People are often unaware of how their own emotional states affect their dog's behavior. Like any best friend, "human's best friend" pays great attention to his owner's actions and moods.
I worked with a family who had three powerful, abused, rescue dogs. I really respect these clients, because they rescue animals literally at death's door. The third dog was scheduled to be put down at a shelter that night when my clients adopted him. Because the dog was so stressed, I was called in to help.
When arriving at a client's house, the first thing I do is assess the interactive energies between owners and their pets. My twenty-three years of working with the South Beach Police Force investigating human abuse taught me to pay close attention to the interactions between individuals in the household. Dogs are individual members of a household too.
My assessment was that this dog had been used as a stud to breed puppies or as a research animal. All three dogs were highly stressed and distrustful of people and other dogs. They were kept in separate living spaces, and fed and walked individually. This made my clients very anxious and kept them on edge.
My goal was to create a household where the animals and their owners could live harmoniously together. So teaching my clients to become aware of their emotional states when dealing with their pets was an integral part of the solution.
The dogs were taught to walk together, eat together, and socialize with the family in the living room. The more the humans relaxed the more relaxed and safe the dogs felt. Of course, imposing a schedule the dogs can depend upon is part of the solution as well. They came to understand they would be fed and walked in the morning and evening, and this orderliness helped relieve their some of their stress.
This is an extreme example, but even in less intense situations, an animal's ability to pick up on and image his owner’s emotional state makes emotional awareness essential to good dog training success. Neither humans nor dogs learn well when they are in a bad emotional state.
The emotions do not have to be negative to adversely affect dog training. Some dog owners have the best intentions when they shower their animals with love, but if that is not balanced with calm, firm commands and a dependable walking and feeding schedule, a dog will not take instruction seriously.
A lack of emotional awareness can lead an owner to such a frustration level that punitive measures appear to be "the last straw" in trying to train an out-of-control dog. This is unfortunate, because punishing animals is very different from disciplining animals. A dog should not fear his owner.
You do have to correct a dog when the dog is learning good behavior, but screaming, yanking on a pain-causing collar, and hitting only increases the dog's nervous energy. One of the goals of positive training is to create a calm energy environment in which both you and your dog can cooperate peacefully.
A gentle touch or a firm word like "Uh-uh!" or "Hey!" lets the dog know it is not behaving correctly. When the dog learns to understand these words, it gets the dog's attention and changes the energy. The firm sound of your voice let's the dog know he is not on the right path.
Punitive measures include screaming at a dog, hitting a dog, or using collars that cause the dog pain. It also means you are acting out of anger and not out of love.
These punitive methods are not as productive as being patient with a dog during training with positive methods. The dog might behave out of fear, but if you care for your pet, the goal is to have the dog obey because it wishes to please. This is what a harmonious relationship with your furry family member looks like.
I advise my clients to center themselves, take some deep breaths, and get relaxed before attempting to practice my homework assignments. When a dog doesn't spend his energy reacting to over-excited emotions, he can pay more attention to the training. This makes for a happier household for everyone.
Rose Lesniak is a top dog and puppy trainer / behaviorist in the Miami / Dade County area. She is also an ABC Mentor. She can be reached by phone at 305.868.8109, emailing Rose@RoseLesniakDogTrainer.com, or by filling out the confidential form on her website, RoseLesniakDogTrainer.com.