On my 13th birthday, I told my mother my greatest dream — to be the best dog trainer in the world. She told me I could be anything I wanted to be but, looking back, I realize how unrealistic my dream had been.
I was a short, poor Mexican kid from a farming town with less than half a million people. Not only that, but the dogs in Culiacán weren’t treated the same as household pets in big cities. They were strays and working dogs, so no one around there would even need a trainer.
If I wanted to make my dream come true, I would have to go to America, so I did, arriving at 21 with that big dream and no money. Then my dream became a reality, and a reality show, and all it took was me believing in myself — along with fourteen years of hard work and good luck.
Of course, I would not have been inspired to do that hard work — and would not have met the right people to be “lucky” — if my imagination had not created the dream to move me forward in the first place. If I had had no dream, I would probably still be living back home and someone else would be Leader of the Pack now.
People often ask me whether dogs have an imagination. While science hasn’t yet answered this question, I would say that dogs have something like an imagination, but different. Dogs are instinctual and live in the moment. They do not sit around thinking about what they’re going to do tomorrow. However, when presented with a particular stimulus, they are capable of imagining what that stimulus means because of past associations.
A human may be expecting a bonus at work next month, for example, and they can imagine all the things they could do with that money. For a dog, though, even if you walk her at the same time every day, she isn’t spending the half hour beforehand imagining going on that walk and all the things she will smell and see.
Instead, she is aware that it’s a certain time of day and remembers that something exciting happens at that time. But it isn’t until you, the human, start the motions she associates with going on the walk that she will begin to anticipate exactly what’s going to happen — and that anticipation isn’t “I know what happens next.” It’s “I remember what happened last time.”
Our human imaginations can get us into trouble when, instead of dreams, we create nightmares, and once someone has decided to imagine the negative — like the inability to control their dog — it can be difficult to convince them otherwise. Like the dog going for the walk, they remember what happened last time, but that last time was bad for the human, so they expect every other time to be the same.
Luckily, we also have the ability to use our imagination to move away from bad results, and this is exactly how I teach people to project calm, assertive energy. If you don’t think you can be calm and assertive, then imagine yourself as someone who is — a fictional character or a real-life hero — and take on the posture and attitude of that character. Dream success with your dogs, then imagine that dream while you’re with your dogs, and see how quickly your energy changes into action and becomes reality.
Dogs can only react to what has happened and what’s happening right now, but humans have the ability to imagine and ask, “What could be?” Imagining positive things can give us the drive to make them happen. They can turn a poor little 13 year-old Mexican boy into an international TV star, and they can turn you into a Leader of the Pack in everything that you do.