There is much written on the value of biochemical nutrients for a dog’s growth, health and well-being. Indeed my own book The Best Dog Diet Ever, goes into depth about the value of nutrients for dogs. Yet for a while now I have been noticing a trend with the dogs that I am called to visit.
Dogs that have come from either a puppy farm or from a start in life that meant they were not shown much attention or love, seem to be highly sensitive, harder to train and show more anxious, fearful behaviours.
They become harder to train partly because they are more sensitive to our voices and actions, especially if they are anxious of fast movement in some way, and partly because they begin to fear our expectations of them. It seems almost as if they lack the confidence to simply ‘give a behaviour a try’, and find out if that is what we are hoping to see them do, as many confident more emotionally balanced dogs will do automatically.
I was interested to read an article by the scientist Dr David Hamilton who has been researching the power of kindness. Dr David has discovered many studies which do show a link between how much love a child is given and their subsequent behaviours, responses to stress, nervous system health and even their actual physical growth.
One such study showed that children in an orphanage lost one month’s physical growth for every three months they were starved of love. This was due to the impact that being loved, described as ‘shown affection and attention in an emotionally connected way’, has on the brains development.
In relation to their behaviours a puppy’s brain development happens quicker than that of a baby. With the first 14 weeks being of crucial importance as to what they puppy will learn and discover in order to make his/her sub-conscious beliefs and assumptions about the world around them him/her. This makes being shown emotional attention and affection even more important in the early stages of a puppy’s life.
The study on the children did show that the emotional brain development could be improved, and the physical growth returned to normal, if the child was removed from the orphanage institution and placed with a loving family before the age of two.
No doubt this is why dogs can be rehabilitated so well once they are placed with a loving owner who seeks to understand and bond with the dog, from the heart.
The Institute of HeartMath have now proved that the heart is 5000 times more magnetic in energy, than the brain. This shows that there is a major probability that our feelings are actually projected out from us and ‘sensed’ by our dogs in a very powerful way.
We all know that feelings are at the route of motivations in behaviour, with thoughts being influential afterwards. By focusing on a dogs thought processes we can condition our dogs to respond in a certain way to a command or a signal, but it is their feelings led by their state of emotional nourishment, that have the largest influence in their responses and reactions to situations or occurrences within their immediate environment. It is very common for an anxious or fearful dog to appear to ignore a command they have been trained to respond to. These dogs will choose their own behaviours if they ‘feel‘ their own choice of behaviour will keep them safer in that very moment.
Only by strengthening the dog from an emotional perspective and encouraging them to feel less stress, anxiety or fear about the world around him, will we truly be training them to be less reactive. A less reactive dog will display less fearful behaviours, less anxieties, be less likely to suffer from noise sensitivities and be less worried when their own choices of behaviours are limited. Being on a lead, for example, can really make a dog feel limited in his/her responses to the world around him. This in turn can create feeling of anxieties and subsequent ‘out of character’ behavioural reactions in dogs that are not fully emotionally nourished.
It is interesting to note the fact that the children in the study also showed a restriction in physical growth as a result of the lack of love. This is a direct correlation between the development of our brains and the development of our physical bodies. I have seen this to be the case too while practicing my energy flow training methods (Canine Flow) and my Hypnotherapy for Dogs. Both techniques encourage a sense of body-awareness in dogs, with an improvement in posture and physical balance. Many dogs whose posture and physical balance improve will then begin to be less reactive and show higher capabilities to learn new behaviours, or even adhere to commands as opposed to relying on their own habitual choices of behaviours.
A lovely Black Labrador I worked with was an example of these theories is practice.
His behaviour was that he wouldn’t walk any further than the end of the street he lived in. Investigation proved there was no consistency to the behaviour; he was not scared of anything on his walks, nor was he worried about his leading arrangements. He was not scared about going any further than driveway as some days he would go absolutely fine. No amount of food persuasion techniques or training him out of the behaviour had proved useful; I was called out as a ‘last resort’.
One thing I could notice that was consistent, was that he responded well to commands, but only on days his owner was relaxed and offering the commands in a peaceful way.
He was also a rescue – the owners had seen him advertised as a 6-month-old dog for sale. When they went to get him he was handed over with the comments that the owner ‘’didn’t have time for him, hadn’t bonded with him and was glad to be seeing the back of him… ‘’ Poor him, a classic scenario that emotional nourishment was called for.
I worked with him to release some physical tension he was carrying, recommended they get him some raw meaty bones to chew which would further help relieve emotional tension (the mouth is the seat of the limbic system that plays a role in emotional regulation), and encouraged the owner to speak to him in quieter tones and importantly give him the space to consider the command or action she had asked for! Thus reducing her expectations and impatience with his behaviours.
The result: in a matter of a week or so they felt they owned a completely different dog. He went for a walk absolutely fine, going beyond the end of his street. Even behaviours they hadn’t called me in for improved!
This is one many examples that have led me to recognise the value of love almost as a nutrient in itself and the impact a lack of love and acceptance can have on a dogs growth and development.
The more conditions you put on giving love, the less opportunity you have to receive it. When we find ourselves putting conditions on love, such as ‘I will be happy when… the dog acts a certain way or the dog stops doing a certain behaviour or the dog does what he is told’, we limit the opportunity to receive love from ours dogs. We begin to judge and blame the dog, or even ourselves.
By practicing tools such as the Balance Procedure we can ensure we send out the intention of acceptance and love, along with a clear focus on the behaviours we would like to see our dogs displaying, rather than behaviours we would not. I have seen many dogs and owners reach a deeper bond and understanding using TBP and Canine Flow, and have literally watched behaviour disappear as the emotional responses transform. The brain and both dogs and our behaviours can be very habitual and benefit immensely from practices such as these to transform emotional blocks and habits.
As the studies on children have proved, loving, accepting attention really does make a difference to brain development, physical development, the building of the nervous system and emotional responses later in life. Whilst I am fascinated by the sciences that seek to understand the processes of how a dogs mind and brain function, I truly believe that there is strong value in utilising the power of feelings when training and caring for our dogs. Many behaviours respond better to simply being shown acceptance, space and improved emotional nourishment, than they do when consistently trained in behavioural choice or command.
In short when we ‘train’ our dogs heart to heart as opposed to trying to outwit them or to understand only their thoughts or their mind, we not only connect with them on a deeper level but we find ourselves expressing greater kindness to them which in turn leads to us experiencing greater peace and well-being in our own environment too.
I believe the missing link in dog training at the moment is the appreciation of our dog’s feelings and emotional (energy–in-motion) flow. Look out for much more about these ideas other blog articles!
(refs. The Bucharest Early Intervention Project (BEIP) and Why babies need love – Dr David Hamilton)
More information on Caroline’s work and how you can learn the Canine Flow techniques for you and your dog or become a practitioner yourself can be found on the ‘Techniques’ page.