By Patty Homer, CDT, CPDT-KA
Scientists have discovered that dogs can smell the presence of autism in children. ‘Seizure Alert’ dogs can alert their owners up to an hour before the onset of an epileptic seizure. There are dogs that can detect cancer before medical tests can. With these incredible capabilities, it is hard to deny the effect that our own energy can have on our dogs. The idea of sharing “good energy” is not just a “woo-woo” concept reserved for earth mothers and flower children; it is how to effectively communicate with a different species.
The extent to which dogs can “sense” and “smell” things is incredible. This is why it is so important to practice having and sharing “good energy” when you are with your dogs. Dogs communicate with us (and we unknowingly communicate with them) every minute we are with them through our body language, tone of voice and how we are feeling inside. You don’t have to tell your dog you are happy, sad, angry, nervous, tense, frustrated or that you adore them. They know how you feel through the energy they sense from you; and react accordingly. We humans have been taught to mask our feelings, dogs have not. Dogs are our mirrors; the energy we project is the energy they tend to display.
This is why we influence our dog’s behavior so often without realizing it. Unfortunately, we tend to influence their behavior in a negative way instead of positive. When you are holding the end of the leash walking your dog and another person or dog approaches; if you get nervous that something may happen, you are feeding your dog nervous energy and your dog will more likely act fearful or aggressively towards the approaching object. If it is raining outside and you really don’t want to go outside and get wet while your dog goes potty, he will read your feelings and soon, not want to go outside when it is raining, also. If, when you return home, you are angry that your dog has chewed something up, he may seem as though “he knows he did something wrong” when in fact, when you have come home angry in the past, you have yelled at him or shared negative energy and the dog is reacting to your energy or the pattern of energy you have established by being angry when you come home.
The goal is to keep your emotions and energy calm and confident. This takes allot of practice and sometimes you have to fake it until you make it. Practice with your dog as much as you need in order to convince yourself that you can handle anything that comes your way. Know that when you are with your dog, walking or just hanging around the house, you are his protector, his leader and you have the skills and knowledge to pull it off. Will your dog know that you are faking it? Probably, but the more you fake it, the closer you will come to really having this calm, confident demeanor.
Women typically have a hard time being a confident leader, but with practice, you can become empowered. One trick is to decide on a topic that you want to think about and solve before you go for your walk. While on your walk, keep the leash loose enough that the clasp makes a “J” but the dog is right beside you, start walking and concentrate on the topic at hand (grocery list, solution to a problem that has been weighing on your mind). Notice I said a problem to solve not worry about! Doing this automatically puts you in a calmer and more confident state – you can’t solve problems in an anxious and unsure state. With our busy schedules, multi-tasking is something that we often need to do. Walking your dog in this fashion accomplishes providing exercise and mental stimulation for your dog, aerobic exercise and mental stimulation for you and, solution to a problem and peace of mind for you. Practice this enough and you will become a more calm and confident person and this will begin to show through to everyone who knows you.
Men typically have a hard time with offering calm and confident energy without offering intimidating or dominating behavior. Before your walk, take a few deep breaths, remind yourself that you are dealing with another species that does not respond to domination and intimidation the way another human might. Domination and intimidation will get your dog to respond the way you want him to out of fear – for the moment. You want him to respond to you out of respect – for now and the future. Dogs that repeatedly respond out of fear become unpredictable and at some point will lash out aggressively. When they lash out, it is often not at the intimidator, but at another subject (dog, child, stranger). Practice leading and teaching your dog instead of intimidating or dominating your dog enough and you will start to see him respond to you out of respect instead of fear.
Punishment is a form of “training” that has long been used. I would like for you to try to take the word punishment out of your vocabulary. Think, instead, of consequences or corrections. Your dog needs to know that there is a consequence to every behavior. Sometimes the consequence is benign, such as being ignored and sometimes it is tangible, such as being given affection. Acceptable behavior has consequences such as your happy or contented energy, physical affection, a treat or praise. Unacceptable behavior has consequences such as being ignored, verbal correction (EH-EH), being removed from the room, a loud noise or just the look that says “stop what you are doing” – I call this the Mommy look.
When you are in the right state of mind and your dog behaves in an unacceptable manner, give the appropriate correction – notice I did not say punishment – and move on. If you have questions about what is an appropriate correction or consequence, contact a professional trainer to discuss it.
The bottom line is: BE TEACHERS, NOT DISCIPLINARIANS. Use positive energy and rewards instead of negative energy and punishment and you will gain your dog’s (and possibly the people around you) respect, love, loyalty and obedience.
“In nature, there are neither rewards nor punishments, there are consequences.” ~ Robert Ingersoll