I still remember the day my ma started to teach me to cook. It was a sunny spring day, and I must have been about 9 or 10. Ma was returning to work, and because she wouldn’t be there when I came home from school, she wanted to teach me to cook some of the basics. I remember being so incredibly excited because I was going to be allowed to get the gas cooker going.

I got to play with fire!

I must admit that excitement wasn’t the only thing I felt that day, I felt apprehensive and even a tiny bit scared. Putting a flame to the gas was nerve-racking. I needed to turn on the gas, light a match and then touch that match to the stove.


For a moment there was a massive flame and my ma quickly turned the gas knob down a bit.

I could feel my heart beating… Boom, Boom, Boom.

That was pretty scary.

Before we did anything else, my mum showed me how to control the flame using the knobs on the front of the cooker.

This was one of the skills I had to master before any cooking could commence. I know it seems silly now, boiling a pan of water and dropping an egg into the rolling bubbles and making toast is not a big deal. But for a child it was really amazing, I felt like my mum was trusting me to do magic.

Over the following weeks, she taught me to cook other things too. She taught me enough to have a solid understanding of what preparing a meal was all about. Once I mastered that, we started with baking cakes.

I could continue by telling you about the first time I actually made a meal for me and my brother. It was a disaster, with smoking, melted plastic mixed in with our boil-in-the-bag Chicken Satay. I still blame my brother for that fiasco, he was the one that put the bags in the pan and put the lid on telling me all I had to do was heat it up. He never mentioned that he hadn’t put water in the pan!

What I need you to understand is that what my mum did that day when she first started teaching me how to cook was give me a skill that I could use for the rest of my life. She taught me an important life skill, one that would ensure my survival.

Cooking is a life skill.

This basic skill can be applied no matter what I am cooking or what kind of cooker I am using. It doesn’t matter how the cooker is powered; whether it is electrical or even a wood-fired AGA: the skills I need to cook a meal are instilled in me, and because my ma taught me this skill of cooking, I am able to provide for my family, no matter where I am.

This principle of teaching life skills is one that applies when teaching dogs too.

By teaching my dog life skills rather than a set of specific behaviours, she will be able to adapt what I have taught her and apply it to many different situations and environments. The really cool thing about it is that teaching life skills helps us shape our dog’s personality too.

Yes, you heard me right.

Through teaching life skills, we are able to influence the choices that your dog makes every single day. And, as a result, we can change your dog’s personality.

This method works for every dog. Just in case you are wondering whether I have gone stark raving mad, teaching life skills rather than set behaviours is fully supported by the latest discoveries in behavioural science. This method has a solid base in Learning Theory, and it takes into account our dog’s emotional well-being too.

I want to explain this a little more, so please bear with me. I promise I won’t make it too technical and boring.

Who I am today has been influenced by the experiences I had as a child. The values my parents and teachers taught me, the relationships I had with my peers and the culture I grew up in. The experiences I have had in my life and the choices I have made, as a result of what I have been taught over the years, are what makes me, ME. Everything I do, who I admire and how I respond to different situations is influenced by my personality. And it is no different for our dogs. Their personalities are influenced and changed by the life lessons and life skills they learn along the way.

Their previous experiences have a significant bearing on how they react and the choices they make when faced with challenging situations. The really cool thing for you as your dog’s owner, parent figure, teacher, playmate and friend, is that by influencing and steering your dog’s choices to the ones that you want her to make, you can change her personality.

This means that the decisions you want your dog to make become the default choices your dog will start to choose. The only thing you need to do is to teach her the life skills she needs to make those correct choices. Teaching your dog life skills is exactly what I talk about in my new book ‘No Pulling Allowed’. The Kindle book is now available from Amazon or you can grab a signed paperback copy from me by heading over to my shop.