Saturday, 10 December 2011





Tugging and pulling, yelling, frustration, anger - it’s all part of engaging in an argument.  If you are trying to provide direction to your dog - who is excited, anxious, reactive and you are also excited, frustrated, angry, reactive you are matching your dog’s state. You are most definitely leading by example - the wrong example. Dogs don’t like hypocrisy any more than humans do - would you follow someone who made no sense, lacked logic and was in an emotional unbalanced state? 

If you expect trouble you will get troubleyour dog knows if you are anticipating an argument.

Be fair, but be determined, persistent, consistent and patient. Your dog knows when he has an edge to manipulate and control. 

Do not say to your dog ‘would you just stop that!’ or I wish you would stop doing that’, or ‘you are bothering me, quit it!’ If you do this you are not providing direction, nor are you embracing the role of leader. You are whining and complaining not providing direction! When we whine instead of direct, we give our dog a choice - you can listen to me or not. Just like humans, most will choose the ‘not’ option.

Think about it this way…why do you feel like you will have to repeat yourself? Is it because you are not confident in your ability to direct, is it because you realize you are not in control of the situation? Dogs know when we vacillate, waiver, lack confidence and commitment. Dogs can read our thoughts, our state of being by observing our body language, our voice, our scent. 

When we think ‘this is going to be an argument’ and ‘I am going to have to repeat myself’, ‘my dog is going to do what he has always done’…you are setting you and your dog up for failure.  

Instead remember to think 'I direct, I expect my dog to listen, and that is it!' Be 100% committed - your dog knows when you are not. But you must direct as a true read on!


A dog's sense of hearing and smell is much more acute then ours. For most people our primary form of communication is voice, but dogs rely on body language to consciously communicate much more than humans do.

Dogs are very sensitive and use their senses (sight, scent sound) more keenly and consciously than people do. Dogs look at a human's face to understand, ask and engage the human.

When we think of something that makes us happy, unhappy, sad, angry, excited, etc. the thought translates to our body. We may tense our shoulders, clench our hand, narrow our eye, purse our mouth, change our breathing, sweating and so on. This is our physical reaction to our own translated to our bodies = body language.

Body language is a form of communication and your dog takes notice - instantaneously…our dogs are often aware of what we feel before we are.

This is just one reason why it is so important to learn to be aware of your own emotional state when you are communicating to and working with your dog. 

You cannot hope to lead your dog in an affective manner if are not aware of what you are projecting. 

You will indeed lead - but not as you hoped to! The instant you get emotional, you either lose your dog audience - meaning they will no longer pay attention to the direction you are attempting to provide or you will influence them to become reactive just as you are! If your dog is barking and you are yelling at it to stop - well guess are a hypocrite. Why? Because you are barking too! Behaviour wise - never ask someone (including a dog) to do what your not prepared to do your self!

Dogs are also very sensitive and aware of physical presence and how dogs and people occupy space

This is how a dog herds other animals and sometimes people too! It is also how a dog clams space. If your dog jumps on visitors and the visitor pulls back - this is an invitation to the dog to move further into the visitors space. If you yield space to the dog it will move into the space you yield. Conversely, if you do not withdraw but instead move into the dog’s space the dog will back away. If you hold a treat in your hand and put your hand up high - the dog will see this as an invitation to move into your space and jump for the treat. If you hold you hand at your side with calm confidence and ‘own’ the treat the dog will not move-in to take the treat unless you offer it to the dog. If you calmly and confidently ‘occupy’ a doorway, a dog will not bolt through in front of you.

So, if you want to better understand and work with your dog...train yourself to be aware of and in control of your emotional state, be aware of how you occupy space, learn to see when your dog is looking at you asking for direction and respond.


Most dogs, will instinctively know what they are being asked to do if they are communicated with and 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 & 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 habituated 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 and a breed.

The human's approach and 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 and 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? Likely not. You would sit back, observe them & 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 & 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 & I own the personal space directly around me with my confidence - body & 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 and physical state)...that is basically how it works!



Be prepared to provide a full instruction. A full instruction consists of:

1. Getting your dogs attention;
2. Letting your dog know what you do not what him to do;
3. Letting your dog what you do want him to do instead, and;
4. Following through to correct your dog if he backslides into the unwanted behaviour.

The leadership role is one of coaching and mentoring with fair, firm, clear direction. Never match your dog’s state but you do have to match the intensity of his behaviour. I see a lot of people doing only step 2. Then the poor dog gets in trouble as it goes back to doing the unwanted behaviour as its human has not provided a full set of instructions! Blame yourself, not your dog!

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Important Note

1.0 Use of Foods, Herbs, Alternative Medicines:

Safe use of items and protocols in the article above, is your sole responsibility.

Foods, herbs and alternative medicines have health issue, condition and conventional drug interactions. Safe use of all substances and protocol are your responsibility.

Before you use any substance or protocol do your research. Check for cautions, contradictions, interactions and side effects. Do not use substances or protocols not suitable to your animal's individual circumstances.

If your animal has an underlying condition substances and protocols may conflict.

2.0 Definition of Holistic…

Food, herbs, alternative medicines are NOT ‘holistic’ they are a substance and MAY, or may NOT be ‘NATURAL’.

If you use a ‘natural’ substance (ie. an herb) you are using a natural substance, not a holistic substance.

Holistic is not defined by use of one or several substances. Holistic is an approach.

Definition of “holistic” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press


"relating to the whole of something or to the total system instead of just to its parts"

"Holistic medicine attempts to treat the whole person, including mind and body, not just the injury or disease."

Holistic is a way of approaching life, and within that health, and well-being.

3.0 Expectation a natural substance remedies a health or behavioral situation.

A natural substance used to treat symptoms. But, if factors causing the underlying issue remain you do not have a remedy.

Remedy requires a comprehensive approach. It is necessary to identify root cause. Remove items that trigger, cause or otherwise contribute to issues. Holistic approach includes design, implementation to treat, remedy and maintain long-term health.

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Wishing your dog and cat the best of health!

Karen Rosenfeld
Ottawa Valley Dog Whisperer
Holistic Behaviorist - Dogs
Holistic Diet Nutrition Wellness Adviser – Dogs and Cats