Does Your Energy Really Affect Your Dog?
Let’s talk about energy. Webster (do we still have Webster?) defines it as this: “the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity”. Well, then sign me up…after all it’s a good thing, right? Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m bursting with energy and I suppose I am. My dad never stopped. He worked right up until he died at 83-years-old and loved every minute of it. He liked being busy and often had more energy than that stupid pink Energizer Bunny. I inherited that awesome trait from him. (It’s the only good thing I inherited though, because he also passed along his lousy eyesight, buck teeth, and flat chest, but I digress).
Tony Schwartz (an energy guru) wrote a book about energy and he said that it can be broken down into 4 different elements:
- Your physical energy – how healthy are you?
- Your emotional energy – how happy you?
- Your mental energy – how well can you focus on something?
- Your spiritual energy – why are you doing all of this? What’s your purpose?
With all this energy going on, it’s a wonder we can ever stay calm! When presented with something new to learn, humans need to be: a) focused; and b) calm in order to accomplish what lies before them. For me, I’m definitely focused, but calm? Fuhgettaboutit!
If calm and focused are how humans learn, how do dogs learn? Let’s back up a second. We know that dogs have 99.89% the DNA of wolves and for them, every action is only worth repeating if there’s a positive outcome. Think about that. They can’t afford to waste energy because it’s a precious commodity. Let’s use chasing prey as an example. It takes a lot of energy to chase an elk but if they catch the prey, then they are rewarded with a full stomach and that positive result means they will continue to chase prey.
Our dogs are much the same way. They will try all sorts of different behavior and will continue to repeat those things which bring about a reward. So…if their efforts create a bad or neutral result, they won’t do it. Dogs learn by the immediate result of their actions. This literally has to be within a second of when the behavior takes place. This is why it makes no sense to yell at a dog for pooping on your carpet when you get home from work. The mess may have happened hours ago, and the bewildered pup has no idea why you’re upset and acting like a crazy person.
That’s why rewarding our dogs is so important when we are trying to teach good behavior. Every dog’s reward system is different. Ollie, my labradoodle, for example, will do ANYTHING I ask if I will just throw the ball. Hershey, my cocker, on the other hand, will only do something if food is involved. Preferably a LOT.
If we want to teach our dogs good behavior, we MUST remain focused and calm. It’s like men and TV remotes, you can’t have one without the other. (Ok, ok, that wasn’t nice. Ummmm, what about men and man-caves? What? No better? Well, then let’s move along).
I preach “low energy” in every single consultation I do. If we are amped up then it’s virtually impossible to teach our dogs because they mirror us. If you lose your patience, you’ve lost major ground and now must rebuild trust.
Here’s what works for me…I take a minute and think about what I’m trying to teach and the various outcomes and how best to react to them. By doing that, I’m much less likely to “re”act instead of act. For example, I have an efficient full-glass storm door attached to my main door in the front of my house and when I happen to be home in the morning, I like open the main door so I can see out and I love the extra light.
I know the mailman comes at 0900 am and Hershey continually has to be reminded that he doesn’t hate the mailman. (He ain’t the sharpest Crayon in the box, mind you). I have to think ahead of the possible scenarios and act accordingly. Before the mailman arrives, I attach Hershey’s short lead just in case he has to remember (again) that he doesn’t hate the mailman while sitting in timeout in the bathroom.
I’m very mindful when it nears 9am so I can be prepared if he goes into a barking frenzy and can take him into the aforementioned bathroom to think about it. Sometimes I just decide to close the main door until the mailman comes and goes because I’m not in the mood for it that day.
Teaching your dog good behavior can be fast and effective but you need to check yourself and make sure you are calm and using low energy before you ever begin. It’s the only way you will ever be truly successful in teaching your dog.
Until next time….~C