Recently, one of my human office pack members told me a very interesting story. He has a neighbor with two dogs, and whenever he and his dog meet up with them, all of the dogs greet each other happily and play and get along great.
A few weeks ago, the neighbor was out of town and hired a dog walker and, as soon as the dog walker saw my employee and his dog, she tensed up and moved to the side. He told her that the dogs got along, but she stayed nervous and, instead of greeting his dog playfully, the other dogs started barking aggressively.
So — what was the difference?
Three dogs and one person were the same. One human was not, and she brought entirely different energy into the equation. Despite the dogs already being friendly, the dog walker was sending the message, “I’m nervous and afraid,” and the dogs responded by becoming protective.
The next time my employee saw the neighbor with her dogs, all three of them again engaged in friendly greeting and play, the aggressive incident forgotten.
This story is a perfect example of how important our energy is, especially when it comes to communicating with our dogs. Since dogs live in the moment, they don’t necessarily remember, “I’ve met this dog before and we’re friends.” And since, to dogs, energy is everything, how the human is behaving during any interaction is far more important than any history between the dogs.
This is why we need to learn to be aware of the energy we’re projecting, and to remain calm. As I’ve explained before, energy equals intention times emotion. If your emotion is fearful and your intention is avoidance, then you’ve just sent the alarm to your dog that says “Get ready for danger!”
Humans are emotional beings, and two of the emotions that we can easily fall into are fear and excitement, whether separately or, worse, together. Each of these emotions is the opposite of calm and can be dangerous because they make us stop paying attention to what is actually around us and focus on what we think is happening. This is how we lose control of a situation.
This is also why I say that humans tell the “story” while dogs tell the truth. Human emotions, if they grow too strong, can blind us to reality. Even a positive emotion like love can keep us from seeing that, for example, the person we’re with doesn’t treat us very well.
Before you can learn to become calm in stressful or exciting situations, you have to learn how to check your own energy. To do that, you need to look at your instinctual response to your own emotions.
So I want you to think of a stressful situation and imagine yourself in it. Maybe it’s being stuck in traffic, or what you went through holiday shopping last year. Whatever it is, remember the feelings you had and try to feel them again.
Once you’ve done that, listen to what your body is doing. Maybe some part of you tensed up, or you’re feeling a knot in your stomach. Whatever it is, recognize how it’s connected to the negative emotions. Then, take a few deep breaths, shake out or stretch or whatever you need to do to release the physical tension, and think of the stressful situation again.
However, this time, instead of focusing on the emotion, think of that situation from another point of view and in a purely factual way — maybe traffic is bad because of an accident, or the line in the store was so slow because the clerk is near the end of a twelve-hour shift.
As you think of the situation like this, continue to breathe deeply and stand up straight, with your feet flat on the floor and shoulder-width, head up, chest out, and shoulders back. Feel whether the tension you felt has gone away, and think of how your view of the stressful situation is changing.
When the tension is gone, you should have achieved a calm energy state, and this is the state you should be in whenever you’re with your dog, especially on the walk. Because energy is a combination of emotion and intention, your intention equals the outcome you’re going to get but, once you get your emotions under control, you can make your intention positive.
As the dog walker story above shows us, we incredibly influence our dog’s behavior all of the time, because they mirror our energy. This is why it is so important for us to learn how to control our energy, and to be able to achieve a calm, assertive state at will.
Stay calm, and in control!