Woman and Her Dog Shaking Hands Silhouette

The Missing Piece

By Debbi McArthur

Energy is a combination of intentions and emotions, and the state of mind we project will determine our dog’s behaviour.

Dog training draws on many great tools and techniques. However, one very important piece of the puzzle is missing—one that can make or break your success.

What is this missing piece?  It’s our energy.

Every time we interact with our dog, we are teaching him and telling him who we are. This is done on a verbal level (sit, down, stay) and, more importantly, on a non-verbal level through our body language and energy. The biggest question I receive, though, is: What is energy? 

Energy is a combination of your intentions and emotions. For example, if you want to take your dog for a walk (intention) but you are nervous and anxious because the neighbour’s dog may be outside (emotions), then your energy will be unstable and so will your dog’s behaviour. Your dog may pull, lunge, or bark on the walk.  If, on the other hand, you want to take your dog for a walk (intention), and you feel confident and calm (emotions), then your energy will be stable and so will your dog’s behaviour. Your dog will feel safe and protected so he won’t feel the need to lunge and pull on the leash to protect you. To him you are a team, but if he doesn’t feel you will lead and protect the team, he feels forced to step up into the leadership role and protect the team himself. This is unfortunately where dogs make the wrong decisions because most are not programmed to lead.

Everything begins with us; it’s not about the dog. We are the source of our dog’s calm state of mind, which includes how we approach our dog, our energy, and our own state of mind. If our energy is anxious, fearful, nervous, angry, frustrated, or any other negative, your dog will reflect that energy. As well, if you are inconsistent with rules and structure, your dog will test you to see what he can get away with. If your energy is calm and confident and you are consistent with teaching your dog, you will earn your dog’s respect and trust. Your dog will then follow you and look to you for guidance.

So where do we start? First, we have to respect our dog for being exactly that—a dog—and understand that dogs see themselves as animals first, then species (dog), then breed, and then name. As humans, we see our dogs as name first, then breed, then species, and lastly animal. If we can shift our thinking toward our dogs in this aspect, we’ll come a long way in understanding them.

As animals, they communicate through energy. That is why you see videos online of different species hanging out together that you would never expect to see. They share the same energy and are drawn toward each other. Next is species, where you’ll see animals together in packs or herds with their own kind. The breed really doesn’t matter to dogs; however, you’ll notice that certain breeds share characteristics. The German Shepherds may be herding sheep, where a Terrier may be hunting. The name doesn’t matter to them and it’s really just a noise that they hear from their owner to get their attention. 

The good news is that dogs are never too young or too old to be helped so that they can live a calm and confident life with their owners. It’s natural for a dog to live in a calm state of mind—and it’s important for us to remember that it’s entirely within our control.

Debbi McArthur is a Certified Balanced Dog Trainer who specializes in aggressive and reactive dogs.  Owner of Prairieburn K9 Academy in Kelowna, she has worked with over 600 dogs and had the opportunity to work with some of the top dog trainers in North America including Cesar Millan, Heather Beck and George Cockrell.  Debbi is a professional member of the International Association of Canine Professionals and Canadian Association of Pet Dog Trainers and provides workshops, private training, board and train rehabilitation programs for families and much more. Visit www.prairieburn.ca or phone 778-214-6964.

*Reprint from our Pet Spring-Summer 2016 Issue

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