“Calm, assertive energy” is something that I talk about a lot, and it’s one of the most important habits you can develop in the quest to find a balanced relationship with your dog. When you’re calm, your dog is calm, and everything just goes better.
Unless, of course, you like having a crazy, hyperactive dog — although I’m guessing that you don’t. But when it comes to finding balance, your energy is just one part of the puzzle.
It’s also important to provide exercise, discipline, and affection, in that order, but these are all part of the big picture, as well as part of the thing you cannot find balance without.
Dogs already do this thing with us all the time instinctually. The magic word is “communicate.”
As humans, we are used to communication as strictly verbal, whether spoken or written. Consequently, we have lost touch with the non-verbal ways that humans and animals use to communicate all the time. Sure, we’re quite aware of very obvious displays of body language from others, especially when they’re expressing negative emotions. But quite often we aren’t, and when we communicate only by text it’s very easy for imprecise wording to lead to a mix-up.
Dogs do not communicate verbally, at least not in any way that we would call a formal language. Yes, they do express themselves through barks, yelps, and howls, but they don’t have grammar or anything like that. They’re really communicating through their body language and energy, so to them words aren’t even necessary.
Of course, humans are also communicating in this way all of the time. We just aren’t usually aware of it. But if you start paying attention to your own body language, you may discover that you’re sending messages that you didn’t intend.
Consider this: according to experts, if you know what to look for, body language will give away a liar every time. Things like a long pause before answering, eyes darting around, shortness of breath, and giving way too much detail can all be signs that what you’re hearing from someone is not the truth. However, our lack of paying attention can lead to a sort of “lie myopia.”
On the other hand, studies indicate that dogs can be excellent lie detectors. However, they take it a step further, and once they lose trust in a person, it can be very hard for that person to earn it back. Researches think that the reason for this is that lying takes away two qualities that dogs find very important: they like things to be predictable and stable.
Not all that different from what humans prefer.
Meanwhile, while humans are constantly sending signals telegraphing their lying, they are also really bad at being lie detectors. Some studies indicate that people perform no better than chance at detecting lies — that is, fifty-fifty. One search for human lie detectors turned up only 31 people out of 13,000. That’s less than one-quarter of one percent. In other words, when it comes to this skill, most people are pretty awful.
Although we lack a dog’s ability to follow these non-verbal cues, we do excel at using logic and our intellects, so that we can spot a lack of truthfulness in someone’s words. When something “doesn’t add up,” it can trigger our internal alarms, although we don’t always listen to them, especially if someone has been trustworthy in the past. It can create quite a dilemma.
Luckily, we have our dogs to teach us how to be aware of the non-verbal. Pay attention to the little clues your dog gives you — how are her head and ears positioned? Does her body seem relaxed or stiff? Does she seem curious about the world or cautious? All of these little clues add up to reveal exactly what she’s trying to tell you.
Communication isn’t just about the words. If you know what to look for, even the tiniest gesture can be loaded with info.
One other thing you can do, once you’ve started to decipher your dog’s body language and energy, is to start paying attention to your own, and then to other people’s. When you really focus in on these things, you might be surprised at the difference between the words people use and what they really say.
Not that everyone is constantly lying, of course, but it can help to make you more sensitive in other ways. We all probably do that thing where the greeting of, “How are you?” is always answered the same way, regardless of how we feel: “Fine, and you?” It’s not an intentional lie. We do it to keep from burdening casual acquaintances or strangers with our troubles.
Sometimes, though, it helps to be empathetic, and when you become sensitive to the communication going on behind the communication, you’ll pick up on things people don’t even know they’re saying because they’re bombarding you with clues.
Empathy is something the world needs a lot more of, and by tapping into our own instinctual natures, we can discover this ability in ourselves. Master it, and you’ll amaze people with your insight into their feelings. They might even think you’re one of the magi!
Just keep watching your dog and yourself until you get the knack and once he’s taught you how to use his super power, don’t forget to thank him.
One other thing: it will become your super power, too, but let’s keep that part just between you and I…
Stay calm, and communicate!