I’ve been doing TV for over a decade now, but it’s not as easy as it seems. For Calvin, this preparation involved acting lessons because the show has a script, and while he was learning that I learned a phrase that some schools of acting use: “Fake it until you feel it.”
In other words, if you can’t feel the emotion at first with your heart, feel it with your body: if your character is supposed to be tense, tense your muscles; if you’re supposed to be frightened, try pretending to shiver. And I realized that this is actually a useful exercise when it comes to dealing with our dogs. Of course that may seem counterintuitive, because as I’ve said many times, you cannot fool your dog.
But you can fool yourself, and that’s what “fake it until you feel it” — or, in the business world, “fake it until you make it” — is all about. The goal here specifically is to achieve the calm, assertive energy that is necessary to being a good Pack Leader, and the method is exactly what I’m suggesting. If you can’t naturally be calm and assertive, then you have to trick your mind into doing it by focusing on your body.
Over the years, I’ve used this exercise many times with people who just couldn’t think themselves into assertiveness. I ask them to imagine someone they perceive as powerful and confident. It can be a real-life person, like Cleopatra, Gandhi, or Benedict Cumberbatch — or a fictional character, like King Arthur, Don Quixote, or Wonder Woman.
Once they’re imagining this, I then ask them to pretend that they are the character and to carry themselves the way they think that character would walk. The transformation in appearance can be remarkable sometimes, and very visible to humans — when people do this exercise, their posture, poise, and pace all change. But something else happens: the dogs suddenly respond to the change in energy, and become more submissive.
I used this trick a few times on “The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan,” but one that stands out for me is a woman who could not control her dog on the walk. This was because she was showing weak energy, so the dog was pulling her all over the place. When I asked her to think of a character who inspired calm, assertive energy, she chose Cleopatra — and once she started to carry herself like a queen, everything changed. Her dog followed her immediately, and once her dog showed calm, submissive energy, she became even more confident.
You might remember Takis and Joanne from the first season of “Cesar 911.” They were the restaurant-owning couple who had three Bichon Frises that were out of control and disruptive. The problem was that Takis never gave the dogs discipline, only affection. Even when I tried to teach him how to be calm and assertive, he let the dogs walk all over him, literally and figuratively.
It wasn’t until I finally made a connection with his Greek heritage (like Mexico, it’s a very macho culture) that I asked him to pretend he was Alexander the Great. Again, the change was immediate and the dogs started paying attention and listening to him.
We’ve lost touch with our instincts, but one of the fastest ways to discover them again is to let our bodies take control of our minds. This is why things like yoga, breathing, and meditation are so helpful to relieving stress and anxiety. It’s also why I put exercise first in my fulfillment formula. When you drain energy from the body through exercise, you bring calmness to the brain — not just for your dogs, but for yourself.
So if you feel intellectually like you just can’t get how to be calm and assertive, turn your mind off and let your body take the lead. Fake it until you feel it. Walk like an Egyptian, or a conqueror, or a star athlete. Take your body on the journey and your mind will follow.
Stay calm, and be your hero.
Who would — or do — you use in your mind in order to achieve calm, assertive energy? Tell us in the comments!