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

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