'…....our dog is our canary in the mineshaft of emotion.'
from Kevin Behan, Your Dog Is Your Mirror
I first started to notice the effect of my emotions on my dogs with my hamiltonstovare, Jack. It started when I was driving. I used to be quite nervous when I was overtaking. Jack would be curled up on the back seat of the car. I would decide I needed to overtake, getting ready to manoeuvre, and Jack would stand up. After a few times of this happening I realised it wasn't just a coincidence, he was responding to my anxiety. I knew I was nervous but I hadn't realised that it could be picked up so easily by my dog. This made me start to become more aware of my emotions. And then I started to feel guilty that my anxiety was making him nervous!
Through our journey into different types of dog training I started more and more to see links with my emotions and his behaviour. At first I didn’t recognise it as such. On some occasions when I asked Jack to 'sit' I would get 'ignored'. He would look away from me, to one side. At various stages in my experiences in training with my dogs, and taking different teachers viewpoints, I would read this as
a) lack of respect,(I hadn't been firm enough)
b) lack of understanding, (I hadn't been a 'good enough' trainer),
c)lack of interest (he didn't love me enough) or
d) hounds were just too independent to be trained (I know, a poor workman always blames his tools).
Then I started to realise the disobedience was happening in areas that he (I) was less comfortable - for example, 'refusing' to sit when we were at a location where we might meet others dog, or people. I would be more anxious and Jack was picking up on my anxiety, frustration, negative emotion, call it what you will, and he was looking the other way to deflect the vibes I was projecting onto him. As my frustration rose, so did his 'stubbornness'.
One day I was out with Jack doing some training in the field. This is an area where he is safe to have some off-lead exercise, free to wander about and explore. I had left him to sniff away to meet his 'hound' needs before we started to train and he was enjoying his freedom, nose down searching for mouse nests, in the absence of bigger prey to chase, like deer. Usually he would amuse himself on his scenting forages until I got the liver treats out.
But this day was different. While he was exploring I received a text on my mobile phone. The content of the text is not important but at the time it was a huge disappointment to me. I was 'gutted as they say'. As I sat down in the field, reading the text, huge hopes of what might have been were shattered. I sat quietly trying to find the words for an appropriate response, immersed in my disappointment, totally unaware of my surroundings. As I sat there I became aware of Jack. He had given up on his foraging at the other end of the field and had joined me, lying down next to me as I sat staring at my phone. He wasn't touching me or sniffing me, he was just there, with me. I just knew that he was responding to my feelings.
As I gradually started to appreciate how my feelings affected my dogs I began to see more. I realised that, just like people, they don't all respond in the same way. There have been occasions when I have been sitting accompanied by the dogs in the house and I have become emotional (well, its good to cry!). I don't make a sound, but as the tears roll down my face the dogs notice and pick up on it. They may not even be sitting close by. They show different behaviours. Jack, the 35kg hamiltonstovare, will sit so close he is almost on my knee. It seems like he is pushing his heart into mine. Archie the Labrador will stand on me and lick my face - he doesn't like to sit still! Logan the (nervous) trail hound will always leave the room! My interpretation is that Jack and Archie are trying to ground the ungrounded energy that my emotional outburst presents. Logan cannot cope with the energy and has to distance himself from it.
Check it out for yourself - your dog and your emotions - I think you will be amazed what you start to tune into
I'm starting to wonder if I have a solution for the perfect recall. Maybe all I have to do is walk through the woods in tears. Jack may never leave my side!