When your dog makes an error, there are many options with which you can respond. It is the energy with which you follow through that counts….
A simple way to think of energy is to put it as a ten point total. When I am in balance with my dog, he has five points, and I have five points. Let’s consider five points to be when I have normal level energy. Now if my dog was to get mega excited, his energy would go up to a seven. To remain balanced with my dog, in those moments my energy needs to drop to a three , totalling us at ten, to keep us both in harmony. In no way do I become passive, but I need to soften and calm.
If my animal escalates, I de-escalate. I slow my breathing, loosen my muscles, and physically slow down. I lead the dog by controlling the energy that I lead with. Whichever methodology you choose to train , you respond to your dog’s error with this level of energy. As dog trainers, we create the energy balance for our dogs.
Or likewise, if my dog is feeling flat, and mouse-like, with an energy of three points, then I need to pick my energy up to a seven, equaling us at a ten.
When I am retraining reactive dogs, my job is teaching people to not be as reactive as their dogs. If their dog becomes a nine, then I need to become a one, rather than the nine that they come as.
The Naughty Dogge, Monique Anstee
When I started operating on this kind of mindset, just out of intuition when what I was doing before wasn’t working, things shifted for my dogs and I pretty dramatically. I’m still learning how to properly do it with Gunner, since he can turn into an 8 just from looking at him, but with Asher’s reactivity, it was really key.
This is, I think, a much better way for illustrating how much your mindset can reach your dog through the leash (or otherwise).
Monique has another post about making dogs aggressive and hiding in bushes, reassuring your dog that it’s okay, he’s a good boy, as another dog passes by… while also tensing yourself, gripping the leash, rolling it in your hands, preparing… Which travels to your dog, which tells them to get ready, which turns into a predictable pattern that they will then repeat - instead of teaching them to be calm and let it go.
I know I’ve done this before when Asher has gone over-threshold and I don’t do it anymore. It never did a damn thing other than make us both more anxious and nervous and feeling shitty after.
I will create safe distance for him. On hikes, I may go off trail and stand - not hide - in bushes so we have the proper distance to keep him from jumping on people, to avoid setting him up for failure and reinforcing undesirable behaviors.
But now I go through the motions of “look at that,” I reward him for choosing to look at them and then me instead, for sniffing the floor, whatever it is, so long as it’s calm. If he starts to whine, I call his name, I toss treats on the floor to calm him - before he starts to react. There’s nothing inherently wrong with going into the bushes - it’s all about how you do it.
Importantly, I don’t rush into those bushes. I act like we would at any other part of the trail, I act like I would any time we need to change direction, regardless of others being around. I watch my breathing. I keep my hand relaxed (having my belt on for safety also reassures me that keeping my hand loose is safe and okay). I relax my whole body. Your whole body, in every way. Emanate calmness. Can’t just pretend calmness; you must be the definition of calm serenity. I keep my voice normal - I have to say Asher’s name with a high-pitched call in all circumstances, but he’ll pick up on any anxiety if I force that or try too hard to say it. Nothing is different or out of the ordinary and keeping things the same tells him that. If I change, that neophobia is gonna kick in and he’s gonna get defensive.
I don’t make a big deal out of anything, and then neither does Asher. If I’m calm, he knows he can be, too.