I witnessed the convergence of two very profound truths recently. They came together quite organically, leaving me with little doubt as to their validity. I’d like to share it as a part of my “Communicative Approach” to training dogs, which I hope you read with an open mind.
You see, all of us fall into the habit of yelling at dogs. Whether you work in a boarding kennel, as I do, or with your own dogs at home. Whether you train in Agility and Rally, Obedience, IPO, or dock diving, or any other type of training involving dogs. We humans are a noisy bunch, tightly wound and often stressed by life, as it comes by us at 400 mph everyday. Oh, we Try to relax and be calm, but we fail as often as not. And like it or not, it affects our training, and the relationship we have with our dogs. And if you work with dogs in large or semi-large group situation, it probably happens to you a lot.
The fact of the matter is this: When we allow ourselves to become frustrated, excited, and LOUD, the emotion and energy transfer immediately to the dog or dogs. They interpret our energy as excitement and the need to get their energy to another level somewhere above what we are putting out. Sometimes WAY North of where we want them to be…
Everyone understands the tenant of “The Golden Rule”. “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.” Now let’s look at this from the dogs point-of-view. Suppose you have a problem with unwanted barking behavior, and want to eliminate it. Your solution is to yell loudly at the dog every time it begins to bark. “QUIT THAT %#$$@*&^%&&$ BARKING or I’ll &^*(%^$ you until the ^&&%#$ and the handle breaks off *(&$$% and the base cracks in half %#^^&*!!!!
Do you really believe that the dog understands your words?
Do You really believe that the dog understands your intent and tone?
All the dog hears is, “ARRFF ARF ARRFF ARF ARFFF ARF ARRRFFF ARF ARRFF ARF ARFARFARF AARRRRFFF!!!!!!” Which the dog then interprets as, “HEY!! I’m trying to be louder than you, and joining you in the BarkFest!!! It’s time to be loud, obnoxious, and boisterous with my human!!! Here’s my best shot!!” Epic Failure to Understand Your Dog.
I have observed this phenomena first hand. I’ve been guilty of it myself. But I’ve also tried and succeeded at the polar opposite. At my place of employment, we regularly place 15 to 40 dogs in an open grassy enclosure for whats called “Day Camp”. The dogs are allowed to interact, play, and socialize. I know that many of you in the Day Care industry are horrified by the very notion, but believe me, it works quite successfully. When the entire Dog Day Care industry accepts and utilizes the concept, the dogs will THANK YOU…Yes, It DOES require that your day care workers be MORE than high school children without canine experience, but that’s only a good thing. Anyway, I digress…
Every large group of dogs will be made up of different breeds, temperaments, and behavior types. Even when groups are selected carefully for compatibility, there WILL be situations. Period. HOW it’s dealt with will be the largest factor in peaceable (and bloodless) resolution. Running across the field yielding a club, yelling like Attila the Hun, will only exacerbate, and raise the excitement level. Once the emotional energy is released (from the human), the dogs will pick it up, and take it to a greater level. Not only will you fail to stop the altercation, you may very well exacerbate it. (Make it WORSE.)
As I often do, while reading various and sundry pieces of literary works, (anything from MAD Magazine to Atlas Shrugged and beyond), I come across truly profound passages that defend or even deny suppositions that I arrive at. This post was inspired by a passage in the Holy Bible, (Don’t Leave, It won’t hurt you!) and is found in the book of 1st Peter chapter 3, verse 4. The good apostle, who had a bit of a reputation as being a bit impulsive in life, (cutting off the ear of a Roman Soldier with a sword as example) talked in that verse of a “Quiet and Mild Spirit” that was part of a “secret” that is kept within a persons heart. Something that normal persons can possess and display. He even said it “pleased God” to see this spirit displayed by the individual. Whether you value the message or not, I HAVE seen the value and power of reacting and displaying a quiet and mild presence among groups of dogs, and over single dogs. Truth be told, the same mental attitude tends to work on humans as well. If you want to continue an argument with someone, by all means raise your voice, stick out your chest, or threaten violence. If you want to calm down an encounter, remain quiet but without cringing. Violence begets violence, and calm produces calm. Don’t believe me?
As I do my job everyday, I see this on a constant basis. I often find myself in an enclosed space with 15 to 25 unleashed dogs playing and interacting. Sounds like a recipe for chaos doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. Unless…
The ability to keep some measure of control over such a group starts with the person or persons overseeing the collective. Can you manage to control your emotions and output of stress? Can you avoid yelling, shouting and the hyper-kinetics of your own stress? Is Anger a common emotion that you harbor? Will two dogs wrestling in play cause you to boil over? If not, then don’t expect the dogs to remain calm either. You’re the catalyst. Stay out of the pack until you can…
Okay, I hear people say that, “I can’t help myself, I CARE about the dogs, and I’m passionate about taking care of them. I don’t want them to get hurt, so I express myself loudly.”
Let me explain it this way: ANGER, displayed by yelling or chasing dogs with intent, is like a thunderstorm. Unpredictable, dangerous, and out of control. PASSION is a waterfall. Ever-flowing, steady, and predictable, yet powerful. Too many people can’t tell the difference. The dogs pay the price.
I know that I’ve written about this subject before, but my research and application has only reinforced my belief in it. Try caring for your dog or dogs without speaking sometime soon. Use body language, try using your eyes, try developing a calm demeanor. Try to picture the behavior you desire from your dog in your thoughts, and do so without negative thoughts.
A “Presence” of leadership is something palpable and powerful without being threatening. Not only will it help control frenetic and wild activity, it can also make shy, nervous dogs, respond to you. For instance, in my work, we sometimes encounter dogs that are quite reticent about coming out of a kennel. They may be frightened of the environment, they may be shying from the loud barking in the kennel area. Taking the TIME to enter the dogs enclosure and sitting quietly and patiently will quite often bring the dog to your side. But don’t react too quickly, as the dog needs time to trust this new presence. It might take several minutes, even multiple sessions. But the Quiet Presence will eventually produce results.
Another example of this is my work with blind dogs. When first encountered, some dogs lacking sight, react to strange presences by being defensive, even nipping or worse. But allowing your Presence to be felt thru scent,and a calm voice, will allow you to work with such a dog. As trust grows, your calm protective presence will allow you to walk such a gentle soul. The dog becomes confident that it is in no danger with you, and that your presence is trustworthy.
There is Great Power and Strength in a Quiet and Mild Spirit. With dogs…and with People.