, it's easy to get bored or discouraged, but as the old saying goes, "Good things come to those who wait."

Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.
— Psalm 27:14

So, as you can see, we have quite a bit of training to do ourselves, and unlike the training Barnabas is scheduled to receive, ours is sure to last longer than eight weeks.  Yes, according to the training guarantee, by the end of eight weeks, we will have a reliable, obedient pup.  If only our training were that quick.  Fortunately, our trainer is patient and kind and willing to work with us as long as necessary to get us where He longs for us to be.  Hallelujah for that!