Just as a sailboat needs wind to drive it forward, your dog needs motivation.  Much discussion of Drives takes place across the spectrum of canine training about what motivates a dog to certain behavior.  I am convinced that “Emotion”, from a canine point of view, is very powerful.  In relationship training, it is foundational.

If I intone the phrase “Calm and Assertive”, a certain group of people will abandon this post like it suddenly burst into flames. That would be singularly foolish on your part.   I promise not to use the phrase here at all. Besides, Cesar OWNS that phrase.   If you just put your “Cesar-bias” aside for a few moments, I know that we will find a common ground here.  I promise not to mock or condescend to Clickers at all.  I will, in fact, encourage you to continue using those methods, while improving your Doggish.  Remember, The Communicative Approach Theory & Training ,  is NOT a training method, but rather, a better way to implement your training method.  Okay?  Here goes…

I myself have struggled with  a calm manner.  I’m a pretty high energy person with a desire to make things happen as soon as I can. Very little patience for anything that happens slowly.  I have always prided myself on being “Highly Mobile” on a moments notice, and when that doesn’t happen…Well, I can be sort of…Crabby!  As I’ve worked with dogs, I’ve found that I’m similar to a very young, working, German Shepherd!

Humans are emotional beings.  We would be incomplete if we weren’t.  Without emotion, there would be no poetry, music, or art.  Granted, there would probably be no War, broken marriages/ families,  or other assorted poor decisions either.  But that just shows that there are emotions both pleasant and poisonous.

Part of the research on this post caused me to ask the questions, Can you be calm, when you are emotional?  Can you be emotional and calm at the same time??  Are calm and emotion mutually exclusive?  Some would even ask, “do dogs display emotion at all?”    Let’s begin there…

I have no doubt that dogs do exhibit and “feel” emotions.  Not, perhaps, in the same manner as humans though.  When I watch my two German Shepherds chasing each other around the training field with wild, reckless, abandon, I feel their “happiness”.   I make special effort to “Share” their emotion, by taking part in their celebration, offering them behavior that allows them to continue their games.  Positive “Energy” if you will.  I work at observing “emotional response” in the dogs, and then reciprocate that back to them.  It affects their sense of well-being, and helps us communicate with each other.  I’m telling them, in effect, “I understand what you are telling me, and I’m sharing it.”   The dogs are better behaved when we connect on an emotional level…

This is a daily exercise, and requires that you see thru your dogs eyes sympathetically.  And I know…it’s impossible to do that perfectly.  But you can learn to identify your dogs state of mind!  It’s similar to becoming engaged and eventually marrying another person.  You do everything in your power to learn about, and understand another person.  You learn what makes that person happy, sad, angry…the entire gamut of emotional feedback.  How do you do that?  Observation, conversation, and seeing them as themselves.  But it’s also quite defensible to say that our dogs are “aware” of our desires much of the time, even if they don’t necessarily try to fulfill them.  And I know that some of you will bolt away from this next statement, but as far as Pack Behavior is concerned, each and every member of a pack is sensitive to the current tide of emotion within said Pack.  That includes both two and four-legged members.  Don’t believe this to be true?  Find a place where  several dogs are together peacefully, and then introduce an unbalanced, or otherwise unsteady dog.  The reaction is immediate and undeniable.  Like it or not, you can see this easily if you watch an episode of “The Dog Whisperer” with Cesar Millan.  The Power of the Pack is something only the most biased individual can deny…(I know, you’re out there.  And no, the Earth is still NOT flat!)

Emotion, then, is a key to developing a Communicative relationship with your dog.  Always approach training, or socializing with an even temperament of your own.  If you feel frustration develop, or heightened excitement, take a minute and chill out.  Each of us will need to explore and develop our own individual means of “Calming” our human selves.  But it is important…

Other evidence of this emotional bond can be observed between dogs playing together…If they are on the same emotional level, you will observe harmony that resembles a huge flock of birds flying together.  Rolling, twisting, and diving, they never seem to run into each other…How?  It’s God-given in my opinion.  But when my dogs work together, it’s a sublime example of “oneness of mind.”  When I’m involved in it with them, it’s even better…I hope you achieve this with your dogs!

My advice is quite simple: Share emotion with your dog.  If you observe him gnawing on a nice meaty bone, express the the emotion that he is…”Is that bone goood???  Ooooh yummmmy! Thats a Goood Boy!!!!!”  It’s okay, in fact, it’s beneficial to include yourself in his pleasure.  Celebrate the fun of playing ball together.  Not including your dog in your activities is a sure fire way to frustrate your friend, (just examine a dog that suffers from Separation Anxiety) and it affects your relationship.   Go ahead, encourage your dog often and eagerly with words and tone that make him feel good about himself!  I have been able to observe the power of this supposition recently in training for Agility.  The most successful trainers are ridiculously happy while training, even if the dog is less than perfect.  The least successful are those that emotionally punishtheir dog if they missed a tunnel or jump the wrong bar.  “Stupid Dog!” they’ll spit, as though the mistake were the dogs fault.

In fact, and this is something I admire in the sport, bad language and yelling at the dog can result in points lost, or even disqualification of the team.  This is where Positive Attitude is of the highest value.  Be in the moment with your dog, and make it uplifting in dog terms!  Your assignment today, and for the rest of your time together is this:  Watch for your dogs emotional output, and support it!  We have all seen our dog SMILE about something, (Don’t deny it!)  When you do, smile WITH him!!!

Smokey is a story that proves positive emotion can save a dog’s life!!!




  1. I cannot thank you enough for the article post.Much thanks again. Keep writing.

  2. Wendy Rogers says:

    Robert – as I noted in my intro, I pointed you to the discussion of pack behavior in the article – I wasn’t suggesting the section on alpha roles was discussed in your posting. Despite the title and intro paragraphs of the article, a good deal of it discussed the notion of pack behavior, which I believe was relevant to what you wrote. And I don’t necessarily believe that, though I do not prescribe to the notion that me, my dog and my cat constitute a pack. I read the WDJ as well as your postings, and other writings, so do exactly as you say and find my own way.

  3. Wendy Rogers says:

    Regarding your quote of Pack Behavior, I am providing this article from the Whole Dog Journal for you to consider. http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/14_12/features/Alpha-Dogs_20416-1.html

    • Robert says:

      Hi Wendy! I appreciate your response. Normally, when people send me articles by “experts”, I delete them. I really like to see dog owners that develop their own conclusions based on their personal experiences with dogs. The reason I selected to reply here, involves the easiest mistake made by people who post responses like this. That mistake? You Didn’t READ my post thoroughly or thoughtfully.

      The article you posted is in general regarding an “Alpha” dog behavior. Well, a careful reading will show that I never mentioned an alpha anything! My comment was that a “Group” (i.e. “Pack”) will reflect and be aware of the emotional atmosphere of said group. This has been proven many times by both scientific and amateur observation. Even humans fall into a “Pack” behavior at times, swayed by emotional or the popular zeitgiest of the time. My supposition stands as a proven fact.
      This post, nor ANY post I have ever made mentions or condones harm to my dogs. The link you sent as testimony is a highly slanted and biased opinion by Pat Miller. She is a member of the militant Operant Conditioning faculty, with a mind-set of My Way or Nothing. A Careful reading of my blog and the current running thread on The Communicative Approach is more than proof of my support of Positive Training methods. However, the statement that “Pack Behavior” or “Dominance Theory” even being mentioned is DANGEROUS to all dogs.” is biased non-sense. I am providing you a link to a book by Patricia McConnell that was written before Cesar Millan was known. It may surprise you to see this, as McConnell is such an icon to the Positive Reinforcement crowd/ http://www.amazon.com/Leader-Pack-have-Your-Love/dp/189176702X/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1350476468&sr=1-3&keywords=McConnell%2C+Patricia
      My advice is this…Continue to read and understand all types of training without bias. PROVE to yourself what works, and what is not. Each and every dog has a unique need and we must find and fulfill it. Put aside the debate over “Methodology”, and find your own way that may include many components. Or stick to the narrow-minded path, and limit your dogs potential. Thanks for reading!! Robert

    • Robert says:

      Angie Ballman Winters mentioned you in a comment.
      Angie wrote: “I agree, thinking in the realm of emotion gives the human insight into the dog’s mind AND feelings. It is only being able to FEEL what the dog feels, that permits me to do my work. If I didn’t not pay VERY close attention to a dog feelings, I would be dead in the water. I could not help any dog if I didn’t understand his motivations and feelings. One caution here though……I find that humans mistakenly think their dog is feeling what they feel. They think about the dog in terms of human emotions. The result…..humans end up feeling guilt and frustration and fear FOR their dog. They cannot see an accurate picture because their human feelings block them from reading their dogs emotions correctly. I, too, struggle with achieving calmness. There is no question I am type A and I like to get things done……in a hurry if possible! But, where dogs are concerned, I’ve taught myself to be calm and observe and appreciate their state of mind. If I can re-train myself into calm and patience…..anyone can! Great post. I’m so glad to start reading dog stuff that concentrates on cutting edge mind work with dogs! Awesome….thanks Robert Vaughan”