Most dogs, will instinctively know what they are being asked to do if they are communicated with & shown in the right way at the right time and provided with the right tools to navigate safely and confidently through situations.
If the dog’s guardian has not learned how to read their own dog, is not aware of their own emotions, tone, etc, at the time that they are interacting with their dog - the message that they are trying to give their dog can end up being completely different than what was desired. The impact of such inadvertent mistakes in handling communication can be profound and exponentially harmful.
Further to that, too many people rely solely on ‘voice ‘to communicate with their dogs. People communicate to their dogs constantly via their own state-of-being, position of their body, the scents arising from emotional state. Dogs use their senses (sight, scent sound) more keenly and consciously than people do. They read stress and emotion in people before a person is even aware of how they themselves feel. A little tension in a persons shoulder, clinching of a hand, tightness of the lips, narrowing or widening of the eyes, change in breathing, sweating). Most people have not trained themselves and as such are totally unaware that they are communicating all this information. The impact of this is also far-reaching.
A dogs `natural `kit-of-tools` for communication - scent, sight, sound, their own state of being, the position of their body (or parts thereof), touch and voice is comprehensive. When a human does not know how to beneficially and consciously use these tools to communicate and relies on voice only the result on any dog, more so on a very sensitive dog, can be traumatic.
As humans we habitually approach/react too often from a raw state of emotion – this is an approach that can instantaneously overwhelm the more acute senses of a dog. I firmly believe that gaining an awareness of how you as an individual have habitulized this normal ‘modern-day human’ approach is key to having a better relationship with your dog.
Dogs require coaching as do their human guardians to support and enable the best in each other and their relationship. Dogs require that their humans be sensitive and aware Pack Leaders – not dominators. There is a profound difference between dominating your dog and providing it instead with the right type of Leadership to suit the dog as an individual & a breed.
The human's approach, investment of time and energy into the dog-canine relationship can have an enormous impact on the dog's psychological, adaptive, etc. development. Breed matters to some degree, but I believe the over ridding factor is not breed it is the individual dog's access to the right learning environment. Hey, much like it is for people too!
The expectation of many people is that their dog will inherently respect them. It is an erroneous expectation and assumption, based on a cultural belief rather than on psychology and the reality of the situation. It is also the first place where the human-dog relationship can really get off-track. When the expectation is not fulfilled, the human can become upset, frustrated at best. The negative impact on the psychological health of the dog can be profound.
First, you must understand a little of the psychology of humans & the psychology of dogs. To better understand, examine how you, as an individual accord respect to others. There are various levels of respect.
Respect - Level 1: Common respect is really a type of courteously that we give to people when we first encounter/meet them. If you have no prior knowledge of the person and the person is non-threatening you are probably going to be pleasant to them. But would you trust them with your health and well being? Likelynot. You would sit back, observe them and try to ‘pick-up’ some knowledge of their approach to situations, based on a rating system of criteria that you set. As an example you would want to know if the person is rationale and logical, capable and able to make good decisions. Are they kind and caring? Do they have your best interests in mind or only theirs? Are the decisions and actions that they take, considered and considerate or reactive and based solely on excess emotion?
Respect - Level 2: If the person has met your criteria then you will accord them the second level of respect. This type of respect moves beyond the realm of common courtesy into a fundamental belief that this person is worthy of your trust - that they can be expected to make decisions that will enable your health and well being. This person can be trusted to lead you in the right direction - this person is a Leader. This level of respect must be earned. It cannot be accorded by one person to another by means of force - the result would be fear and/or servitude, not respect.
Now examine how a dog accords respect; basically the same way a human would - as described above.
To obtain a Level 2 respect rating from your dog, you need to show that you are a firm, but fair LEADER who can and will make the right decisions at the right time in the right way. To do this, you need to be able to 'read' your dog. You need to be able to understand what your dog requires. You need to be aware of what you are really communicating to your dog and how you are communicating. Your dog needs to know that you can lead and direct it in a calm and confident manner in all facets of its life. When you have shown your dog that you can do this - you have earned their full respect.
Here are some examples to help you better understand how this works…
Your dog may always greet you calmly, but when it meets another person it may behave very differently. If a new person greats your dog in an overly excited manner, your dog may choose to greet this person in an excited manor - the new person has engendered this response. If another new person is nervous, your dog may shy away from this person, or may even bar his teeth at this person, give a low growl etc. The person who is nervous is insecure...this creates a situation were your dog has to consider if this person is unpredictable or trustworthy. Your dog shows great instinct as this person may make illogical decisions based on their own nervous, insecure state.
On the other hand, if a new person is calm, confident and kind your dog will sense this, it will observe the person, and depending on the strength of the persons confidence may almost instantaneously accord them a higher respect level.
I see this all the time in my client's dogs. The dog may treat them very differently than it treats me. When I wake into a client's home I start to earn their dog's respect right away. The dog may have a long record of barking, running around and jumping on visitors...but when I walk in and provide instruction to the dog right away (without using my voice) the dog responds by calming down. The dog’s first instruction comes from my state of being - I am calm, confident and I own the personal space directly around me with my confidence - body and mind. This is the dog’s first instruction. I may provide a small gesture with my hand - second part of the communication. The dog’s people usually cannot even see what I have done, yet they are shocked that their dog has suddenly sat down quietly or comes to greet me silently just using their nose to sniff my legs. This is an example of how I can earn respect in the space of seconds.
Having then met me, the dog may run through a doorway or down the stairs in front of its 'master', it may pull its master on a walk, but it will not do any of these things to me. It will wait for me to go through the door, or down the stairs. It will walk beside or behind me, without any instruction from me other than my own presence of mind (calm, confident). Why because I earned the dogs respect. How, by instructing it, when I first walked through that door in a way it was able to understand - something its own people had never been able to do.
Dogs will respect those people who have earned their respect. Other people will receive various levels of respect or not from your dog according to how the people behave (emotional & physical state)...that is basically how it works!
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Article and graphics by Karen Rosenfeld
Please note - this article is for information purposes and is not a substitute for an in-person Session with me. When working with dogs I use many techniques - it is important to note that this article may touch on one or several techniques but not all. I select the technique that I use for a particular dog based on my observations of the dog and an intuitive, instinctive assessment of that dog's and its human's individual requirements. For example when I am working with a dog that is hyper sensitive and very physically reactive I will not use voice or touch. I use a lot of therapeutic touch on some dogs, others require the use of herding techniques and so on. Each and every technique must be combined with:
- an understanding of the real intelligence, sensitivity and capability of dogs;
- an understanding of how to read a dog's face and a dog's overall body language;
- an understanding of the full spectrum of ways that humans communicate and dogs communicate;
- understanding and recognition of the individual that is each dog - no two dogs are the same...taking a 'cookie cutter' approach to techniques is not the way to work with a dog;
- a complete recognition and understanding of all the elements that feed a behaviour and create an issue:
- the vast majority of people can only identify one or two elements...which vastly inhibits the ability to resolve behavior issues;
- behaviours do not exist in isolation - there are always many elements that feed a single behaviour, there all always multiple behaviours that create a behavioral issue;
- self-restraint and discipline on the part of the human who is directing the dog;
- sensitivity, awareness, intuition, instinct and timing on the part of the human who is directing the dog;
- to understand, connect with and adapt quickly and effectively to a dog's learning requirements you must be able to employ the same tools a dog uses - acute sensitivity, awareness, instinct, intuition and timing;
- kindness, endurance, consideration, patience, persistence, perspective, the ability and know how to let the past go, the ability to set realistic expectations at any one point in time;
- the creation of structure, rules, boundaries and limitations for each situation at the macro and micro level;
- understanding of all the elements that make up an instruction and direction to a dog...there are multiple steps involved in an instruction - not just one!
- absolute honesty - if you cannot be honest with yourself you will not be able to communicate clearly with a dog.
These are just some of the techniques that I teach my clients - it is a holistic, all-encompassing approach. If you are missing any one element of the above mentioned your success rate will be affected to one degree or another in implementing the techniques offered in the article presented above.