3 phases for a successful dog training session

3 phases for a successful dog training session

When it comes to training our dogs, we want to provide them and us with a really good experience.

Why? Firstly the obvious, it is more fun for all of us if we’re having good experience. Secondly sharing positive emotions of joy and motivation deepens our bonds to our fur faces. And thirdly, because joy is the best fuel for attention & the brain’s ability to learn new stuff, this applies to us as well as to our dogs. Last but so not least, our dog and we ourselves will be keen on engaging into the next session after we had a good experience; having in mind that regular sessions are key for a sustainable 

change in behaviour, we really wanna press home this particular advantage. To collect the benefits mentioned, consistent structure is our tight homie for dog training sessions.

We aim to be focused, have our canines focused, we want to do everything we planed for the particular session, and, of course, we want to achieve progress. Looking at this list of ambitious goals it falls into place that we need some structure to ensure accomplishing them. I suggest a well-working 3-phases structure of (1) opening routine, (2) main training and (3) closing routine.

3 phases for dog training

1st phase: opening routine

An opening routine can be understood as a gentle and positive kick-off for the whole session. It consists of directing everyone’s attention towards the upcoming interaction, and of some simple exercises our dog’s already are able to perform fluently.

Directing attention

When we take the time of 20-40 mins to train our dogs, that’s really really exciting for them as they LOVE our attention, the quality time spent and of course the individual currency we choose to reward them. Let’s catch their excitement and transform it into being focused on us right from the beginning. This can be achieved super easily by focusing ourselves: we want to be genuinely excited, but not over-excited, we want to be motivated and eager to engage in the training. This is what our dogs then will pick up via mood transfer – just the right level of emotions for a successful session.

To help ourselves getting our own energy right in the first place, we just speak out loud what we’re thinking, this gives us the chance to listen to our own voice whilst adjusting our energy. When I say energy, I mean our emotions. Our emotions are directly influenced by our thoughts, so speaking thoughts out loud is quite a good instrument as we get to check if our tone of voice currently matches the emotions of genuine excitement & motivation.

Here is an example of how an opening routine could look like:

I enter the kitchen with the intention to now train my dog. I call for him and kneel down for some pets whilst I take a couple of deep breaths and establishing order in my thoughts on what it is that I want to do today. Calmly and joyful I say “Dude, you know, I would love to train with you right now. As you demonstrated a couple times that you’re quite fond of treats, I suggest I get them out and we start off with doing some cool things you already can do. And then, my boy, I’ll teach you something new today, it’s called roll-over, I bet you’ll love it. And you know what? After that I will sit down with you and give you some extra pets because I know already you will be the best good boy ever.”

Opening routine with Rudy

This helps us to (1) focus on what we plan to be doing, (2) direct our attention towards our dog, (3) directs our dog’s attention towards us and (4) it provides guidance for our dog’s emotions – a soft level of joy always comes with a feeling of love and safety – this is exactly what we’re after. From our dog’s perspective, of course, they do not understand our spoken language as such. But they easily pick up our energy level, they feel our emotions in their body. This is called attunement and is quite a common thing – if you’re interested in reading more about this, check out my post on attuning to our dog’s emotions. If we do this each time, if we make it a routine, we’ll soon realise how much it increases our own and our dog’s focus, how quickly he’ll pick up your energy level and subsequently how well the training then will go. Also, this routine helps our dog anticipating what is going to happen next – especially for dogs who are in need of guidance, leadership and safety this is super important.

Some simple exercises is what you want to start the session off with. Just grab whatever currency our dog choses (toy, treats, words, cuddles etc.) and enter the arena 🙂 For the sake of this post, I will continue with the currency of treats.

We begin with asking our dogs for a couple of things they already can perform fluently, like sit, lay down, give the paw etc. We want them to show off, we want them to impress us! If you’re new to dog training and your dog doesn’t have much of a repertoire just yet, taking treats gently out of your hand is equally helpful here.

Either way, we want to make sure to voice reward for every wanted behaviour, keep up the communication. If your dog happens to be deaf, use a particular way to pet him or a particular gesture instead.

The more often we train, the more behaviours our canines will have acquired to show off within this opening routine phase.

We keep doing the simple things for about 2-3 minutes until we feel we’re all focused and have arrived in the practice.

2nd phase: main training

This is the super focused main phase of our session that gets the lion share of our overall time. Here we teach new behaviours to our dogs as well as continue working on exercises we introduced in earlier sessions.

We also use the main phase for increasing the level of difficulty for a particular exercise we’ve been practicing already. Let’s say my dog recently acquired the skill of laying down which I taught him in the living room where we always practice. An increase in difficulty could be to practice the lay down with him in a different room of my place, like the bathroom or the bedroom. Different indoor environments represent a gentle increase in difficulty that allow the dog’s brain to internalise behaviour sustainably. Super important when it comes to the increase of difficulty: We rather take 2 steps back than letting our dog fail twice.

Our goal is for him to confidently show the wanted behaviour in different settings which takes as long as it takes. Slower is faster, sustainability needs time.

So if I realise my dog is not laying down in the bathroom (from his perspective it might just be awkward), with an attitude of “that’s ok” I take him right back to the living room where he can successfully demonstrate the lay down a couple of times and gain back his confidence. Then I just try again, but in the hallway half way to the bathroom. If it works, that’s great, we do it a couple of times – sublime success for today’s session. If it doesn’t work – no worries, back to the living room for today. Taking steps back is totally fine and absolutely expected. It characterises a good teacher to catch their students where they’re at and teach them from there, ensuring they are happy and feeling comfortable.

More tips for a successful main phase

As this phase is all about acquiring new skills and also practicing fluency of already acquired skills, our timing of correction and rewarding is crucial. Only when we have really good timing our dogs get the chance to catch what it is that we want from them. Correcting unwanted behaviour before it occurs as well as rewarding wanted behaviour exactly the moment when it occurs require that we observe our dogs constantly and closely. Only then it’s possible for us to foresee what they are about to do and catch what they do the very moment they are actually doing it. Brilliant timing is a skill that we need to acquire and practice ourselves, it includes reading and instantly understanding our dogs body language and focusing on the right things depending on the exercise being practiced. I recommend getting help from a professional here to learn that skill in the first place – our dog’s success depends on our skills as a teacher.

timing

Other than timing, it is also important to be consistent with the signals we use to ask our dog for a certain behaviour – this applies equally to voice commands and hand signals. We gotta stick to what we chose, always saying the exact same word for the behaviour we want him to perform. Same with our hand signals and body language, if we chose to hold up our pointer to signalise our dog to sit, we always want to use this particular gesture when we ask him to sit. He needs to see/hear the same signal again and again in order to build the neuronal connection to that very signal. Consistency in hand signals and voice commands make it so much easier for our fur faces to remember the meaning and thus respond promptly to our signals.

The main phase is the most exhausting for our dog, it is decent hard work for him to listen to our words and to read our body language. Every dog has different mental capacity – some can train for 40 mins, some for 20mins, some for 5mins before showing signs of mental exhaustion. It is crucial to be able to catch and read signs of mental exhaustion as this is the very point where you should close the main phase and proceed to the closing routine. If we do not catch these signs and keep training, our dog’s nervous system can be charged up to a point where a gentle and smooth discharge is not possible anymore. The result then often is a dog going nuts: they start hunting their own tail, they wildly run around, they freak out with their toys, they become hyper active. This is an unpleasant state for a dog to be in and it is the total opposite of a good experience for everyone involved. Let’s keep in mind that every dog can have their own way of showing signs of mental exhaustion, so again I recommend to hire a professional here to have you safe with reading and understanding your dog. Common signs of mental exhaustion can include: Attempt of a full body shake where only the head shakes, a full body shake, yawning, itching, licking lips, withdrawing from you, increased nervousness reflecting in that the wanted behavioural response gets worse.

Dog yawning

3rd phase – closing routine

The last phase is the closing routine. As the name suggests, we also want to make this a routine. When our session comes to an end for whatever reason, we end as we’ve started – with a couple of things our dogs already performs perfectly and right after, we spent some more quiet time together. This serves the purpose to (1) slowly start discharging the nervous system whilst the brain switches from learning new behaviour to call up familiar behaviour which is significantly less effort and (2) it ensures that we end the session on a successful, positive note. We always want to end a session on a positive note to make sure everyone is keen to engage into the next session next time.

A closing routine could look like this: we ask our dog for a couple of things he can perform fluently, just like we did in the very beginning in our opening routine. Then we let him grab the last treats from our hands followed by showing our empty hands to him. Over time, as this becomes our routine, he will know how to interpret these actions and know the session is over, he will stop anticipating the next signal, the next reward. With this closing routine, we basically share our decision to end the session with our dogs, we give them opportunity to understand and adapt to that we’re done for today.

dog gives paw
energies in motion

Again, talking helps heaps: Get your energy into a calm, placid and gentle frequency and speak your thoughts “I knew you would be doing well, you did such a great job. All the things you learned today, I’m so proud of you.” Same as in the opening routine, this allows our dog to attune to our emotions, it literally helps him how to feel about the fact that the session is over. It avoids frustration, disappointment or confusion which are likely to occur if we just abruptly end the session and walk away.

As doggo still has a charged nervous system, we spend some more time without treats/toys etc. with him by sitting down next to him, offering pets, cuddles whilst encouraging him to lay down and rest. Pets help the nervous system to discharge, they calm them down and the released oxytocin suffuses them into sweet happiness and significantly strengthens our canine-human bond. This phase can be understood as a gentle release from all the attention and learning that just took place. I want to emphasise that calming down our dogs is equally important to the training itself. A dog that learns how to rest and how to calm down processes information sustainably, it allows time for the brain to rest the freshly build neuronal connections. Lastly, this quality cuddle time so much adds up to the positive overall experience. And again, we share emotions of joy, relaxation and calm – we literally feel each other.

cuddle time with doggo

Side note: If we happen to have missed the signs of mental exhaustion and our dog is going nuts / zooming around during the main phase, chances are he won’t lay down now to rest. Best is to leash him up and taking him on a walk. Steady movement in a medium pace with options to sniff in a very calm (!) environment help the nervous system to discharge. After we return from that walk, we pick up the closing routine with pets and cuddles, making sure he really is relaxing and calming down.

To sum all this up, we use structure for ourselves as well as for our dogs to create a helpful routine for successful training sessions. When you try this on your own with your dog, I encourage you to figure out what works best with you and your dog. My clients Steffi & David’s black Lab Paul for example just needs to lay in contact with his humans who are sitting on the couch. A pet now and then with some calming words is all he needs to gently calm down. Every human-dog-team is unique, so feel free to add elements and ideas to your very routine. Concluding, find here an overview of all 3 phases:

3 phases for successful dog training
Got something to work on?

Angelina Behrendt

@ Vancouver, Canada

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© 2017-2020 Kalitu DOG TRAINING all rights reserved

Changing Abby’s guarding behaviour – Part 1

Changing Abby’s guarding behaviour – Part 1

Today I want to tell you about how I approached Abby’s behaviour of being alarmingly on guard almost all the time when being in the park. We will have a look at how to meet a dog’s need, what leadership is and how we can meet Abby’s need for leadership specifically.

When I met Abby, the sweet Standard Schnauzer of 3 years, she would demonstrate intense guarding behaviour in a public park: she closely observed humans who entered the park and ran towards them to circle them and snap bite at their legs.

Abby did not hurt anyone, her intense guarding behaviour had just recently increased to that degree. However,  this behaviour was quite alarming and could easily increase in intensity if ignored.

I spent some hours with Abby and her brothers Baxter and Dax and observed her behaviour inside and outside the house, in

Abby the black Schnauzer

interaction with familiar and unfamiliar humans, with different toys, with dogs in the park and with Baxter and Dax. I also gathered many facts about her breed, upbringing, age and the environment she is living in including her daily routines. Almost at the end of that day, I had the chance to attune to Abby’s emotions which gave me the missing puzzle piece to fully understand what Abby was lacking, or with other words, what she was in need of: humble leadership & solid guidance which comes with predictability and safety. It also comes with a fair amount of mental challenge which an intelligent dog like 

Schnauzer Abby really is in regular need of. 

When I met her humans Lana & Nigel and chatted to them about what I observed and what we could do about it, both were full-heartedly committed to work with and help Abby being able to reveal her true and friendly self to most other people and dogs.

You can find the whole story of how I met Abby and how I would holistically approach her as a being in order to figure out what she needs here.

How can we meet a dog’s need in general?

It is important to me to make clear how a dog’s need can be met, as this comes down to commitment of time and energy.

A dog’s need can be met with a custom training plan and a decent & genuine commitment of the dog parents to actually train their dog. Especially in the beginning, this often means a daily commitment of time and energy.

Of course, I help! I swing by and explain & demonstrate the exercises, I teach what to pay attention to and how to reward in time. 

I also translate the dog’s communication so that dog parents learn how their dog is communicating to them and what kind of behaviour they should reward and what not to reward.

And super important: I also increase awareness for signals in body language that tell us that our dog is mentally exhausted. This is crucial: Mental training is vital for dogs, but it mustn’t be too much for them at a time, otherwise the nervous system will get overcharged and we’ll experience our dog becoming unhealthily overexcited.

This may look funny, but it is anything else than a pleasant stat for a dog to be in. An overcharged nervous-system also decreases the brain’s ability to sustainably learn new behaviour. By the way, every dog is a lil different in how they show their signs of exhaustion.

So, Lana, Nigel & I meet Abby’s needs with being committed to (1) a certain amount of time & energy for a daily training (2) a custom training plan and (3) regular meet-ups where we check on communication, timing, progress and especially where we adapt to Abby’s change.

Abby needs leadership

As mentioned above what Abby has been needing is leadership which comes with predictability and safety.

As every dog is an individual unique being, we gotta remind ourselves of what Abby is feeling: stress, overwhelm, exhaustion and, as a result of all this anxiety.

Being aware of why Abby feels anxious in the first place, it becomes very clear that training her must happen without overwhelming her. To ensure that, we need to observe Abby’s body language closely and always be ready to patiently rather take 2 steps back in the training process than overwhelming her with a task just once.

Of course, everything we do with Abby is based on positive reinforcement. This means we add something to a behaviour shown, we reward her for the behaviour we like. Rewards can be loving words like “great” or “good girl”, treats, a toy, a play or touch.

By the way, studies have shown that our reward-voice releases the same happy-hormone-cocktail in a dog that is released when receiving a treat.

For indoor training, we figured that Abby’s motivation is treats & voice rewards, she is strongly motivated by food and shows the sweetest signs of love when hearing Lana & Nigel rewarding her with their voices.

Leadership & how to sustainably establish it

Our goal is that Abby can reveal her true, friendly self in public, which means nothing else then being able to relax, listen to us and know, that there is no need to guard – or in other words accepting our leadership. Therefore, let’s have a look at leadership & how to establish it:

leadership graphic

As Abby lives in dog’s-heaven-home, resources is checked off. When we talk about guidance, we mean making decisions for our dog, which we constantly do when we train them, as we ask them to do certain things. Also when we initiate play, we make a decision for them what to do next. Dog’s don’t do well with having too many choices all day long on what to do – they don’t enjoy that. Interaction with you is what they deeply desire. Furthermore, guidance means setting up rules and being consequent in teaching our dog to learn and stick to the rules; for example, sitting before eating, being leashed up or the ball is thrown. Safety is a result of us being empathetic and responsible. For example, if we have a dog who gets bullied by another dog, we understand that this is highly unpleasant for our dog and provide protection through intervening when our dog is being bullied and we also offer him to hide behind us. Our dog learns that we keep him safe and sound. The dog who had bullied learns “I’m not allowed to do that”. Responsibility here means that we acknowledge that we are in charge of providing that safety and do it consistently.  Last but so not least, love is the motivation for our actions.

Back to Abby:

As always, reaching a goal is achieved with a step by step process. What are the steps? First of all, we need a solid foundation for communication which requires Abby’s ability to pay attention to us when we ask her for it. In terms of learning new behaviour,  generally it can be said every behavior that we want her to show outside needs to be acquired and practiced fluently inside first; every behavior that she shall perform off-leash needs to be reliable on-leash first.

That being said, in order to establish leadership we need exercises that:

  • teach Abby how to pay her undivided attention to us as an absolute baseline for all communication during training
  • help us to practice our communication with Abby at large and in detail
  • help Abby to trust that we make decisions for her that are beneficial and enjoyable (rewards)
  • make her understand that we are in charge of our territory (territorial acceptance, no need to guard)
  • help Abby to relax and trust that we take care of keeping everyone safe
  • teach Abby how to come when we call for her
  • teach Abby that people are friends, not intruders
  • Abby enjoys!! Only a dog who actually enjoys the training will show sustainable effects in learning that strengthen trust & bond
Abby in Spring

Taking into consideration all the steps we need to go in order to achieve our overall goal, it’s fairly clear that change needs time.

This is only reasonable given the fact that from Abby’s perspective, she shall give up her job (guarding) and replace it with relaxing, sniffing & playing – I think everyone in her shoes would need time for that to adapt with joy and curiosity. Let’s be honest here, how easy does it come for us humans to step away from work and totally relax w/o thinking about work?! 😉

Following along Abby’s journey so far, what are suitable exercises to start this journey with? How exactly can we teach Abby to pay directed and reliable attention to us? How will she learn that we are in charge of our territory? And how can we make her understand that we make decisions that are beneficial for her?

Questions over questions that I will answer soon in the next posts – stay tuned. You are interested in Abby’s journey? Follow Kalitu Dog Training on Instagram for more insight and beautiful pictures of sweet Abby.

Got something to work on?

Angelina Behrendt

@ Vancouver, Canada

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© 2017-2020 Kalitu DOG TRAINING all rights reserved

Dax, Abby & Baxter

Dax, Abby & Baxter

Since mid-August this year, I’ve been working with 3 dogs who all share the same dog-heaven-home Vancouver.

The pack consists of the 2 lovely humans Lana & Nigel who created a wonderful home for Portuguese Waterdog Baxter (9),  Standard Schnauzer Abby (3) and Bernese Mountain Dog Dax (7) (f.l.t.r. in the picture on the right).

Abby is a very agile and intelligent little girl, physically really strong and hungry for mental challenges. Baxter is a soft and gentle soul and a puppy at heart who thrives in ball games. Dax is a very friendly and affectionate dog who loves to greet all the people. He also holds a lot of wisdom and life-experience.

These dogs live a beautiful dog life, they reside at a place that truly is a dog home: comfortable dog beds on all levels of the house, a dog pool on the porch in summer, an elevated food bar, many different toys available for them to grab and the cherry on top of all that: snuggles with their humans on the couch. It so much warmed my heart to see all that genuine love for dogs reflected in their home.

Living with 3 dogs is wonderful and enriching, it’s so much love Lana & Nigel receive every day plus all the cuddles and loyalty these 3 guys demonstrate on a daily basis. On the other hand it can be quite a challenge to have 3 dogs as each dog, of course, has their own character, boundaries and breed-related instincts which can lead to pack dynamics that at first develop inconspicuously but eventually can result in what we perceive as behavioural issues.

Observations on the first meeting

 

The 3 dogs and me have a friend in common, her name is Lily. Lily told me she was house sitting for friends who happen to have 3 dogs. In fact, she actually couldn’t even finish the sentence because I would be excited right away and tell her “I wanna come and meet all of them.”

A couple of days later, I met Lily and the pack in a park, all 3 were on leash and I slowly approached the group, talking to my friend so that the dogs would acknowledge our relationship. Lily, as a trusted friend of Abby, Dax and Baxter would help introduce me to them.

The first dog approaching me was Dax. He was showing a heart-melting amount of affection right away, his tail was wagging happily, he leaned against my body, nose-nudged me and then sat down on my feet, looking up to receive pets and words of love.

Then I turned my attention to Abby. She presented herself rather closed and very cautious: she would go back and forth, wanting to sniff me but at the same time wanting to keep distance to me. So I would look away to give her the signal that “I’m no threat” and let her come to sniff. She came closer, barked and also snap-bit once into my direction – a clear sign of “I don’t want you here”. I respected her boundary and gave her space.

During the course of our introduction, she always eyed on me when I touched her brothers Baxter and Dax. I also observed right away that she constantly was scanning her environment.

Baxter would keep standing further away all the time and did not make any eye-contact with me at all. He came once to sniff my hand, I could touch him on the back and then he backed away and just waited to let the greeting-situation pass. He didn’t engage into any other behaviour at that moment, he just kept standing with a lil distance and waited.

All together we continued our walk to an off-leash park nearby where all 3 dogs ran freely. Whilst Baxter changed from being passive to being highly active the second Lily got out his ball from her bag, Dax was sniffing around and greeting people.

Abby’s focus would switch very often: from the ball, to Baxter, to Dax, to Lily & me, to other dogs and especially to humans entering the park. Her body language was very expressive: She had a stiff & rigid body, was leaning forward, set up her ears and her head was making precise and quick movements to gasp at everything that moved. Abby was on guard.

I watched her observing park entering humans closely and eventually running towards them barking. She would run up close, circle those humans whilst her barking increased, now and then she even would snap-bite at their legs. Any recall-attempt failed.

Abby demonstrated alarming guarding behaviour that, so I learned later, only recently increased to that intensity I witnessed. I was instantly interested in Abby and wanted to find out the reason why she would behave like she did in the park.

Attuning to Abby’s emotions

After a while, we all went home together to spend more time with each other. In the house, I kept observing the dogs but would focus mainly on Abby as she demonstrated intense guarding behaviour in the park.

After having water and food, all dogs calmed down and we all would sit down on the porch in the sun, it was late August and beautifully warm. 

Abby would lay down quite close to me which I took as an invitation for making contact, so I would sit down on the ground with her. She was relaxed and friendly, so I consciously decided to attune to Abby’s emotions to learn more about her. If you are interested what I mean by that and how it works, have a read through Attuning to our dogs emotions.

Abby the black Schnauzer

When I was sitting down in front of Abby, I firstly opened up emotionally, admitting all my present physical sensations to myself and increased my awareness of how I felt in that moment. To this invitation of an emotional based communication, Abby responded with relaxed ears, stretched out legs and making a lot of eye-contact. For the first time since I met her, I was able to really connect to her.

When I started attuning to Abby, I could feel strong tensions in my jaws and around my eyes, a faster and deeper breath, my muscles in my legs would tighten up, my abdomen flexed and collapsed alternately. I allowed those sensations to fully be there and take over my body. I allowed myself to feel what Abby was feeling. Abby and I would keep our eye contact whilst we shared that emotional experience.

After a short while, I was able to identify what it is that I felt: I felt the emotions of intense stress, overwhelm and

exhaustion. I took some time to fully acknowledging the insight, that Abby was feeling stressed out, exhausted and overwhelmed. I validated those feelings to her by because I could feel myself how real they were.

Then, I became curious and mentally I asked “Why do you feel stressed, overwhelmed and exhausted?” I genuinely wanted to know because I just experienced myself how unpleasant this actually feels. I didn’t want Abby to feel like that. 

Right after I had asked, the sensation in my body started changing. At first my stomach did tighten up, my shoulders pulled up, my arms were pressing against my body, my feet were getting slightly cold and my heartbeat would increase, causing a radiant pressure in my chest. My breathing changed to rather shallow and short. Again I allowed those sensations to be there. Then I identified that I felt anxious. Again I tool time to allow these feelings to be present and acknowledged them as valid. 

For now, this was enough for me to understand what was happening within Abby. Putting together the facts about her, what I observed so far in her behaviour and what I just felt, I knew what was going on:

As a Schnauzer, Abby has strong guarding instincts. So far she could freely decide on her own when and how to guard. From her perspective, no one is guarding the pack satisfactorily (Baxter is playing ball and Dax sniffs around or greets people). Driven by her instincts, she took on the job. As a young dog she would need comprehensive guidance regarding when and how to guard; the lack thereof has been causing her to be on guard all the time which causes her to feel stressed out, overwhelmed and exhausted.

The feeling of being overwhelmed comes with some uncertainty about what’s going to happen next, which creates a feeling of being unsafe. Abby’s perception is the ideal hotbed for anxiety. The anxiety itself then triggers her guarding instincts even more – the doom loop is created.

On the one hand, I was really sorry for Abby being in that emotional state, on the other hand I was excited to have found the root cause for Abby’s behaviour and more so I was highly motivated to tell her humans how to help Abby with being able to reveal her true and friendly self in public with new humans. What Abby has been needing is clear guidance, humble, patient and consequent leadership & support to develop the ability to physically relax as a result of acceptance of leadership. All this can be achieved with some minor changes in routines and regular mental and physical exercise.

I put all my observations and reasoning together for Lana & Nigel to read. We met up, talked through our options of training and then we decided that we wanted to work together on helping Abby releasing her anxiety. This is how I met Lana, Nigel, Abby, Dax and Baxter. Read in the next blog article how we began our work together and what exercises we would teach to Abby.

Got something to work on?

Angelina Behrendt

@ Vancouver, Canada

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© 2017-2020 Kalitu DOG TRAINING all rights reserved

Attuning to our dogs emotions

Attuning to our dogs emotions

When it comes to working on a behavioural issue a dog is showing, in my opinion it is vital to figure out the actual root cause for this behaviour to occur in the first place.

Understanding the root cause allows us to understand what the dog is lacking or with other words, what he actually needs. Subsequently we can start providing and meeting this/these need(s) through individually aligned mental & physical exercise (=training) and often some smaller changes in the routines of the dog’s life with his humans. 

To figure out the root cause for a certain behaviour or better, 

to figure out what a dog needs, I apply a holistic approach which is based on

  1. gathering facts about the dog like the breed, age, upbringing, and current environment (mind)
  2. observation of behaviour overall and in detail in different environments (mind + body)
  3. attuning to the emotions (soul)

In this article, I want to talk to you about the latter, about the process of attuning to the emotions of our dogs.

What are emotions exactly?

For the sake of being on the same page, let’s have a look first at emotions as such, to then easily dive into the process of attunement.

Emotions are energies in motion (e-motions). These moving energies are reflected in physical sensations that we perceive with our felt-sense in our body: on our skin, under the skin, in our organs etc. This applies to every emotional being. Every emotion has a unique frequency, hence a unique physical feeling-signature, a kinda taste if you will, that we might be able to identify as a certain emotion or cocktail of emotions.

When we practice the art of Emotional Vipassana Meditation, we take time to sit down, close our eyes and explore all the different sensations being present at the very moment in our body, caused by our emotions. With the attitude of non-judgemental observation, we train our ability to feel these sensations arising and going away. We actually feel. Feeling is what we physically perceive, an emotion is the energy being perceived by our physical self.

The process of feeling and introspective “listening” to the energies being present can also be called attuning: We attune, like a radio dial, to the energies (frequencies) being present. We perceive them with our in-built felt-sense.

In the same way as we can attune to our own emotions, we can attune to the e-motions of other beings. People with the trained ability to perceive (feel) these energies from other beings in their own body are known as empaths. Little spoiler: Animals are empaths. All of them.

Mood transfer

Have you ever watched your dog becoming really joyful and happy when you are joyful and happy? Or maybe the other way around?

Or did you see your dog calming down when you yourself pause, stop moving and take a couple of deep breaths? These are common examples for attunement between dogs and humans taking place. We can also call it mood transfer.

In my opinion, every human being has the ability to be an empath, hence to attune to the emotions of another human being or other animal. Everyone has an in-built felt-sense that they can use to feel what someone else is feeling. The perception of what someone else is feeling is a form of communication – as in that moment we are attuned to someone else, we literally understand them emotionally.

So I say, everyone has the ability to communicate with other beings through the felt-sense. Mind me saying, this is a very pure form of communication, consisting only of what truly is.

Like with most skills, attuning to emotions, no matter if we’re talking one’s own or someone else’s emotions, requires knowledge about emotions as such and one’s very own history of emotions. Also, a continuously progressing practice throughout the course of one’s life to train the ability to sit and feel is needed. In modern life, this is called self-awareness.

Why am I able to attune to the emotions of dogs?

I grew up in an environment where attuning to the emotions of my primary caregivers was crucial for my survival. Coming from a dysfunctional family, my parents never have been having the chance to see and heal their own childhood trauma. Both were in desperate need of being seen, heard and understood – of gaining a sense of self. They could feel themselves strongest when someone would understand them emotionally, when someone mirrored and validated to them how they felt (which is exactly what both were lacking in their own upbringing).

So my parents would most and foremost provide me with love and positive attention when I mirrored their emotions to them and subsequently when I showed empathy (validation) for their emotions. This gave them what they unconsciously were in utter need of. And it literally trained me to become an empath as I’ve been practicing the ability of attunement to the emotions of others from the very beginning of my life.

Years and years later as an adult woman, I adopted an old dog who showed unconditional love to me every single day. It was the first time for me that I was shown consistent love even when I were not attuned to someone else. By that my dog Kalitu allowed me to become aware of myself. He woke me up. As a traumatised shelter dog, Kalitu needed love, attention & training – his needs were the kick off for me to acknowledge and realise what I needed myself – but this is a whole other story. Nevertheless, this is where my deep bond to and love for dogs comes from.

Being awoken by Kalitu, I found my way into trauma science, emotional and physical trauma healing methods, diverse awareness tools like meditation, yoga and the teachings of many spiritual leaders and into the practice of Emotional Vipassana. Over the course of heaps of workshops, seminars, retreats and daily practice for the last several years, I’ve been continuously practicing my ability of attuning to my own emotions. Spoiler: This process will, fortunately, never  be“finished”.

Attuning to my very own emotions was what I lacked as a child, as I was busy with feeling my parent’s emotions. All my healing work & practice has been the fundamental baseline to be able to ultimately distinguish between my own emotions (new skill) and the emotions of someone else (old skill), like a dog for example. I can now make the difference: what is mine & what is yours which enables me to actively choose to attune to a dogs emotion. Wonderfully spoken, what was my biggest torture back then has been transforming into my genuine passion and joy of today.

Why is it beneficial to attune to the emotions of a dog?

I consider emotions as our internal guidance system, they reveal what we need. If I feel pain, I’m in the need of compassion & comfort for example. If I feel fear, I am in the need of safety and love. If I feel stress, I am in the need of relaxation. Just to name a few. 

Emotions teach us about ourselves, they tell us what we need. So, knowing what a dog feels therefore helps me figuring out what it is that this dog is in need of. It’s that simple. Combined with behavioural analysis and all the facts (age, breed, upbringing), I figure out the actual root cause for behaviour that we humans perceive as an issue.

How does the process of attuning look like?

It is important to me to mention that I approach every dog with curiosity for who they truly are. This is a matter of respect to their existence as emotional beings.

I invite them into the communication through firstly calming and centering myself internally, and secondly through allowing my own emotions to expand in my body (that’s the opposite of suppressing and denying emotions). I create awareness of what I am feeling in that very moment. This functions like an introduction of myself, I show to the dog who I am and what I feel in that very moment, I am being an emotional open book.

This can be considered a very pure and genuine introduction which creates trust right away. Dogs, of course, also have an in-built felt sense, to them, it’s natural to “read” our energy. 

Many dogs, by the way, keep eye contact during the introduction and stay physically rather close, they also demonstrate an open and relaxed body language which shows me that my invitation for communication was accepted. This happens within seconds and can be understood as the allowance to see and touch each other’s soul.

I then consciously decide to switch to attuning to the emotions of the dog in front of me. This is a very gentle process and for me, at this point in my journey, it requires a rather calm environment. Feeling the sensations that arise within me, I piece by piece literally get the feeling of how the dog is feeling. I allow that feeling to be present within me which creates the attunement – dog and I feel the same at this moment which creates a bond of deep understanding. 

attuning to humans

After some time, I consciously release those feelings and come back to my very own emotions by again calming and centring myself internally. The workability of attuning depends on my own wellbeing: the more I am in alignment with what is emotionally present within me, the quicker the attuning can take place. If I am having a day where I am not in touch with myself (after all, we’re all just humans), things can take very long.

To sum all this up, my approach to working with dogs an holistic one with regards to their mind, body and soul:

I use my natural ability as an empath to attune to their emotions to find out what it is that they feel and therefore need. I apply my knowledge about canine behaviourism to read their body language and I also take the individual circumstance of each and every dog into consideration, like his age, breed, upbringing, personality and current environment.

All that blends together in an analysis that allows me to come up with a set of exercises that help humans to provide for their dogs what they truly need and by that, resolving the behavioural issues the dog shows.

For everyone finding themselves being further interested in the wide and wonderful topic of animal communication, I warmly recommend the teachings of Anna Breytenbach.

Got something to work on?

Angelina Behrendt

@ Vancouver, Canada

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