It takes a village…

I feel so grateful for to have shared my life with dogs for the majority of time I have been on this planet, and been involved in dog sports for a similar time span.

As you can imagine, owning, being around and spending time with dogs and the world of dogs has had a profound affect on who I am and how I see the world.

So I have chosen to write these forthcoming blogs to share with you some of the biggest lessons I have had. These lesson are applicable to more then just dog Training.

The process of taking on the responsibility of owning a dog and all that comes with it, is for some a mammoth task, especially if you are a first time dog owner, or you have a particularly challenging dog.

I can recall vividly the daunting task of getting our first dog in our home, and realisation how little we knew! How do they know to go out the toilet? How do they know to not pull on a lead? How do they know to come back? And the endless list of questions, are what any unsuspecting newbie dog owner will ask themselves. This was in the days before the internet… so books and other people’s guidance were our only reference.

What is without question, is that we ALL need help. Whether this is to find out how to house train your puppy or get it to a major world championship in your chosen discipline… the journey can’t be a solitary endeavour if you wish to succeed.

So the process of finding and sourcing a network of people to assist you on this, what at times seems a perilous journey, can be challenging.

However it is very much essential.

The phrase ‘It takes a village’ is so appropriate when talking of dogs, ownership, behavioural issues, goals or training.

No one can or needs to do this alone, however being able to discern who are the appropriate ‘villagers’ can be confusing to say the least.

As mentioned, when I first owned a dog, there was no internet in your home, easy access to information 24/7/365 was not a reality. Most of the information came from books, and generally gave guidance on what to do, but not necessarily what to do when the answers or questions weren’t applicable to the content.

Since the invention of the World Wide web, you can ask a question or make a query anywhere, any time and get an answer. However, the internet is awash with advice, videos and tutorials but it can often be a mind field to try and identify which ‘tribe’ to join.

This is sometimes a process of trial and error, and it is not unusual for a inexperienced owner to attend a few options before settling.

The key thing is to look for guidance from people you feel some connection with and who’s ethos, ethics and principles of training and engagement are aligned to yours.

All of us, have a moral and ethical compass that guides us on a daily basis, a internal compass that draws us to the path we should be on. Often external voices, be it literally or figuratively speaking, alter this.

However when it comes to the choice of trainers, methods, choices and philosophy’s we wish to follow with our dogs, we need to utilise this to find our ‘tribe’. Listen to your gut instinct.

The people and social group we surround ourselves with, should serve a purpose on our journey. They should be aligned with who we are, and what we stand for. With Training dogs and behaviour, we need a village of like minded people to help us. Whether this be to provide constructive feedback or to give us a dose of reality and truth. If the ‘tribe’ is aligned with who we are, this will only serve to help us grow and strive closer to our goals.

Allowing toxic negativity into your life will only distract you from your journey. The village should be comprised of those who will uplift you.

Spend the time determining who your villagers are, that connection may be instant, or it may be a worldwide search to find them. But when you do, you’ll know.

Here are some simple yet effective guidelines to help you find your ‘village’.

  1. Take your time and do your homework. Rushing the process will only act as a reason to compromise, and potentially deter your progress. Often people attend a trainer or class, because if the location but end up following a principal and ethos that doesn’t represent who they want to be. Spending the time researching potential villagers will save you time in the long run.
  2. Dont be afraid to question what you see, either internally or literally. You have the right to seek affirmation that these villagers are what they say they are, and they have the right to say the relationship won’t work. And thats ok too. Villagers have to be active participants.
  3. Trust your instinct. Social media, flashy advertising or great marketing should be taken as intended, to grab your attention. But what happens to that attention is your choice. If the feeling isn’t right, move on. There are many more fish in the sea.
  4. Be prepared to ask for help. Pride comes before a fall. There is no shame in seeking ‘villagers’, it doesn’t detract from your brilliance, just says that you are astute enough to recognise your shortcomings and take steps to rectify them.
  5. Be your dogs advocate. In the process of sourcing villagers, you may stumble across those who mean well or may not, but there actions can only have an outcome if you allow it, don’t be afraid to speak up. Someone who is worthy of being in your village will hear you and respect your wishes.
  6. Be open minded. A village takes a diverse group of ‘villagers’, each one uniquely individual. They should share the same purpose, but it’s their individuality that makes them an asset.
  7. Be open, remain humble… villagers should have your back. Being truthful and taking constructive feedback can hit a nerve, but the right villagers are doing it from a place of love and purpose.
  8. Having villagers means you are part of the village. It goes both ways. Don’t be a villager who takes and never gives.
  9. Your villagers represent who you are, so choose wisely. If you don’t like what you see, chances are neither will others when they look at you.
  10. Accept, you may make mistakes. And its ok. You may convince yourself that you’ve found your tribe, and even follow them when you know it’s not who you are. Let it go. The guilt won’t serve you. Its just another lesson pushing you closer to your true path.

And finally, thanks to all my ‘villagers’… you know who you are 😉

I couldn’t do this without you all!

Annoyingly adolescent!

There is a point in your dogs life when you may find them at ‘best’ a little mischievous, and at times down right horrid! Yes thats right, even as an avid dog lover and owner, I go through a phase with most of my dogs, where they test my last nerve and I wonder if its too late to give up dog training and get Koi Carp!

Between the ages of 6-14months, your dog will enter into adolescence and with it you will most definitely be facing some challenges. This tends to happen just when you want to really progress their training, and you want to start some of the ‘really’ fun stuff with them. However out of nowhere, you start to see subtle changes. It may be a loss of focus, or a lapse in concentration… it may be a cheeky recall, where you use that second cue, assuming your little darling just didn’t hear you, or it may be something more serious like an unprovoked attack on your young dog or they your young dog attacks another dog, without being provoked.

So your previously sweet, endearing little darling has now turned into Cujo! And before you know it, his reputation has spread like wildfire with people drawing their dogs away as they see you approach, and picking up their children up and shoving them up into trees, till you pass…. any of this sounding familiar?

Adolescents is a testing time to say the least, and this is when relationships are largely made or broken. Your young dog is transitioning from a puppy to an adult, and as a result their body will be undergoing lots of changes. Hormones will be running a-mock, and their behaviour changes aren’t them being ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’, but physiological changes that they cant help. Male dogs will be emitting testosterone from their system, which is like a bellisha beacon to other dogs that there is a young adolescent male present. Some other dogs will take this as a threat in itself, and some others will perceive this as threatening. This can instigate ‘

unprovoked’ acts of aggression. Which long term can create fear, defensive behaviour, anxiety etc. Adolescence is often a time when behaviour deemed ‘reactive’ can develop, be this because of your dogs experience or from anxiety that develops post a traumatic event at this time in your dogs life.

With female dogs enter adolescence, they will be due to season, which can cause unpredictable nervousness and ‘seeing’ ghosts. This is where your previously happy go lucky baby, starts to spook and act apprehensively without any due cause.

Adolescence can last up to approximately 3yrs, depending on the breed and type of dog. This isn’t to say that this level of unpredictable behaviour will be constant throughout this time period, it will very much a rollercoaster. You may get weeks or months of your dogs behaviour improving, then out of nowhere you’ll get a regression. To say it can be challenging and frustrating, would be an understatement.

For those that wish to follow a path of reinforcement, the question is how do I navigate this incredibly testing time, yet follow a path of reinforcement based training.

Well firstly, lets be clear. Positive is not permissive. Because you follow a reinforcement based approach to training, doesn’t mean you have to be a door mat. Dogs need clear boundaries and education, especially at this time.

Here are some simple points that should help you through adolescence.

1. Firstly you will need to become the master of management. The less your dog can rehearse inappropriate behaviour, the better. Anticipating the situation your dog will be in, and being prepared is crucial. Employ the good will of others to help you, and set up learning experience that you can control that mimic ‘real life’ rather then have unplanned uncontrolled interactions, where possible.

2. Don’t turn up to a gun fight armed with a knife… reinforcement is your friend! Ensure you control access to reinforcement and are always armed with high value reinforcement. If you don’t have the appropriate reinforcement for the situation, just avoid it!

3. Socialisation doesn’t stop at puppy hood, it should continue throughout your dogs life. However cherry pick the dogs you allow your dog to interact with, for example I avoid other adolescent entire males with my own adolescent entire male. At this age, due to the hormone changes, there is a higher chance your dog may be unpredictable, and this could be a catalyst for an unnecessary altercation.

4. Accept that you will have good days and bad days, its normal! This is not permanent. You will get through this! Be patient, breath and go to your ‘happy’ place!

5. Don’t prioritise your dogs ‘proper’ training at the most challenging times, as their lack of concentration and limited focus will merely frustrate you and sour the association. They can’t help it. Just stick to simple behaviours and focus on ‘focus’. Prioritise your relationship.

6. One on one time will be crucial. If its a 5min Training session, or a one on one walk, take the time to relationship build with your terrible teen. Its this relationship that will get you through the hard times.

7. Expect tantrums and tiara’s. They may have some extreme reactions to life at this time, stay calm, don’t take it personally and remember reinforcement is key!

8. Your recall will probably disappear at some point during your dogs teenage years, feeding meals via Training, being mindful of pairing all things of value to your dog, with you and desirable behaviours will increase your worth.

9. Don’t be afraid to scream, rant and vent!! Just not at the dog directly…. thats what friends are for! Get it off your chest… the teen years are testing! You are ok to say that at moments your dog isn’t your favourite ‘person’ at times!

10. There are times to manage behaviour, times to train against behaviour and times to just ignore behaviour! Thats right, don’t try to climb Everest in one step. Pick battles, some things can wait for a more appropriate time or are they really ‘that’ bad. Your dog is still maturing, some things may just disappear with age. Be patient.

Finally, remember we have all been there. You will get through this, and relationships are made of various phases, this is just part of the journey. In years to come you will chuckle at the testing antics, and wonder what all the fuss was about!

Sports addict….

I have competed in various dog sports for fast approaching 30yrs, and I am very aware that the premier purpose is for my pleasure, ego and personal gratification.

I am under no illusions that as much as I would like to believe that my dogs will the days away, waiting to attend a show, trial or competition… I am neither naive of foolish enough to believe anything of the sort. Dog sports is for me, and my pleasure.

So why do it? Surely, I could train my dogs to the standard I aim for, in the manner I choose to and go over the park and have as much pleasure and joy? Absolutely, I do and I will. However dog sports adds another dimension to my training that I would otherwise not have to address or deal with.

At your average competition, there are numerous factors to consider and challenges that will guaranteed to be presented.

To start with, there will be dogs. And most probably lots of them. Depending on the sport you do, you may have anything up to several hundred dogs all at a competition at the same time. This means male, female, little, large, hairy, pointy, squashed face dogs… all colours, shapes and sizes.

There will be people. Hundreds of people. All shapes, sizes and looks.

There will be strange noises, sights and sounds.

Tents, awnings, speakers, odd smells, maybe children, maybe wheelchairs, maybe dogs that lunge, or bark or whine…

And there may be even lycra… and in some cases, this can be terrifying!!

So why do it? Why put my dog through it. Well, yes you could say it is my ego. But on a deeper level, I believe that dog sports has attributed largely to my Dogs characters and disposition, because in preparing them for dog sports thoroughly, I have no choice but train and create a dog that can cope with the rigours of competition, and it doing do, I create a dog that can cope with life.

One of the questions I am asked frequently since becoming a father is how did I inter-grate my baby girl into my home when she was born. The simple answer is I walked into the house let the dogs investigate what I was holding in my arms, and that was it. Now considering that I have 8 dogs, in various breeds and most of which are what you would describe as high drive, and some of which have unknown histories, rescue dogs, initially were fearful and nervous of people, and have an extreme prey drive, this is no accident. Don’t misunderstand me, dogs and kids are always a combination to be treated respectfully, and with sense. But my involvement and preparation in Dogs sports can be attributed to the way in which my dogs act and behave.

As part of preparing my dog to ‘cope’ with the environmental challenges that they will most likely to encounter on attending even a small competition, I have to create a dog that has a robust temperament. With dogs, people and environments.

They have to have social skills, and I have to train them to cope with the unpredictable nature of having several hundred dogs and people in a relatively close proximity. I have had dogs that had dog aggression issues, that had to be taught to remain in a controlled position whilst I was out of sight and possibly some distance away, whilst having another dog less then 6ft away. I have had nervous and fearful dogs that have had to learn to cope with people in close proximity to them, even handling them or restraining them, I have had dogs with high chase drive that have had to learn to remain still and calm whilst another dog is running flat out in front of them.

These are just some of the challenges that dog sports has presented.

This is not to mention the challenges for me, as an owner.

I have had to step out of my comfort zone. I have had to develop patience, persistence and perseverance. I have learned discipline and structure, planning, effective use of time and dedication. I have had to dig deep, soul search and get up from being knocked down… these life lessons serve me far beyond the confines of an show ground, or trials field. I have had to learn to have reliance to criticism and develop a thick skin. I know what it is like to work for, strive towards and achieve goals. The mental composure needed to compete at the top level in any sport, requires attributes that can be carried through to life, business, relationships, society in general and many more walks of life.

And along the journey I have accumulated a people who I deem family. They are my daughters family as much as my blood. I have travelled the world, and followed my passion.

All this from doing something with my dogs at a weekend, in a muddy field, with a burger van and a cup of something hot…

So, in truth whilst it may be my ego that drives me to compete in dog sports, the ‘wins’ are far more then rosettes, certificates and accolades.

Success comes in many forms. I have been fortunate to be successful.

Sink or swim

Last Friday I took Neave, my 1yr old daughter to a swimming lesson.

This was with a group called ‘Puddle Ducks’, you can check out the website https://www.puddleducks.com

As a coach and teacher for competitive dog sports, and someone who works extensively with behavioural issues in dogs, I am always ‘aware’ of how others ‘instruct’, seeing if there is anything I can take from how others approach teaching and communicating. Great teaching is great teaching, whether it be aimed at two or four legged subjects!

Well I can definitely say, Neave’s swimming experience was definitely teaching at its best!

Teaching someone that has no ability to communicate with you verbally, is reliant on clear communication in other ways… body language, expression, posture, tone of voice and gestures are some of the ways the instructor created a positive learning environment for Neave to learn.

The lesson was going to particularly challenging for Neave, as she was going to be briefly submerged underwater. This in itself can be incredibly stressful if not handled correctly and safely.

The first part of the lesson Neave had was how to enter the pool appropriately. She had to sit at the edge and wait briefly to be lifted into the pool. She was given information about what was happening and allowed to come in the pool when she was calm and attentive.

We initially played games to build Neave’s confidence in the water. Although, she had been previously, and we were comfortable that she was happy in the environment, the start of the session was confirming this feeling.

The first part of the sessions comprised of games that were familiar to Neave, and she appeared to recognise theses games and the songs that were sung.

This helped start the session with some ‘successes’. It built her confidence in the process. It also ensured she found the session fun.

Next was the challenging part of the session, where she was to be submerged briefly underwater.

This was done incrementally and at each stage, we ‘checked’ Neave was comfortable and happy with what was happening.

Initially, a small container was used to pour water in front of her, and she was encouraged to play and interact with it. She was allowed to indicate the speed at which the session progressed and when to move on to the next part. Her body language was closely observed and monitored.

The water was then poured on the back of her head, then across her face. Again, each stage was monitored and a visual ‘thermometer’ taken of how she was coping. Although Neave cant speak coherently to exclaim her joy, it was clear to see.

Next, was the submerging.

My role was clearly explained, what I was to do was demonstrated with a doll several times. I was allowed to ask questions and then, when I was ready allowed to submerged Neave briefly.

It was explained clearly how long for and what to do directly after. I was advised to distract her with games immediately after and not to instantly react by turning her towards me. This was to ensure I didn’t create anxiety around the experience. As Neave’s parent, this was clearly a nerve wrecking experience for me! Instead I was advised to distract her and make it fun!

We did variations of this exercise and at each stage Neave’s response was monitored and gauge. She dictated the speed of the session and the rate of progression. She loved it, and even when there was a moment of hesitation after her first submerged, because she was refocused onto another game, she quickly gained confidence.

After a few more repetitions, we finished on some easier challenges and the session was ended.

Neave loved it! Largely because of the expert guidance and instruction.

This was an excellent example of growing confidence, pushing beyond your comfort zone, making learning fun, using interaction and games to teach important lessons. It incorporated shaping, desensitisation, acclimatisation, impulse control to name but a few, all merge into a series of games, songs and fun experiences.

This is everything that a great learning experience should be, irrespective of whether it is a one year old learning to swim or a dog learning to face the world, or nose target a cone, or pick up an article.

Learning should be fun, but it can be stressful and create anxiety but rather then avoid it at all cost, create confidence in the subject so that they can cope with challenges, and perceive situations that may invoke stress and anxiety as a positive. Fun isn’t just fast and furious, it can be a mind game, a challenge, physically or mentally.

This session built up to the challenge in increments, they also paid attention to Neave and what she was coping with.

There was no rush, no hurry and no time frame to adhere to. But yet they also took her further in her learning, slightly out of her comfort zone and above all, made it a game.

The session was clearly planned out, and strategic. This one of a series of lessons designed to teach core skills and foundations for swimming and safety in and around water.

If only all teaching could follow this pattern. Either end of the spectrum, being to forceful or shying away from challenges, can inhibit growth. Both moving at a snails pace or racing to the finish line, are counter productive.

Strategic planning, clear vision, enthusiasm, passion are just some of the attributes that a great teacher has. They create a student that wants to learn, will relish challenges and have confidence in everything they engage in.

Be that person for your dogs, your students and yourself.

Let me lead the way…

I always believe in listening to what the universe tells you, this may sound a bit crazy, but the more you pay attention to it and don’t try and fight it, the more you will glean from the direction you are driven in.

This also works with the universe sending me a message…. sometimes its a whisper, sometimes its a brick upside my head!

Well the latest concept that I have been sent is that of leadership. Recently, this word has been presented to me in many forms and yet I have tried to avoid it, ignore it and deny it. But the universe always knows best.

Leadership is something that takes time to adjust to and understand the responsibility that comes with it, to quote spiderman himself… ‘with great power, comes great responsibility’.

In my previous vocation, where leadership was thrust upon you, I knew and understood this so was comfortable in this role. Even as a tender teen, I was looked upon by others at times of stress, anxiety and chaos, to give them leadership and direction.

In my current profession, the concept of being a ‘leader’ is often associated with dated dominance based theories and synonymous with competitive approaches to training and behaviour. And as a result, I’ve refrained from acknowledging this aspect of my role.

The universe had other ideas. I was forced to face up to the concept of leadership and the responsibilities that come with it.

I have often refrained from defining my role as ‘a’ leader or ‘the’ leader for fear of that being misinterpreted. I felt uncomfortable with being defined as ‘leader’ because of the association to differing methodologies and needing to be the ‘pack’ leader.

When dealing with fearful timid dogs, with reactive issues or a newbie dog owner or trainer, who is starting their first step into the world of responsible dog ownership or sports, I give them leadership.

In my daily life, I give my daughter leadership, in my professional life as a coach and teacher, I give my students leadership. I advise them, I educate them, I enlighten them, I don’t try and dim their shine, I merely highlight their brilliance. Looking closer at what leadership meant to me, allowed me to redefine my perception and embrace it.

For me a leader is a person who inspires, who guides, who gives confidence but ultimately lets the individual shine. They don’t want to suppress or stifle the spirit of the being. It isn’t about oppression or domination. As a professional dog trainer, teacher and coach, I am required to be a leader.

A leader is also a person that gives boundaries where appropriate, denotes acceptable conduct and even some rules of engagement. This creates a fair and even playing field, it creates clarity. Everyone has the choice to participate or walk away. Leaders are honest, they are open and they support those that choose to bestow their trust on them. And true leaders, don’t use fear.

For those of us who have a role in the dog care/training/behaviour industry, we have responsibility to uphold this level of trust. All to often I hear of scenarios where someone has had this broken. This may be a person who has followed poor advice for a dog that is fearful. Or given advice that has compromised the relationship they wish to have with their dog. Leadership must be based on trust.

Being a leader comes with a price. Being willing to step against the trend, or put your head above the parapet is part of the role. Being a leader can be a solitary process at times, whilst others question themselves and if they wish to follow you. Having a genuine and truthful agenda for your intentions is critical. It cannot be monetary, it cannot be egotistical. Both these could be alluring, and test your intentions. When faced with a dog that needs leadership, it cannot be about ego or getting the job done. When wanting to help someone or conduct a seminar, it cannot just be about the pay cheque. It has to be about the subject, the intention and the truth.

Leadership takes understanding and acknowledgement, leaders inspire, uplift and build confidence. Whether the subject is two or four legged.

Be the leader you’d want to follow.

Taking the scenic route

I have numerous roles within the heading of being a professional dog trainer and sports dog coach.

I am teacher, there to educate people on how to train their dogs. To inform, inspire, enlighten and create the desire within my pupils to follow me on this

I am a coach, there to mentor, support, build confidence, guide and nurture my students to get the best out of their dogs. This is different to the role of teacher.

These are the main roles I have, however there are many roles within these.

I am chief butt kicker, on occasion… I am the therapist and shoulder to cry on when needed, the confidante, the deliverer of truth and honesty and also a friend.

These are some of the roles, that I fulfil.

But the key to me being able to complete the role successfully, and to the best of my ability is having a pupil/student/client that is receptive to the information.

This doesn’t mean a ‘yeh but, no but’ person, someone who doesn’t ‘want’ to hear what I have to say. This is totally different. It wouldn’t matter what I said or anyone else for that matter, they don’t want to listen. And thats ok. Everyone is on their own journey, and its not for me to ‘tell’ them they ‘have to’ listen to me.

I am referring to the person ‘ready’ to hear what I have to say, and willing but they aren’t ready to action on it, or implement what I’ve suggested.

This is the biggest frustration for students and clients I teach and help.

That readiness may be dependent on skill level, where they are at as a trainer/owner etc. We have all been there. When you first take a step on the path that is dog training, sometimes you won’t be ‘ready’ for that element, trusting your coach to call it is part of the process. I will often overlook something with a pupil, as it’s not relevant for where they are at.

It may be down to their dogs readiness, age, previous history, re-Training, breed etc. The dog may have a over riding issue that supersedes the short term goal. This may be choosing to expose your dog to a situation or environment as they may not be ready.

It may be down to their own ‘stuff’. They may not be quite ready to embrace what I have suggested, and thats ok. It may be scepticism or not quite ‘believing’, or we haven’t built up enough trust. Or they may revert back to what they have previously done.

The defining factor as to whether I can really ‘help’, isn’t actually about them, or the dog. It’s actually about me.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learnt as a professional dog trainer, coach and someone that deals with behavioural issues is learning to align myself with the goals and objectives of the person I am working with. My goals are secondary to theirs. This may sound obvious, but the ego is a powerful thing and often gets in the way.

My goals aren’t their goals, and their goals aren’t my goals. My role is to align myself with what THEY want, and what THEY can do. Its not about the perfect picture or even the ideal end result. Its about facilitating what the person wants to achieve.

This may be a world class competition dog, and win major championships. Great, I can do that and have had pupils do exactly that.

Or their goal may be to have a dog that doesn’t bite people. Great I can do that, and I have helped numerous people achieve that precise goal.

Or it might simply be that they want a dog with a recall, and I’ve helped them achieve that goal too.

But the reason I have been able to do so, is because I understood what THEY wanted.

I may look at the dog, and see the magnitude of potential the dog has, but if thats not the persons goal, I have to let it go.

The other side of the coin, is when their goals don’t align with my beliefs. And the pill to swallow, is that I can’t help them and thats ok to.

The biggest realisation is that you can’t help EVERYONE. And its ok.

Thinking you can, will only leave you feeling a sense of failure or being overwhelmed.

Sometimes the hardest thing to accept is that you can’t help someone, not because you don’t have skills or knowledge, but because your goals and their goals are either not aligned or they are ready. And thats ok.

As a professional who feels passionate about my role, it was an early struggle that took a lot of understanding. Early in my career, my ego led me to believe that ‘I’ could help everyone, whether they wanted it or not. I can’t, its ok. Its not about me, it’s about them.

The reassuring thing to know, is that sometimes allowing someone the space to follow their own journey will bring them back to your path, if even via the scenic route…. everything happens just as it should, and trusting this can be an empowering lesson for any one embarking on a career where they want to genuinely help others.

Calm before the storm

As I lay wide awake at 3am, unable to get to sleep, my mind starts to ponder and tick away. I’ve always had this trait, and it got me thinking about a blog…. I have now ended up writing about 4 or 5 blog posts! All in an attempt to off load some of the mental ‘energy’ buzzing around, and try and get back to sleep!

I’m giving you an insight into my personality here LOL…. I expect some of the readers of this blog, that know me personally will be sniggering or quivering, thinking ‘oh lord… here we go!’

I am most definitely a hyperactive person, and I would definitely say that when I was a child, if the awareness was there, I would most definitely have been diagnosed with ADHD. My family used to quip, that if ever I was quiet you knew I was up to something! My parents recoil stories of my antics, and clearly recognised it from an early age. Evidently, my father was the same, and I can see that same need to be active and doing in my daughter… so it’s definitely in the line!! Still to this day, I hate being still. I struggle to be still, and even if I am… my thoughts are running a mock! I can have a conversation with you, and think of 3 other things at the same time! I am also enthusiastic and optimistic. I am always a ‘can do’ person. Lets find a solution.

But when I was a child, my parents took the issue and channelled it. From 5yrs old my dad took me to martial arts classes, and I was able to focus my energy somewhere. This and dog training, were two grounded forces in my life. To this day Physical activity and my dogs are the two things that quiet the ‘monkeys’ in my head. I need to have my ‘fix’ to feel settled.. or more importantly, feel content.

But yet, in the midst of the storm I can be calm. In my former vocation as Police Officer, I was often in situations of extreme stress and pressure, yet I could remain calm and unflustered. In a situation where the world is falling apart, I can think clearly and rationally.

For a person that struggles with being still, I can be ‘calm’ when appropriate. This is through training, teaching and learning to think clearly whilst under stress. In competition, I can think under pressure and focus my mind.

The concept of calmness is becoming a prevalent word in dog training and behaviour, for some reason more now then ever. But what is calmness to your dog, or are we athromorphising behaviour?

The awareness and understanding of dog behaviour and body language has opened up our eyes to the things our dogs are telling us, and the knowledge of calming signals has become more wide spread.

But have we confused the appearance of calm, with true contentment?

Albert Einstein said “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”

If we substitute the word peace for ‘calm’, we may have the answer.

So ‘Calm cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding’.

And this applies to approaches used in dog training. Understand what your dog needs, and honour it.

There is a trend to reinforce or create calmness, with the intent that the physical behaviours will cause the brain to ‘default’ into a calm state. I am simplifying this explanation, but the link between physical and neurological states has been well documented.

However, there is a caveat to ‘creating’ calm. Have you first created contentment? Have you appeased  your dogs basic needs, to create contentment.

Reinforcing calming behaviour with a dog that has an abundance of energy is like putting a lid on a pressure cooker. Or trying to create calmness with a dog that is in physical discomfort, is like asking you to be calm whilst having root canal surgery without anaesthetic… Or trying to create calm whilst your dog is full of additives ingested from its poor quality food, is like asking your 2yr old to sit still after having a bottle of fizzy drink!

The concept of calmness is simple, if you create contentment first. I know this from experience.

And what create ‘calm’ for one, doesn’t necessarily create calm for another. I feel at ‘peace’ doing anything physical, and repetitive… running, cycling, on the rowing machine…. I feel a sense of calmness through the repetition of the action. I know in my own dogs, my high drive typically ‘un-calm’ dogs, exhibit a zen like aura when I used to bike them. They would be all excited and hyped when they saw the big, but as soon as it set in motion and started to move, they would instantly ‘zen’ out. It wouldn’t matter if it was after 30secs of bilking, or 30mins… they would hit this repetitive trot, and start to be almost in a mental cocoon’.

‘Calmness’ comes from being physically and mentally content, being satisfied in both areas and also finding what works for your dog. Like meditation, spiritual practices and rituals… calmness is a daily routine. Your dog needs a daily input to create calm.

I have a confession. My name is Kamal Fernandez and my dogs are lazy when at home! They literally spend the majority of the day milling around and sleeping! Incredibly un-inspring and lack lustre. But I am fully aware, that this is because they lead a full and varied lifestyle. They have ample physical and mental stimulation, which means they are content… which creates calmness. This state of ‘calm’ comes through into their training. They can ‘think’ because they are content.

Enthusiasm, drive and energy are not to be frowned upon and subdued. They should be utilised, channelled and acknowledge. They are attributes. However they can often be perceived as ‘flaws’ if not dealt with appropriately.

“He is so hyper, I wish he would calm down”…

“He gets so excited! I wish he would just stop and think”

“He’s a nightmare to live with, he just doesn’t stop”

“its like he’s on a knife edge, I wish he would just chill out”

Sound familiar? But what are you doing to create contentment?

Whenever I have dog that comes to me with Reactivity issues, this is one of the first things I look at.

Strive to create a dog that is content, this will create calm without even trying.

Enjoy your dogs.

Kamal Fernandez