Teaching a New Dog New Tricks

Before I get into today’s subject, I’d just like to spin an idea or two off of you guys. I recently saw a posted quiz this week titled “What Type of Blog Should You Start” or something like that, and I thought, Hey… I’ve just started a blog, and, unlike some of my friends would believe, I don’t really have a game plan for it. I’m just kind of winging it. Maybe it could help... So I took it. My results said that I should do a lifestyle blog. Now, I’m not saying that every quiz on Pinterest will magically alter the course of your life but it did bring some new ideas to mind. For instance, I’ve caught myself saying “I wear many different hats” quite frequently this week – which I can get into later on another post – and knowing myself, it’s because I like to wear several, different hats. Just to name a few off the top of my head, I am an illustrator, striving businesswoman, educator, coach, graphic artist, window painter, possible marketer, writer, hopeful graduate student, and gallery artist.

Now how I manage (or try to manage all of that) is an entirely different subject matter, but since I was young I know that I’m happiest when I have many different identities or roles, if you will, to pursue and juggle. I tend to get anxious or lose my zeal when I feel constrained, pigeonholed, or too relaxed within a routine. And whenever that happens, that’s when I tend to shake things up. Whether it’s hitting the gym more frequently, reorganizing my entire studio, or simply starting a new project off of a whim, this is how I acquire new hats, different roles that I find myself getting into and adapting to, learning about as I go. So, in short, maybe this quiz did change the course of this new blog from “Let’s see what happens!” to “There is a direction and a purpose to this.”

Now, just to define what lifestyle actually means, it’s just a blog where someone writes about their daily lives and routines. Some can be very specific like someone who lives a zero-waste lifestyle or as a vegan. Others can be quite broad… wearing many different hats, like me. Now, I’m not expecting to turn into the next Carrie Bradshaw but already I’ve had at least four – now, wait, five! – ideas on other subjects I could write about (one specifically inspired partly from a book I’m reading and the fact that some of my former teammates from college have just graduated from SCAD). Either way, my one hope is that maybe I can do some good with my writing. Whether it’s passing on new ideas to fellow art teachers, comfort fellow striving artists, inspire a few peeps to pursue education, or just to entertain someone for the time being, I think that because I wear many different hats that I’m only increasing the range of people I can reach out to; making this blog, hopefully, different and fun to keep tabs on.

Anyways… onto the main subject of today’s post!

Have you ever heard that old cliché saying that you can teach an old dog new tricks? ORRRRRR…. the other way around, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? I’m sure you have. Everyone on earth has and if you haven’t, then you’re obviously an alien from a far, far away planet deep in space visiting this rock – and why? Why here? Anyways, back to the saying. Which is it? Can you or can’t you? Before I get into what I think the answer is and how I apply this to my own life, let me tell you about the dogs I’ve had thus far in life – plus a cat.

My first dog was Wrinkles, an older shar-pei mix. I know. A shar-pei named Wrinkles? Tell me she’s joking. It sounds like a joke but it isn’t. Let’s just say my family and I were “original” when we named her and, to be frank, I still think it’s a great name for a dog. Wrinkles. Cute, easy to remember, and straightforward! Plus, if she ever ran off we wouldn’t have to get too detailed on our “lost dog” posters, which was often the case. Wrinkles loved to run. That was her passion, if you can imagine dogs having one. That being said, we were never the family to go on runs or walks too often. Like me, my parents were full blown workaholics. My mother, who still works full-time, still is, and that really limited our time to really be a “dog family.” But Wrinkles loved running so much, that she was going to run with or without us, which lead into her bad habit of bolting out the door the moment it was open for more than two seconds and taking off. And it wasn’t because she was dumb. On the contrary, she was quite sharp. In fact, she was so sharp, that she figured out that once she ran past the perimeter of the electric fence (that my father begrudgingly spent a weekend wiring and digging up the lawn for) that the shocks would stop and she could go on her merry way. Needless to say, Dad wasn’t too pleased, but that just showed how much she loved to run. And it didn’t matter how smart she was. She was perfectly cable of obeying the commands of “sit” or “stay.” It wasn’t as important as running. Unfortunately, this mentality also lead to her death as she was hit by a car after she bolted out the door.

Wrinkles and I with my "pet" raccoon, Rascal.

Our second dog was Taz, a border collie that we got as a pup. He was also incredibly smart and his passion was for food. Human food. I know that’s not news to anyone. What dog doesn’t like human food? But Taz took it to a whole different level. As a pup, he would go on covert operations to get the tasty treats. However, his overzealousness often betrayed him. One such occasion included the brief mystery of the missing funnel cake. As a kid, I always looked forward to going to the county fair every February. There was this hypnotist that would do perform these funny shows, I could test my skills as a rock wall climber, and I got to eat funnel cakes – my all-time favorite fair treat. My parents would often buy a couple: one for us to eat while there and the remaining cakes for us to save for breakfast back home. Well, during the first six months that we had Taz, we got home from the fair and set the funnel cakes on the dining room table, napkins draped over them, as per usual. The next morning, when I got up to eat my “nutritious” breakfast, the cake was gone. I woke my father up and we started investigating. From early on, he suspected Taz and his suspicions were quickly proven when we found powdered sugar puppy prints left not only on top of the dining room table but also leaving the crime scene into the living room. But nothing ever kept Taz from pursuing his love for food.

Taz and I when I was a scrawny little kid and him a wild pup.

Now, for the cat that I mentioned earlier. Tiger, or as my mother called him “Shannon’s brother,” was the only pet for a very long time that we shared our food with. Pork and Goldfish crackers were his favorites. And it wasn’t so much that Tiger would cry or go on covert missions to steal food. He would simply do what can only be described as what Pussy In Boots did to convince Shrek to let him accompany him on his quest: look up at you with those big eyes. AND if that wasn’t enough for you, he would butt you with his head just to make sure you saw those big, green eyes looking from you to your plate. Taz would watch this every night and as he starting putting two and two together, that’s when my father announced he was selling his half of the business and retiring to devote his time to being a father and to explore new aspects in his life – one of which was cooking. So, while my mother was at work and I was in school, it was just Dad and the animals all day, and Taz quickly discovered that my father was a total softie. And bingo. Taz learned a new trick. If he wanted a bit of what we were having, he didn’t have to wait in the dead of night, in hopes that we left something out, to climb onto cabinets or table tops to get what he wanted. All he had to do was look at Dad with big, imploring brown eyes and wait.

So, can you teach an old dog new tricks or can’t you? The answer: … Yeah, but isn’t it harder to do so? This is where I magically get to tie in my first few paragraphs of rumble with the main subject.
As I’ve caught myself saying more and more frequently I wear many different hats, I’ve come to the realization that it’s this mentality and curiosity to try new things that’s enabled me to grow as a not only as a person but also adapt as a creative. While I always have my eyes on the “door” that I want to bolt through and take off with my career, I haven’t just been waiting for it to open either. Part of that is because I’m an anxious person and need to doing something in order to feel that I’m making progress but mostly because I’ve been raised to be open to different things. One of the such avenues has been teaching. While I initially didn’t know what to think of the opportunity at the time, I’ve now discovered how much I enjoy being an educator (so much so, that I now have thoughts of going to the college level later in life to teach) as well as the many beneficial attributes that have changed certain things in my artistic journey as mentioned in my last post. This willingness to say “yes” and try new things has kept me from becoming an “old dog,” hence keeping me sharper and better able to learn “new tricks.”

One of the rules my father gave me is to never be afraid of knowledge. It is one of the same rules I give to my own students. But when you really look at it, isn't attaining more knowledge the same as being curious? Staying set and waiting for opportunities haven’t offered me many more doors to choose from; however, being curious and watching and listening somehow keep doors opening for me. So, don’t be like Wrinkles, my friends. Don’t become so set on one solution or think it has to be just one opportunity for that door to open. Be like Taz, curious and unafraid to try and gain new skills. You never know when they might just work.


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