Irritable with Your Quarantine Companions? It’s Time to Think like a Dog Trainer

Courtney Chandler—a dog trainer and behavioral science nerd—shares the secret to how she and her husband hacked their relationship and found harmony while adjusting to being together 24-7.

Courtney Chandler

With Colorado under stay-at-home orders, we’re discovering that quarantines make folks irritable with the people around them. While understandable, if left unchecked, irritability could become self-perpetuating. 

I’ve been there, and I used my dog training know-how to develop a tool to reclaim harmony. I call it, “radical gratitude.” 

Six years ago, after moving to Denver, my husband and I suddenly found ourselves inhabiting the same space 24-7, with only each other for company. Eventually, we noticed that we were bickering, a lot. 

So I sat down, and started thinking like a dog trainer. It sounds silly, but learning theory can be used to adjust a wide array of behaviors, even in humans. 

In dog training, we tell our clients to focus on what their dog is doing right. We ask them to look for every opportunity to reward their dog. Focusing on what’s right, shifts the underlying dynamic from tension to harmony, because dog and human are motivated to work together instead of against each other. 

I realized my husband and I had been fixating on all the wrong things, like messy counters. We needed to focus on the things we appreciated. That’s when the answer came to me: radical gratitude. 

Conscious, proactive gratitude for every good thing, large or small. 

My husband and I implemented it right away. We looked for any reason to express our gratitude with words, smiles, and hugs. 

The sniping and squabbling diminished practically overnight, and were replaced with affection and openness. We were also, incidentally, training each other to do more nice things. We still irked each other sometimes, but annoyance was short-lived. 

Now, during lock-down, you might be finding yourselves in circumstances similar to those that led to my own feedback loop of bickering. If you want to implement radical gratitude in your own relationships, here are 4 easy steps: 

Step 1: Look for any good thing, big or small, that someone does or says. 

Step 2: Take a moment to appreciate it. Recognize it as a gift. Try to feel your gratitude in your body. 

Step 3: Express your gratitude genuinely. Try to convey your gratitude so the other person feels it. 

Step 4: Repeat with intention. 

While radical gratitude is not a panacea for all life’s ills, it could be a valuable tool in facing isolation and confinement. There’s only one way to find out.

Courtney Chandler is a writer and dog trainer, living and working in the Berkeley neighborhood of Denver. You can read more about her musing on behavior at


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