Dogs feed on our energy, which means we need to control ourselves (and our emotions) until it’s time to party. (Photo by Tony J. Peterson)
October 15, 2021
Having spent quite a bit of time with a wide variety of dog trainers, I can safely say one thing: they all tend to operate on the same wavelength in terms of energy. Most of them have soft, relatively calm voices and this is no coincidence.
The energy that we project towards our dogs matters a lot. As a person with nine year old twins and a 4.5 month old lab puppy, it reminds me every day. The way we project ourselves towards our dogs can often make a workout buzz or derail it. It is worth recognizing and fully understanding it, because there are times when our energy needs to be harnessed and times when we should go crazy.
Fast or slow?
“These are not my words, but they absolutely apply to the way we train”, professional dog trainer, Matt Mercereau, he said when I asked him about energy projection and dog training. âWe train fast dogs and slow dogs quickly. “
With a poorly trained dog, you might want each session to feel like a party to get the motivation you need. With a highly trained dog, the opposite is true. You don’t need to make a burner believe that every little dog training victory is the best thing in the world and, in fact, you may need to minimize your energy.
It’s pretty intuitive for most of us, at least when you look at it on paper. In the real world, where training distractions hit both us and our dogs, how we project ourselves to our dogs matters. In most cases, it all starts with the puppy’s age. There is nothing wrong with cheering on a three month old when they do something simple like sit up on command or stay steady for a few seconds. Either way, positive energy is a good thing. Crazy energy, no. I don’t know how to describe it any other way, but I have a daughter who takes care of our puppy very well. The other comes towards the puppy like a fleeing freight train with a loud noise, exaggerated movements and unnecessary enthusiasm.
It also elicits, almost instantly, a coarse or pure wild response from our pup. This often causes breakage, a few too many teeth for my taste and sets the puppy up for failure. It drives me completely nuts, because it’s unnecessary and has the potential to change the tone of a workout in an instant. Now she is an extreme example of how bad energy projection is always negative when it comes to puppies, but even at a moderate level it can be deleterious.
When puppies grow into adult dogs, there are different times when we want to manage the way we act around them. A common scenario where we give them something that can cause them to behave badly, or at least not behave the way we would like, is during a hunt.
A few usual suspects here are when the birds are evacuated out of reach, the solid points become a bit loose, or a downed bird escapes their noses.
At such times, our frustration turns into something that is not encouraging, and that is contagious. When your dog catches it, the chances that he’ll be looking for the injured rooster correctly or suddenly behaving well are very low. While individual situations vary, a better bet when a downed ringneck wins the game of hide and seek is to start partying and be as encouraging as possible.
If you think a dog is not eating it, you are wrong. They do this, just as small children in their first tee-ball game tend to respond better to overt enthusiasm than silence or worse, derision. Dogs like kindergarteners are perceptive, and when they sense that something is wrong, it doesn’t bode well for the task at hand. Although it is difficult to calm our anger or frustration in the moment, there is no point in the dog interacting with him in a way that could slow his momentum. It’s just better to put on a positive show so that they keep trying to work for you.
Moment of celebration
As I mentioned, every situation with a dog and its handler is different. Some call for hype, others for Zen. Moments of excitement, such as good performance in training or hunting, are easy to recognize. The times when it’s best to be calm are often not.
A good strategy here is to recognize that anger doesn’t do anyone good. Nor does it excite a dog when he clearly doesn’t know what he is doing. For example, sending a dog in the thick cloth for a blind retrieve when he has never done a blind retrieval in training is a recipe for disaster. It doesn’t matter how positive you are or what energy you project. The whole thing is doomed to failure. But there are other times, like when a dog seems to know what it’s supposed to do but hasn’t gained enough experience to be truly confident, when throwing a little puppy party is the right choice. They want to know you’re happy (hopefully), and if you’re happy, they’ll keep going.
This is where watching a professional work with a dog on a new task is really enlightening. This monotonous trainer who would make the average career accountant look like a bonfire, will suddenly turn on and praise the dog like he’s just been cured of cancer. The change in body language for the dog is almost instantaneous and the mood for the entire session will increase a notch in the right direction.
As with corrections, it’s all about timing. A dog who is working on a small victory to gain confidence needs this moment of praise and excitement, and he must come when the victory is most obvious. Too early and it will ruin everything. Too late the dog will not understand why the party is taking place and this will devalue this crucial aspect of training.
Your bird dog wants to do well for you and he wants to know that he has done well for you. This means that there are opportunities every day to control your body language and energy levels, until the training or hunting times when it’s time to let go. It’s a skill that’s pretty much ingrained in every professional sport dog trainer. With amateur managers this is usually not the case, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be recognized and encouraged, but it can and should be.