One thing I’ve learned about the weather in L.A. is that it’s unpredictable. The best way to describe it is “consistently inconsistent.” We can go from gloomy and foggy one day to hot and sunny the next, and if you want to know what season it is, you need to look at a calendar, not out the window.
We can go months with meteorologists predicting rain three days away, but that rain never comes. It can make it very difficult to prepare for the day, especially when you head out in the morning dressed for hot and sunny and come home in the evening when it’s cold and windy — I’ve seen many tourists fall victim to this one.
At least, as humans, we can deal with it. We know that the weather is beyond our control, and we can always throw a sweater in the trunk of the car to have it just in case. We can deal with inconsistency. However, our dogs can’t.
Imagine what life is like for a dog when their human’s behavior is as changeable and unpredictable as the weather. One day, it’s perfectly all right to be on the couch; the next, it’s not. Sometimes, they have to sit and wait calmly before they get their leash and go for a walk; other times, it’s right out the door. Some people in the household will allow the dog to jump up on them; others won’t.
A dog in this situation is getting mixed signals with no clear message on how she is expected to behave, and this will lead to a very unbalanced dog. Lacking rules, boundaries, and limitations, she will try to create her own, and get away with as much as she can. Discipline can become impossible in such a situation because, to the dog, it will seem arbitrary, and so have no effect other than to confuse her further.
We must be consistent in our actions with our dogs, and enforce the rules that we create at all times. We must remember to reward a calm, submissive state, and to not nurture unwanted energy, like anxiousness or fear. Additionally, though, we must be consistent in our own energy.
Just as a dog with no clear rules can become unbalanced, a dog whose human has unbalanced energy can become confused and anxious. If the human is exhibiting anger or fear or another weak energy state, the dog will sense this, and react in one of three ways. He will either try to correct it, avoid it, or mirror it.
In any of those cases, the dog is not getting strong leadership, which will lead to misbehavior. If the human is constantly going back and forth from calm to anxious to calm to angry and so on, the dog will have no idea what he is supposed to do, and will act out unpredictably as well.
We need to learn to always be calm and assertive Pack Leaders to our dogs, and this is one of the best things about being a dog lover. We help them by learning to project that calm energy. They help us by teaching us how to do it. The real benefit comes when we learn how to be calm and assertive at all times — not only with our dogs, but out in the real world with other people.
Just as humans try to predict the weather, with mixed success, a dog will try to predict what’s going to happen next based on what it’s learned in the past. If you’re consistent, then your dog knows what to expect. If you put on a certain pair of shoes, it’s time for a long walk; if you ‘forget’ to feed her in the morning, then she’s probably going to the vet later; if you go around anxiously tidying up the house, guests are probably on the way.
It’s when our signals don’t clearly indicate what’s going to happen that our dogs become confused and anxious, which is why it is up to us to provide, via calm and consistent behavior on our part, the rules, boundaries, and limitations that will help them achieve balance.