'…....our dog is our canary in the mineshaft of emotion.'
from Kevin Behan, Your Dog Is Your Mirror
Our Emotions and Our Dogs' Behaviour
I first started to notice the effect of how I was feeling on my dogs with my hound Jack. I used to be quite a nervous driver and hated overtaking. Jack would be curled up on the back seat. I would be approaching a car in from and realising I needed to overtake. Jack would suddenly stand up and start to look all around him, as if he sensed danger. After a few times of this happening I realised it was not coincidence. He was responding to my anxiety. I became more aware of how I was feeling when I was driving. I didn't want my dog to feel bad.
Through our journey into different types of dog training I became aware of more examples of how he reacted to how I was feeling. 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. At various stages in my experiences in training with my dogs, and taking different teachers viewpoints, I had different reasons
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.
Then I started to realise the 'disobedience' was happening in areas that he (I) was less comfortable. 'Refusing' to sit when we were somewhere we might meet others dog, or people, where I was more anxious. Jack was picking up on my anxiety, frustration, negative emotion, call it what you will, and he was looking the other way to 'avoid' me. As my frustration rose, so did his 'stubbornness'.
Picking Up Distress
One day I was out with Jack . He was having some off-lead exercise, free to wander about and explore. He was sniffing away to meet his 'hound' needs, enjoying his freedom, nose down searching for mouse nests. Usually he would amuse himself on his scenting forages until I got the liver treats out.
This day was different. While he was exploring I received a text on my mobile phone. The content of the text was a source of huge disappointment for me. As I sat reading the text, huge hopes of what might have been were shattered. As I sat immersed in my disappointment 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.
Every Dog is Different
As I gradually started to appreciate how my feelings affected my dogs I became better at it. I realised that, just like people, they don't all respond in the same way. There have been occasions when I have been sitting with all my dogs and I have become tearful. 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 and they show different behaviours. Jack 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 trail hound will leave the room. Same expression from me, different response form each of them.
Check it out for yourself - your dog and your emotions - I think you will be amazed what you start to tune into