Showing posts with label Communication. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Communication. Show all posts

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Take a Breath, Breathe – Dogs Understand, Breathing is Communication

Take a breath, breathe – dogs understand, breathing is communication. Breathing is one of many ways in which dogs communicate with each other. Dogs also observe how humans breathe. By taking the time to learn a little about this natural form of communication, you can increase your understanding of dogs, be more aware of your own state of being, and improve your ability to support / direct your dog.

Think about how we humans react to stimuli – good and bad stress, our breath and breathing patterns are immediately affected. The only time we control our breath and breathing patterns are when we are consciously working to do so. The balance of the time our brain controls our breathing patterns. Your dog hears and observes your breathing to assess how you are really feeling – happy, relaxed, joyful, frustrated, anxious, tense, fearful – all emotions are reflected in how we breath – so too for a dog.

A Few Examples Breathing as Communication

A dog that is very relaxed, having had his/her meal, and exercise may lie down, take a breath and expel that breath as a sigh indicating a relaxed, comfortable satisfied state.

A dog that is anxious will exhibit early warning symptoms of that anxious state – one of those signs is an increase in rate and intensity of breathing which, if not checked, will progress from open-mouth breathing to heavy panting and may also include anxious pacing.

Do you have a dog that exhibits aggressive-reactive behavior? Have you seen your dog go suddenly stock-still? Have you felt the silence, the absence of breath - inhaled or exhaled? That sudden stiffness and absence of breath is a sign that your dog is about to act/react. You have split seconds to provide direction to your dog to de-escalate the situation, and prevent a dog fight.  If you are like most people in this situation you won’t realize that you are inadvertently directing the situation to culminate in aggression…

You have probably stopped breathing – you are holding your breath.

Your hands are probably clenched - your mind and body are tense.

Your dog is following your direction.

It’s time to breathe – you have split seconds to start the process of de-escalation, breath. Release the tension.

A dog that is anxious may yawn – you can help calm that dog by yawning and then taking a few dep breaths. Dogs also use yawning as a communication tool to help other dogs calm – you can help calm the pack by taking a few deep breaths, and making sure you release all tension in your own body.

True leadership requires that the person leading be willing, and able to be that thing first that they want the other being (in this case your dog) to be.

A Few Simple Breathing Exercises For You and Your Dog

Start by taking a deep breath. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth - close your eyes and think of nothing but that breath while breathing in and out.

Notice how you feel - did you forget about everything else for those split seconds? Did you forget to be worried, did you find peace for a second?

If you did the exercise properly, you attain a state of grounded calm – at least for those seconds you were focused on that deep breath. If you did not then breath again - in through your nose and out through your mouth, this time close your eyes as you breath. Now did you feel grounded?

When you breathe as per my instruction above you are, for those seconds grounded - your own anxiety, anger, frustration, tension, anticipation of ‘bad’ behaviour is forgotten. Everything changes for that second - your body language, your thoughts, your eyes, your face and even your scent may change. Tension is released. In that moment of that breath you become what you want your dog to be - grounded, relaxed, rational, calm and comfortable, confident and logical.

Stand or sit near your dog and breathe as instructed above. While you breathe observe your dog.

Did your dog look at you?

Did your dog's ears move – make sure you observe carefully – the movement of the ears may be very subtle, very slight?

If yes to one or both of the above your dog was listening!

Try doing this when you are at one end of a room and your dog is at the other. See if your dog looks at you or if his/her ears move just the slightest. If your dog is calm your dog will hear you breathe.

Did your dog come to see you when you breathed?

Did you observe your dog relax after you breathed?

If you have a dog that is currently in an anxious state your dog may not 'hear' you the first time you do this. Repeat the exercise, breathe deeply.

Daily Life with Your Dog - Use Breathing to Communicate and Direct

When you are about to give your dog a direction - i.e. 'sit', take a deep breath before you direct your dog with the command 'sit' or before you use a hand signal for sit.

After the command is given take another deep breath.

Don't repeat the command.

Just wait, don't speak - you can take another breath to reinforce and hold the command. By doing so you are exercising patience, self-restraint, self-awareness, self-discipline. You are quite, non-reactive, grounded, attentive, consciously observant and directive.

You are communicating logically.

You are being that thing that you want your dog to be – self-aware, self-disciplined, self-restrained, self-correcting and you are directing using one of the techniques a well-balanced dog use to direct another dog.

Now take this communication skill and apply it to every situation where you currently, or should be directing your dog.

Train yourself to do this consistently in all low-level situations. By doing so you develop a positive, reliable habit – your dog knows that he / she can rely on you, and that there is no need to escalate to more intense behavior.  If you do encounter mid to high level situations you can use the same techniques to direct your dog to normalize. 

Stay Connected, Cue Your Dog - Breathe

Stay connected with your dog. If your dog has a habit of barking at every sound, at the door bell, at a passerby.  If your dog is tense when passing another dog cue your dog to relax before he/she reacts. Take a deep breath so your dog relaxes rather than stiffens.

Timing is everything - to support good timing you need to be a conscious observer. Breathe for your dog - concentrate on your breathing. Force yourself to breathe and clear your mind instead of anticipating and thereby directing your dog to do exactly what you don’t want. Listen to your dog's breathing and watch your dog's ears - if you hear breathing begin to intensify, if you see ears stiffen, it is time for you to take a deep breath, it's time for you to make sure you don't have any tension in your hands, your body, your mind. By doing so you are communicating and directing your dog to calm and still – you are leading by example. And you never said a word - natural wisdom, a dog's way.
Additional Assistance – Holistic Health and Wellness
If you require additional support and guidance, contact me to discuss your requirements. I will determine the appropriate course of action for your situation, and I will provide you with a quotation for cost of services. 

I offer holistic services to clients located around the world.
  • Holistic Diet Nutrition Wellness Services
    • Unbiased advice regarding Diet, Nutrition, Wellness, Food, Supplementation, etc. - for more information go here>>.
    • Holistic Diet Nutrition Wellness Plans - for more information go here>>. 
    • Please note - I do NOT sell food or supplements. I am not aligned with any companies. I do this so that I can remain 100% objective in selecting, recommending and prescribing the best solutions for my individual clients' situation.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Is It Possible that Training Our Dogs Is Really Wrong?

Yeap, this is me with some of the dogs in my dog pack

On one of the professional dog training and behaviour forums that I belong to, (today) one of the trainers posed the question ‘Is It Possible that Training Our Dogs Is Really Wrong?’ She then went on to note…'In recent years after having tried the training with rewards, hanging my dog when aggressive, electric collars, alpha rolls....tried it all. Could there be something else ...another way to approach working with dogs? What if PR is really Negative Reinforcement?' Well I have not used e-collars, etc. but my answer to her question (and I think you might find it very interesting) was as follows...

YES! Training our Dogs is Wrong!

My dogs Robbie and Sarah waiting for permission to start their
off-leash portion of the walk

And now you are thinking "What!? Karen are you crazy, you make your living training dogs!"

Well...hmm, actually I make my living working with dogs and training their people :>) 

Dogs require clear communication – it is the human that requires the training!

OK, so who is it that is really trained - me, or my dogs?

So Is it possible that training our dogs is really wrong?

The following was my response to that seemingly odd but intriguing question...

It is my very firm belief that it is not the dog that requires training if we are talking about day-to-day life skills living in a home and community with humans, other dogs and other animals. If that is the scenario you are referring to then it is my belief that it is the humans that require training.

If on the other hand you are referring to situations where the dog will be working on a specific task such as bomb sniffing, search and rescue, supporting a person that is physically or mentally challenged then yes the dog will need training specific to that specialized task. My comments below do not refer to this type of specialized training, but instead to the type of requirement I noted in my first paragraph.

A glimpse into my way of working with dogs and their people...and why looking to train your dog is the wrong approach for those dog owners wanting to provide their dog with the life skills required to be happy well adjusted dogs for normal day-to-day life...

I do not seek to train the dog, but instead I look to see and understand the dog and then mentor the dog based on its individual inherited and acquired traits. I communicate with the dog in a logical and respectful manner, coaching and mentoring that dog through various situations - while I train its humans to be more insightful, more aware, more self-disciplined communicators.

In order to train the human I must also see and understand the human.

I do not believe it is necessary to train a dog, it is simply necessary to communicate to that dog in a respectful, logical, insightful manner. It is the human that must be trained. A brief but more detailed explanation of how that works can be gleaned from these two articles – here and here.

So What Should You Do Instead of Training Your Dog? 

Well as I see it, you should learn to be more like a dog! Or as Edward Hogland once said...

"In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn't merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog."

That's my boy Robbie and yes, he is smiling and he is asking
'"Ok mom, what are we 'gonna do now?
In the discussion thread, another trainer noted that he believes our dogs are very in-tune to our emotions. Well not only do I believe this to be true, it is also a foundational concept of how I work with dogs and their people. 

Dogs have a full range of emotions and as such they do understand emotion - they also understand facial expression. 

Dogs are one of the few animals that have a similar muscular facial structure to humans – I can see all of the expressions on a dog’s face that a human can see on another human’s face. Understanding how to really read your dog’s face is just one of the keys to understanding your dog which is why it is something that I teach my clients. You can have a glimpse into the world of a dog’s facial expression here.

The same trainer then came back and asked me "I do have one question Karen. Are you saying you don't teach dog some like even...come?" My answer was of course I teach a dog to come :>) but is that training or is it just good communication? And how is that dog compelled to come? Because the dog wants to work with you and you have - in the past given the dog a truly logical reason to come, or becasue it must listen becasue we are the human :>)

When your wife or girlfriend asks you to follow her to a display in a store - do you oblige? Did she train you or are you acquiescing becasue you want to? Ya, I know you are going to say she trained you (grin) but how do you learn to come when your mother calls you when you are little?

How does a mother dog get her puppies to follow - is it training or is it communication delivered with nuances that make you want to cooperate? Or is it a combination of many things including respect for each other?

OK, so this is my dog Abby, and she is smiling with a glint of impishness,
she is happy and is asking if she can go charging off to play
with the other members of my dog pack
just in case you are curious - the answer to her question was...
Yes, off you go Abby'.
I gave her this direction with a gesture and a smile in my eyes and face
- no words were necessary :>)
A few trainers on the forum have had the lack of perspective in the past to say that what I do is 'voodoo' and 'wooo'. My response to them has always been to say how sad and how ridiculous, as their shallow comments come from a place of their own insecurity as it takes great self discipline, self awareness, self restraint and self control to work as I do. I have to be that thing first, that I would like the dog (and the people)  I am working with to be - I have to lead by exacting example.

What I do is based on a great sense of humility which allows me to see just how amazing, how intelligent dogs truly are, and how humans have much to learn from dogs.  I have learned from dogs and do so every time I work with a new dog. I do not have the inhibitor that says I am better than a dog, so a dog has nothing new to teach me. Should the human be truly intelligent they can liberate themselves from the constraint that a dog is just a dog.

What I do is based on pure logic which is not clouded by pre-conceived human concepts and resulting restraints driven by the notion that only a human may possess great intelligence. I have to have the courage to look beyond what our society, our culture teaches us from the time we are young.

Human intelligence is so often rendered less than it could be due to the emotional and judgmental nature of our species :>) 

A dog does not have to do as I say simply because I am a human and the dog is just a dog. I have to earn that dogs trust and respect.

When we allow ourselves to look beyond, it allows us to work more with what we have in ourselves so that we can rely less on man-made devices which simply cannot solve the root cause of our dog's problem - which is really our problem first as our dogs simply follow our lead. Having had the opportunity to work with many dogs and their people I know that a dog in distress is a gift to the human as that dog is there to teach the human how to overcome a personal constraint which they (the human) has never been able to grow beyond. The dog is a gift - the key is to help the human see what their dog is trying to teach them, and at the same time make sure that the experience is one of mutual benefit and growth.

What type of devices am I referring too? Well, for example..

E-collars, prong collars, ‘Easy-Walkers’, the ‘Halti’ and ‘Gentle leader’ etc. The ‘Easy-Walker’, ‘Halti’ and ‘Gentle leader’ can be no more gentle than a prong or e-collar. And yes, with that statement I am really going to tick some trainers and people off...but hey, reality is when I go to work with my clients I ask them, "so how would you feel if someone was digging into your shoulder joint, yanking your head sideways", uh huh - and then I show them how to work without those resolve the real issue, poor communication.

I am never dismissive of the devices that my clients have used in the past but instead seek to offer them another perspective and a chance to move forward with better options. After all that is my job! When we set out for 'The Walk' I say please bring the tools that you are comfortable with (prong collar, easy walker, extensible leash, gentle leader, etc.)...but put it in your pocket (prong collar ouch :>). Then I say "bring it with and we will try my way first, if you feel uncomfortable, if I cant find a way to make this work for you, we will use your device" The device never gets used again. Why? Because the human learns to communicate properly with their dog!
  •  Despite the claims and advertising tactics of the manufacturer these devices
    • Are not in many cases ergonomically healthy for the dog;
      • The gentle walker works as a restraint as it digs into the soft tissue, muscle, ligaments and tendons of a dog’s shoulder joint;
      • The Halti or Gentle Leader puts pressure on the dog’s nose and neck and often on the dog’s eye sockets as well;
  • These devices simply allow the human to invasively, physically control the dog;
  • These devices do not solve the root cause of why it is necessary for the human to use the device;
  • These devices do not teach a human how to understand their dog better;
  • These devices do not teach the human how to become a better communicator;
  • And the same can be said for the use of treats.
Now before you get angry and hot under the collar...oops its too late for that...but wait...

Granted some of you might be thinking "this dog whisperer is just arrogant". 

Nope, I'm not, what I am doing is driving home the point that the human needs to be trained...

Are there ever applications when these devices do have a place?
Yes of course.

For instance, if a dog must quickly acquire an understanding of how to cope with a situation i.e. how to behave in a safe manner around industrial or farm equipment. When used properly an e-collar can be a positive aid. But this type of situation is very specialized and really does not fit into the parameters faced by the typical dog owner.

While many dog owners find themselves using these various devices, it is fair to say that they have little choice but to do so, if the trainer that they engaged to assist them had only a limited knowledge from with to work.

In my opinion...
It is far better for a dog to be subject to the use of one of these devices than for the dog to be euthanized because the owner had no control over the dog...


It is one-thousand fold better for the root cause that drives the need for such devices to be solved rather than masked;

And that requires that the human be trained...

When we as a species, and as individuals allow ourselves to openly and truly see  what is possible, and what is truly before our eyes and what in reality presents to our other senses;

We are empowered to work as a dog does. 

This then allows us to be more like a dog - a being that is a truly an amazing communicator.

Yeap, Robbie and Sarah smiling again and asking again
- this time their question was "can you pick an apple from the tree for us?"
Which of course I did do, after all dogs are omnivores :>)

The following is an example I often use with my clients - the example explains how we have the opportunity to engage a dog to work with us or instead we can create a situation in which we force a dog to not want to work with us. It is all about patience and communication …

Let’s say you were at work and something went wrong…

Your boss says to you "YOU really messed that up" – he/she does not speak with any kindness or openness but instead with pure anger, ire, aggression. Are you going to want to work with your boss? Or are you thinking he is a jerk (to put it mildly).

Now let’s look at what happens if your boss reacts in a different manner…

Your boss says to you "that did not go so well, but hey - look, this is what WE are going to do instead" – he/she speaks with an open and positive energy that draws you in, compels you to be happy to work with him/her.

Your bosses’ approach, his energy and emotions have the power to either repel you or engage you – and so it is for a human when working with a dog. The instant you think ‘bad’ dog’ you have just fed your body language with your thoughts (your mind and your body) and closed your heart (your emotions, your spirit). Your dog reads all of this instantaneously – combine this with your tension and you have consistency and leadership…but not the kind you want! Here is an article that takes this theory into practice – I recommend reading it.

Pure logic, not based on training the dog, but instead based on training the human :>)

And now you can enjoy knowing your dog a little better, WOOF!

Additional Assistance

Additional Assistance - Holistic Health and Wellness Service
If you require additional support, and guidance - contact me to discuss your requirements. I will determine the appropriate course of action for your situation and I will let you know the applicable fees. I offer consultative services to clients around the world...
Diet, Nutrition Wellness Services
  • Unbiased Diet, Nutrition, Product Advice - information and payment here >>. 
  • Holistic Diet, Nutrition Wellness Plans - information and payment here >>.
Dog Obedience Training and Behavior Modification Services
  • In-Person sessions - information and payment here >>.
  • On-Line consultation and sessions - information and payment here >>.