Humans love to put on disguises, whether it’s playing dress-up as a child, putting on a costume for Halloween, or dressing as your favorite fictional character to go to a convention. It doesn’t even have to be what we’d call a costume — I know many people who enjoy those occasions when they have to get really dressed up, whether it’s a cocktail dress or fancy gown, or a nice suit or tuxedo. A formal outfit can be a kind of disguise as well, reminding the wearer, “This is not my every day self.”
Even when we don’t get dressed up, though, people wear disguises all the time. We hide our real feelings or suppress our true personalities. There are a lot of reasons we do it. We may not want to offend someone, or might be in a place where our normal behavior would not be acceptable — nobody wants a comedian at a funeral, for example.
Sometimes, though, people become better at the disguise than at being their real selves. Why? Because they put on the disguise so often that they think it reflects their true personality. I see this constantly with people and their dogs, and it happens when the people have repeated what they think is true for too long.
“Oh, I could never control her on the walk. She’s too strong.”
“I try to discipline him, but I can’t do it when he looks at me with those eyes.”
“I’m just really terrible at training dogs. I can’t do it.”
(In fact, replace “training dogs” with any task that you think is difficult — math, driving, sports — and this last one becomes the mantra that holds too many people back in their lives.)
Now, here’s the interesting thing about dogs. Physical disguises don’t fool them. You can put on a mask and cape and change your voice, but it doesn’t matter. As soon as your dog smells you and senses your energy, she won’t even see the costume anymore.
But… while dogs can see through physical disguises, they also only see and sense the energy that we project. You can’t fool a dog with a physical mask, but you will fool a dog with a psychological mask, the “disguise” you put on when you convince yourself that certain things are true.
The good news is that you can fool yourself long enough to put on a “new” disguise – which is just the real you that’s been hiding. Mentally dress up as a Pack Leader often enough, and it will become your new mantra.
You may think that you don’t know how to do that — but you do. We all do, naturally and instinctively. We’ve just forgotten how to listen to our instincts, instead relying on the intellectual masks we’ve put on. Luckily, we can relearn how to listen to our instincts by listening to our dogs.
Dogs do not put on disguises and do not hide their intentions. They speak directly, with energy and body language. If we speak back to them in the same way, they will listen. If we tell ourselves that we are going to have success with our dogs, then our new “disguise” becomes the confidence necessary to dress up as the Leader of the Pack.
If you’re having trouble putting on that Pack Leader outfit, then just remember that its power comes from the same place as the power that kids (and grown-ups) get from wearing costumes, disguises, or masks. That’s the power of imagination. A child may be wearing a cheap plastic mask from the dollar store, but if the child believes that the mask turns him or her into Superman or Wonder Woman, then the magic is real for a while.
If you believe, then you’ll see the magic in your dog’s behavior as they suddenly see through the disguise to the Pack Leader beneath. You just need to give yourself permission to believe first.